The Blending Of Families: Still Yours And Mine
The blending of families is a common and yet challenging task. The days of the nuclear family, exempt from divorce, appears less normative in our current society. These changes in our family system pose a complex set of transitional difficulties.
Handling divorce presents enough problems of its own, without the consideration of melding two families. How partners, who choose to dissolve their marriage, end up processing their divorce, plays a significant role in determining the outcome of future family relationships. Couples, who maintain the marriage after the divorce by hanging on, feuding and pitting the children against the parents, create emotional baggage that impacts a positive prognosis for reconfiguring family life.
Adults and children need to feel safe before they can move on. Neither can move forward until they have fully let go of the past. Bringing unresolved baggage into a new relationship and prospective family life thwarts the potential for success. The new relationship after divorce may suffer from the pitfalls of partners resenting each other over on-going management of divorce issues, including finances, visitation structure and medical considerations for the children. Invariably, one partner may think his mate is being too passive in dealing with custodial issues with his former spouse. These differences in perspective may create unnecessary conflict. Frequently, a partner's passivity with his ex-spouse may emerge out of a sense of false guilt. False guilt immobilizes people because they allow others to have a sense of power over them.
One of the pitfalls of the blended family is introducing children into the new family system prematurely. The grieving and healing process of divorce takes time, and "forcing" a new partner into the lives of children may backfire. Consumed with the excitement of a new relationship, couples can be too eager to involve their children into the newness they are experiencing. Children's feelings need to be taken into consideration as they are asked to adapt to new family relationships. Children must be emotionally prepared to adequately deal with the ramifications of new family members or they will increasingly learn to resent the changes.
One of the most common perils of the blended family is allowing a step-parent to become the disciplinarian to the partner's children. It is never advisable for a step-parent to discipline their partner's children. It creates resentment and is a set-up for failure. It is imperative that the biological parent never lose sight of the need to nurture and oversee the discipline of their own children. Asking for parenting advice from a partner in a blended family is appropriate, but turning over responsibility for the discipline of one's children is not. Children want their own parents to maintain a strong sense of connectedness with them, set appropriate boundaries, and make decisions that affect their behavior and well-being.
Another issue important to the development of a blended family is making sure that each partner maintains a strong identity with their own children while integrating all children within the new family structure. Accomplishing this requires parenting patience, balance, communications and conflict resolution, including family meetings. Partners must avoid a sense of favoritism toward their own children, establishing new behavioral patterns that are in the best interest of all members of the new family. Being attuned to your partner's needs and wants as well as those of the blended family children is essential. Expectations for increased involvement and communications among members of the blended family must be realistic. The chances for success of a blended family will increase if you will:
- Resolve divorce related issues as effectively as possible.
- Maintain a strong attachment to your own children so that they do not feel "discarded" or overshadowed by the blended family.
- Be cautious and sensitive about introducing a new partner into your children's lives.
- Make sure that you handle all disciplinary matters directly related to your own children.
- Spend alone time with your own children so that they do not feel overshadowed by the blended family.
- Avoid any sense of favoritism regarding hers or your children. If there are parenting differences that are affecting the blended family, they should be discussed apart from the children, if needed with a third party.
- Make any visitation process for the children as structured and as welcoming as possible.
- Use family meetings as a way of handling blended family conflicts involving your children.
Of major importance is that children want to know that their parents are happy in a new relationship. Make sure that you build a committed, intimate relationship with your new partner and that you cultivate it by spending time apart from the children to develop it. The success of a blended family starts with a partner's ability to communicate and promote understanding with their new blended family mate.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC is an author, freelance writer, and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.