Blended families can be bittersweet. When blended families form, you lose a member or more of the original family but gain one or more members of a new family. Two-family households joining together when parents remarry can create stability. The adults regroup in a new loving relationship. The children are under the protection of two adults to care and guide them under one roof. That’s the upside of blended families.
The downside of co-mingled families is the loss of one biological parent in the house, for one thing. The new arrangement can also cause problems that were non-existent in the original family … unforeseen problems and adjustments, complicated situations. But you don’t have to be blindsided. With careful planning, a loving and nurturing attitude, and a dose of parental wisdom and patience, you can make it work. You can be a whole, happy, functioning family unit again.
So in the interest of building a happy family, let’s look at some of the booby traps of blending.
What Can Go Wrong?
A lot, if you’re not paying close attention.
The kids may be worried, anxious, not knowing how to act under the new arrangement. They may even be angry at being placed in this new unfamiliar situation. And, you and your spouse may be harboring some lingering anger or resentment toward your former spouses.
Booby Trap #1: Family Roles
Some who live in stepfamilies are not really clear about what contributions and responsibilities they’re expected to perform or what to expect of the other members of the stepfamily. Where do they fit in?
How are the kids reacting to one another, if there are now step-siblings? Do they feel they’ve been thrown to the wolves, forced to live with strangers? Do they feel threatened that they now have to share parents? Do they feel like they have to compete for the parents’ attention? Do they see their stepparent as an interloper, someone who wishes to take over the role of their biological parent? Are they sabotaging their relationship with the biological parent? Are their behaviors affecting the relationship between the parents?
Misunderstandings between kids and parents, saying or doing things – or not saying or doing things – can cause hurt feelings, arguments, and even worse: alienation.
Booby Trap # 2: Living in Two Worlds
A blended family often requires children to confront a whole new set of challenges that children in dual biological parent families have never had to face.
Children must go from living in one world that seemed safe and familiar to going back and forth between two households that could feel like polar opposites.
Children can feel divided or confused jogging between two homes with different values. They may even be asked or expected to keep silent about what goes on in the other household, keep secrets – or on the flip side, report back about what goes on there.
Are the loss of family traditions, like the communal meal, special outings, the changing of parental roles, rules, and values creating uncertainty or resentment?
Booby Trap #3: Loyalties
Then there’s the conflict of loyalties, like when a child or parent is torn between relationships involving a stepfamily member. Do your children feel they are betraying their estranged biological parent? Is it ok for them to love their stepparent and does that mean they no longer love their biological parent or that they love them less? What are you and your spouse’s obligations to your biological families?
Have you addressed visitation issues so you and the kids are informed and comfortable with those decisions? Being separated from a biological parent can be terribly upsetting to the kids and to their biological parents. When parents don’t know how to handle the arrangement of visitations, visits can become unpredictable and overdue. Instead of them looking forward to seeing their mom or dad, your kids can dread it. In the process, you can do irreversible harm to your child.
Booby Trap #4: Discipline
Disciplinary problems are a part of all families, blended or not. Have you and your new spouse come to some decisions about how to discipline? When you dispense discipline to your stepchild, do they understand it doesn’t mean you’re being mean and want to punish them? Do they get that you want to help guide and direct them, just like in their original family? Stepfamily couples are often conflicted on this issue and not doing it right can create anger and resentment.
Maybe discipline went by the wayside in the first marriage as you became absorbed in the process of divorcing. Maybe you provided less attention, less discipline, and were less aware of when discipline was necessary as you became caught up in the breakup of your marriage and the fallout from that marriage? Now, within a blended family, reintroducing discipline involving a non-biological parent can create friction.
Booby Trap #5: Disorganized, Distracted Parenting
Are you able to separate your needs from the needs of your children? Are you sharing way too much of your personal life with your kids? Your kids need to stay kids, not audition as surrogate “parents” to fill an emotional gap that you lost after the divorce.
Are you disorganized and unable to parent as effectively as you once did? Your kids need you more now than ever before. You need to protect them from the everyday stresses caused by a divorce, a lack of structure and consistency, and uncertain expectations you and your spouse have of them. Lack of effective parenting can permanently stunt their emotional growth and their ability to function in their new life, inside and outside the home.
Do they have a clear picture of what is right and what is wrong? They need thoughtful guidance from you, or else they will turn to others to get it … maybe siblings with their own set of problems, maybe their friends who don’t have the maturity level to be of help. Or they may keep things to themselves, in which case they begin to feel isolated, lonely, lost, suffering silently. Taken to the extreme, that’s called neglect.
A Step-Parent’s Role
You might find that being in a blended family is something you hadn’t expected, that your life has turned out differently than you expected. But you have a responsibility … a super-duper responsibility to put the pieces of a broken marriage back together. Focus needs to be equally on you and your spouse as on the children. It’s a package deal. Challenging, frustrating at times, but a good thing for everyone when you can recognize issues before they erupt and become unsolvable.