What Are The Unique Challenges Confronted By Blended, aka “Step”, Families?
Staggering statistics: Approximately 45% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce. But, hope for finding love is never lost! Studies show that remarriage is on the rise, with the vast majority of divorced singles eventually entering into a second union with a new spouse.
But, is it happily-ever-after on the second time around?
For many, the answer is: Yes! But only in the messiest, most idiosyncratic sense possible.
Blended Families, or “The Modern Stepfamily”, add their own unique set of quirky challenges into the mix, as two distinctly different family dynamics merge, or perhaps more accurately: collide.
Have you seen that reality TV show where parent #1 (who is almost always: uptight, a discipline-wielding neat freak, or “super mom”) switches roles for two weeks with parent #2 (who is—you’ve guessed it—parent #1’s fun-loving, rules-be-damned polar opposite) from a different family? The next 60, commercial and conflict-saturated minutes are devoted to witnessing each family scramble to adapt to radically different parenting ideologies, lifestyles, rules, and expectations—with vary levels of “success”, from scheduling hiccups to out-and-out brawls.
So much conflict for two weeks with a discernable end in sight! And yet, studies show that actual blended families require at least two to five years before hitting their stride. Of course, there’s some pretty delicate and weighty emotional baggage to handle in blended families, from surly stepchildren who appear to hate your guts to your partner’s ex-spouse—that co-parenting third wheel—who most DEFINITELY hates your guts.
With all that extra-extra, how can a blended family ever survive? Well, trust us: you can! And as it just so happens, we specialize in making the rocky road of the transition period go a little—ok, a lot! —more smoothly.
Listed below are some of the unique challenges that are confronted by blended families:
- Routine: It’s no extraordinary secret that kids tend to function better when they have a sense of routine, but it is ironic, as children infuse our lives with a healthy dose of perpetual chaos. For many blended families, establishing a predictable schedule is the single biggest challenge, from deciding “what gives” when Sarah has chorus practice at the same time that Allison attends karate, to ironing out the essentials (for example: bedtimes. If household #1 allows Jason a weekday bedtime of 9pm, but household #2 selects a bedtime of 9:30pm, it may not seem like the end of the world to anyone involved—expect to 8-year-old Jason! Buckle up for other-worldly tantrums!)
- Discipline: Newly formed parenting duos in blended families go from 0 to 60 mph the moment that “I do’s” are exchanged. Before the wedding, you may have been dad’s “chill” girlfriend or mom’s “hilarious” boyfriend, but now you’re perceived as a rule-wielding, monster-nuisance; or you may be undergoing the “discovery” process, in which you learn that your “better half” is a parenting pushover or a drill sergeant with the parenting finesse of animals who devour their young. Time to get on the same page, before your kids, those tiny, crafty masterminds, start pitting parent against stepparent as they vie to dodge punishments or snag coveted, extra videogame time.
- Resentment (Stepkids): “You’re not my real mommy or daddy!” Depending upon the day, that phrase either stings like a second-degree sunburn, or you’re thinking… “Yeah! And, thank goodness for that!”. Breaking bread with stepkids who loathe your unsolicited intrusion into their lives is like a nightmarish “Would you rather…” where swallowing thumbtacks ALWAYS wins out. But the good news is: it gets better! Learn how to win their trust, diminish jealousy, and tackle the heavy issues (for example: supporting your stepkids through the grieving process after the death of your partner’s former spouse; or addressing the “contentious” age-difference between you and your new partner).
- Sibling Rivalry: Kids don’t choose their biological families any more than they choose their blended families—only now, your kids have been hand-gifted with a tangible source of misplaced blame: and that anger outlet includes their cast of new brothers and sisters. While some combinations simply don’t mix (like a baking soda and vinegar experiment gone horribly wrong), your kids can be expected to struggle, as they jealously observe you endeavoring to bond with a “stranger’s” children. Learn how to strike a balance between reassuring your biological kids vs. caving to their every whim or neglecting your stepchildren.
- The Ex Factor: If your new partner’s atrocious ex is still in the picture as a parent, then it’s highly likely that you’re going to be forced to reach a semi-sour détente, even if you’d much rather function as bitter rivals than as faux-peaceful allies. Learn how to rise above acrimonious encounters with the troll—and maybe even forge a smoothly operating parenting alliance with what’s-his-or-her-name over time.
- Bonding with Stepchildren: Sometimes it feels like it takes a manual. You want to connect with your stepchildren… but you don’t want to rush them. Or maybe, courtesy of your new marriage, you’re a first time insta-parent and this whole parenting thing feels foreign to you, like trying to write a novel with your non-dominant hand… or your foot. Learn how to navigate the clumsy bonding process with the poise of a pro… and the patience of a saint!
- Keeping Love Alive: With all the added challenges of a blended family, it can be difficult to remember how it all began: with two people falling in love. When the pressure feels like it’s much TOO MUCH, we’ll help you make it through the tunnel to the other side!
How Can Counseling & Therapy For Blended Families Help Me?
Blended families often benefit from family (as opposed to individual) counseling sessions, although it may be useful for parents to meet initially in separate sessions to iron out basics, or for a child who is having a particularly difficult time to undergo additional sessions. Regardless, your family therapist will help you to:
- Establish a family consensus regarding rules and expectations, “fair” punishments, and the nuts and bolts of a weekly routine
- Develop strategies for co-parenting with exes, when your children split their time between separate households
- Allow children to vocalize their frustrations, worries, jealousies, and fears; and equip parents with the tools to reassure their biological kids while also identifying “family-accepted” ways to bond with stepchildren
- Resolve sibling rivalry by assisting children to accept their new brothers and sisters as friends instead of foes
- Furnish children with adaptive coping mechanisms, when their behavior becomes problematic at home or school
- Confront heavy issues, like the death of a former spouse or a child’s knowledge of your infidelity in a previous marriage
- Tackle unanticipated financial difficulties, as your family doubles or triples in size following your remarriage
- Maintain a resilient and loving connection with your partner, as you navigate the pitfalls and rewards of co-parenting in a blended family!