More than 1,000 blended families form everyday, says the U.S. Census Bureau. Here’s a look at some of the most common challenges these families face.
I never realized the influence of the way my own Mom handled her second marriage until I was much older. As a young child, I remember the fear of the unknown when being introduced to my step-siblings.
As a teenager, I remember the annoyance I felt at any attention showed to my step-sister by my mother and jealousy when I realized my step-dad couldn’t love me the exact same way he loved his biological daughter.
As an adult, I know all of these things are only natural, and it’s because of the tactful and thoughtful way that my mom and step-dad handled it that I have been able to come to this realization. All of these feelings I experienced as a child adjusting ever amounted to were just that- feelings passing in the moment, never developing into resentment or animosity.
Growing Up in a Blended Family
If you think that life in a traditional family is difficult, try sharing your most intimate moments with people you feel like you barely know compared to the people you have spent your entire life around.
It’s considered normal, even healthy to fight with your own siblings, but is it OK to fight with your step-siblings? You may get angry and yell at your mother, but can you voice your frustration to your stepfather? Part of the dilemma for children in blended families is trying to learn where they belong within the new family home.
Challenges Bonding between Step-Parent and Child
Blended families can be extraordinarily complex, and when you are excited about your new found love and ready to start re-writing your future, it’s easy to expect your children to be excited and on the same page.
But, the love and excitement you feel doesn’t always spill over to your children as easily as you would like, and it’s best to not expect too much too soon.
Let the step-parent relationship develop naturally, any pressure from you to automatically love someone is not a reasonable expectation for a child no matter what the age.
Your step-children are not going to instantly bond with your children. Expect a little jealousy, a little fighting, and to learn to have a great amount of patience and empathy for all of the children involved.
Leave the Discipline to the Biological Parent
Psychologist Dr. Sally Howard of South Pasadena, California is a stepparent and a psychologist who leads workshops on step-parenting. She explains the importance of leaving the discipline to the biological parent as a tender time in the beginning with the consequence of emotional withdrawals from the children if not handled delicately.
“Very often, the stepparent feels like an outsider to the position of the biological parent, who is the insider with the child,” she says.
Discipline is not the way to gain their love and respect and authority is not a responsibility of the step-parents. Waiting to blend the family until there is a solid connection can be helpful with the transition so that any differences in parenting styles can be communicated away from the children.
What Children May Experience
Loyalty to the other parent and connecting to the step-parent can be a confusing emotion to a child. Never downplay these feelings and always express your understanding and acceptance of these feelings, no matter what your feelings are towards the other parent.
Dr. Jennifer Lansford of Stanford University examines how experiences with parents (discipline, abuse, divorce) affect the development of children’s behavior problems.
Although the children might see their step-siblings as a nuisance rather than a playmate, there are things you can do to help the transition.
“Interestingly, one of the best strategies you can employ to make sure step-siblings get along is to recognize that a blended family is a family within a family — and that you and your kids need your own time together.”
How can you help children better cope with becoming part of a blended family? Here are a few ways:
- Practice equal treatment with chores and expectations in the family home
- Foster respect on all parts and involve the children, especially older children, in family meetings and decisions that will affect the household.
Benefits of Growing up in a Healthy Blended Family
Much of the negative attention we hear about blended families revolve around the struggles and conflict, but when done with compassion for all parties involved and careful planning, children can flourish in this new loving environment that many of them did not experience before.
Rebecca M. Ryan of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University, led a study involving 3,492 children. She discovered that children who are quickly integrated into a new blended family rather than remaining in a single-parent household have fewer behavior problems than those who are not.
She found that children of blended families actually receive benefits that help them avoid some of the negative behaviors demonstrated by children who remain in single-parent households.
Her study reveals new information that is in contradiction to many of the current beliefs that are held about the impact of divorce and separation on children.
“Most significantly, our findings reveal the importance of considering family context when generalizing about the impacts of family instability,” Ryan says.
Parenting your own children can be pretty thankless, parenting step children can be even more so. It’s no easy feat, and one that needs to be taken seriously. Fortunately there is an abundance of tools and resources to help guide your family through this process, and with careful planning and compassion for all, your story can have a happy ending.