Blended Family Living

There are limited statistics on how many blended families exist in the United States. The divorce rate of 60% is consistent, along with the remarriage statistics, whereby women remarry at 65% and men at 70%. However, family structures have considerably changed with a growing number of same-sex marriages adopting children, and many children are born to unmarried parents, some of whom have long-term relationships but choose not to marry.

Adults accept that re-partnering is likely, but more family changes might overwhelm children. This makes touching on this topic worthwhile. I have worked with parents for over 30 years as a parenting coordinator and have personal experience as a grandmother. I watched the parents and children struggle through the transitions, with our grandson being one of four step-siblings. He had three step-sibling sisters, and all children were under four. I understand the tension in blended-family homes and why there is an increase in divorce in second-time marriages, but I also want to emphasize that blended families can be remarkably resilient, healthy, and richly rewarding.

As an experienced mediator, I have been privileged to assist parents and step-parents in navigating complex family dynamics. While my expertise lies in conflict resolution rather than mental health, I firmly believe that open communication is not just crucial, but it’s a powerful tool that can empower you in establishing healthy boundaries. In my experience, it is most beneficial when parents inform each other before introducing significant individuals into their children’s lives. As primary caregivers, parents wield immense influence on their children’s upbringing, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their children’s needs are met during these transitional periods.

Having an open and honest conversation with your new partner about how the new family will work is crucial. Discuss expectations, discuss concerns openly, and anticipate that your children may experience loyalty issues that can manifest in various challenging ways. Proactively decide how to manage discipline, household chores, homework, competitive behavior, and sibling rivalries. Parental differences will affect their relationship and make family living more complex. If these issues are discussed in advance, family life will be less chaotic and more pleasant for everyone.

It is also crucial that parents arrange

  • one-on-one time with their children
  • together time
  • personal time as a couple and adult social activities

Blended family living is challenging, and finding a balance to survive is crucial. A counselor specializing in blended family living would be a precious resource.

New Relationships and Children

It is realistic to expect some resistance when introducing new people to your children. First, it dashes children’s hope that parents will reunite. Second, they might view a new parental partner as a rival.

Keep expectations realistic when developing a step-parental relationship with your partner’s children. The best relationships grow slowly and steadily. When introducing your children to a new partner, consider doing so in short intervals in a socially relaxed environment. This allows these essential relationships to grow without pressuring children or parents.

Disciplinary Measures

Parents discipline differently. Every family has a culture of its own. I am not referring to race or ethnicity but the inner culture of families. It might work best for the biological parents to establish and maintain disciplinary measures to avoid confusing children except for minor things around the home. For example, curfews, when children should learn to drive a car, school performance expectations, and grounding disciplinary actions might be agreed upon, and the opinions of the natural parents should preside over them.

If any differences in disciplinary actions or expectations of children exist, explain them to your children in advance. This lays the foundation of who sets the rules and when, and it might prevent step-sibling rivalries. Talk about consistently enforced rules that are expected, such as sharing household chores, doing homework, social rules, and punctuality. These might comprise the basis for equality and fairness within the blended family.

Sibling Rivalry and Discipline

Sibling rivalry is a common occurrence in every family, including blended families. Unless it gets hurtful and parents must step in, children often work out their differences without intervention by parents. Taking time out with your children privately to address bad behavior and avoid shaming children in front of each other might be necessary.

With some parental guidance, children will establish a natural “rule of order” and find their place within the family. The most important thing is to command respect for each other by modeling it and ensuring each child has a secure place at the family table and is equally loved.

While your relationship with your step-children differs from your natural bond with your biological children, love for all of the children certainly has strong potential, and step-sibling relationships will grow with time, too.

When parents prepare for the challenges of blended-family living, they will succeed in developing rich and meaningful family relationships that extend beyond biological connections, and these relationships can be vital for a lifetime.

Mediation Works North

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