What do you do as a parent of a blended family that truly is not so well blended? How do you deal with your kids who openly demonstrate their dissatisfaction of the “blended family” by being disturbingly defiant and/or refuse any encouraging involvement with their new stepparent? How do you deal with the non-custodial parents’ distrustful challenge of your parenting as your children frankly complain about their new stepparent? Unfortunately, these questions are all too common in a blended household. So, what do you do?
First, it helps to understand the dynamics children often face. For example, oftentimes children hold on to the hope that their parents will reunite. For children to accept a blended family, they are also giving up their wish that their parents will reunite. It is a difficult transition for children to realize that their dream of family reunification is no longer a reality. As the blended family emerges, children oftentimes find this to be the place where they realize their dreams are shattered and their hopes are lost. Oftentimes, children act out this loss with aggression and defiance, depression, or detachment. Blended parents need to help their children accept that their new blended family is integrated and that all family members are bonded together.
Children also struggle with loyalty issues, especially to their non-custodial parent who struggles with the loss of custody. As the children take sides and try to protect the other-parent, an escalating emotional strain oftentimes develops between themselves and the new stepparent. Children respond best if both biological parents decide to work collaboratively and support each other’s parenting efforts. Probably the most influential factor in children’s adjustment Lo their parents’ divorce is their parents’ mutual efforts at joint parenting all through their growing up years. Unfortunately, this mutual effort occurs too rarely. In its place, blended parents need to rise to the occasion and create a strong parental bond that encourages their children to establish healthy relationships with both biological parents, without taking sides.
Of course, there are several other risk factors involved in blended families that affect its success, such as the merging of children from two different families and the alignments between them, the level and style of parenting and the disciplining between the parent/stepparent, and the adaptability of each of the family members towards change. However, although these are all factors, a strong parental team effort can draw up much power and influence of a successful blended family. Blended parents can empower their children by eliciting and facilitating mutual respect, kindness and concern for one another and enhance a peaceful living environment where daily issues can be negotiated without them developing into ongoing conflicts. Children need stabilization within the family and benefit most by recognizing that they now belong to a new family identity, which they can begin to value and uphold. If a parent/stepparent can truly help their child(ren) feel belonged, the other battles will seem slight in contrast.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW