What is a blended family?
The rising rate of divorce and change of family patterns are increasing the numbers of blended families, commonly known as stepfamilies. Becoming a step-parent can be rewarding and fulfilling especially if you’ve never had kids. Also, if both parents have kids, this gives them a good chance to establish a special bond.
Despite the advantages, newly blended families face many challenges. It takes some work to develop a good blended family relationship. It may also take some time for everyone to adapt to the new family structure.
A blended family is one made of parents and children from previous relationships. Your children might be almost the same age or very different ages. Sometimes one parent might be new to parenting, but then you decide to have a child together.
In some blended families, some children might live with you most or all the time while others might visit occasionally. Sometimes, this arrangement may cause children to experience divided loyalties between the parents they live with and the parent they visit.
Blended families have many advantages. However, at times they find themselves dealing with challenges, like every other family.
Some of the benefits to children include:
- Seeing their parent/s happy again makes them happier
- Being part of a two-parent family feels better
- Having their parents and an extra adult to take care of them
- Feeling more secure and safe with two parents especially if they lived with the mother
Challenges of parenting blended families
Research shows that most couples with children from previous marriages end up separating. This may be due to the stress that every member of the new family may be going through. The transition depends on each individual. Either one of a couple may find it hard to adjust to their new role in the family. One or both partners may need to learn how to parent stepchildren. It may take more time for the children and parents to adapt to the new family structure.
As a parent, it’s important to understand that it might take more time for your step-children to accept you fully. For that reason, it is good to be patient.
Members of the new family need to build good relationships between themselves. Here are a few things they can do to help:
- Accept changes, differences, and losses
- Strengthen new relationships between parents and children
- Give each other support.
- Nurture the original parent-child relationships
- Learn to make decisions together as a family
What to do if children can't get along
Bearing in mind that the situation can be an emotional strain, and there may be times of unfriendliness or conflict, it’s important to:
- Let everyone know that you expect them to be polite and respectful to each other.
- Encourage them to talk about problems and listen to each other. If things get out of control, wait until everyone is calm to talk about it as a family.
- Get help from professionals whenever necessary. During this time, some children may need more assistance than others. Don’t ignore it.
Every step-parent would want to establish a fast and close relationship with their step-children. However, it's necessary to consider gender and each child’s emotional status. This can help you decide how to approach your new children.
Children in stepfamilies often prefer verbal affection such as praise and compliments to physical affection such as hugs and kisses. Unlike girls, boys accept their stepfathers quickly. Girls say they get uncomfortable with physical affection from their stepfathers. The role of a stepfather can have its own unique challenges. Showing your stepchildren respect and encouraging them is a great way to show affection non-physically.
Other factors that affect the transition into step-parenting include:
- How long you've known each other: You can more easily form a good relationship with your partner’s kids if you've known each other for a long time. The transition is a little smoother if you have a history together.
- Age of the children: Generally, younger kids adjust and form relationships more easily and quickly than older kids. However, some kids take big changes easily at first, but challenging emotions and disruptive behaviors come up years later. Kids may seem okay with changes, but it’s important to talk to them to prevent trouble in the future.
- How well your partner gets along with the ex-spouse: Communicating openly and having minimum conflict between ex-partners can make a huge difference in a blended family. This also affects how easily kids accept their new stepparent. Avoid negative comments about the former spouse. Don't make your stepkids feel they must defend their absent parent. Being polite about the ex helps the kids accept new living arrangements more easily.
- How long you dated before settling down: It’s important not to rush into a committed relationship with a parent with children. Taking it slow gives the kids a good sense that you are in this fully.
- How much time you spend with the children: Put your stepchildren’s needs first. If kids want to spend time with their birth parents, let them have it. A bit of distance and reserve can lead to a better relationship with your stepchildren.
Tip for Blended Family Parents
It takes patience, respect, and communication for two families to blend. Even though the response rate won’t be the same for all members, these resources will help you navigate the uniqueness of being a parent and stepparent in a blended family.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: "Stepfamily Problems."
American Psychological Association: "Making stepfamilies work."
Better Health Channel: "Stepfamilies."
Goodtherapy: "Blended Family Issues."
Government of Australia: "Blended Families - Parent Easy Guide."
Kidshealth: "Becoming a stepparent."
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse: "BLENDED FAMILIES."
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