Blended Families Present Unique Relational Challenges
Blended, or step, families are common, and those oftentimes create unique challenges for parents and their children whenever a non-biological step parent is involved. Some of those trials include the children getting accustomed to different parenting styles and new household routines. All family members can experience stress, especially when visitation is involved or conflicts arise between the biological parents. Studies have found that roughly two-thirds of all second marriages fail when children from a previous marriage are in the picture. It’s a fact that blended families have the potential to fail, and the first few years after a remarriage are typically the most difficult. For the step parent, settling into a comfortable parenting role with step children can be challenging, and tensions high, as bonds are formed and boundaries established. For the step parent, a delicate balance must be attained between appropriate parenting and winning the love and affection of the child. In an effort to facilitate a smoother transition as the new family takes shape, all members may benefit from some blended family counseling early on in the blending process.
What Blended Family Issues do Children Face?
In addition to the ones mentioned above, children included in blended families oftentimes must deal with other complex and difficult emotional and relational challenges, such as:
- Feeling abandoned by a biological parent
- Depression, anxiety and/or guilt
- Resentment towards a step parent
- Trust issues involving the step parent and/or step siblings
- Not wanting to “betray” their biological parent by loving their new step parent
- Having to compete for attention, affection and dominance with step siblings
- Visitation-related stress, confusion and insecurity
- Grief when the death of a biological parent leads to the remarriage
When trying to cope with these issues, in many instances children caught up in blended marriages will act out their feelings by becoming withdrawn, performing poorly in school, becoming combative with their parents, or sometimes engaging in self-destructive behaviors including substance abuse. Parents must also be aware of how the blended family dynamics are affecting their partner, and need to put in place safeguards to keep their relationship strong.
Successful Strategies for Blended Families
Studies have found that it takes a blended family two to five years to transition successfully. When all members come to realize that for the new family to work they must all accept the fact that the new unit is not the same as the previous one. Learning to respect one another, committing to making the change succeed, and giving new relationships a chance to take shape are all important steps. Here are some of the things parents can do to make the transition a smoother and more positive one for everyone involved:
- Prior to marrying or cohabitating, the parents should sit down and discuss their parenting styles and a unified conflict resolution approach with the children
- Use praise, encouragement and genuine affection whenever possible towards the biological and step children without showing favoritism
- Encourage open and honest discussions between both parents and the children while promptly answering questions whenever possible
- Attend counseling sessions moderated by a licensed blended family counselor before and after the marriage or cohabitation takes place
Family counseling sessions under the direction of a trained counselor, or coach, are an effective way to openly discuss feelings for all blended family members, while developing positive coping skills in order to deal with the new family’s dynamics.
Effective Blended Family Counseling Approaches
Blended family counseling, or coaching, sessions can be done with all members, or scheduled separately with each child and with one or both parents. Family systems therapy, which views the whole blended family as a system with each member’s role being defined within that overall unit, is one method. Another proven approach is called family attachment narrative therapy. With these counseling approaches, an emphasis is placed on the new roles that parents face, and the establishment of parental boundaries for issues like financial obligations, discipline and time management. Counseling sessions also provide a way for each blended family member to speak their mind in a controlled and respectful setting. Children are encouraged to discuss their fears, emotions and concerns while developing a better understanding about their place in the new family unit. Parents typically learn how to continue a healthy relationship with their biological children while cultivating new and loving bonds with their partner and step children.
Thriveworks Henrico Counselors Understand Blended Families
As we’ve seen, blended families are common, and they present unique and sometimes difficult challenges involving all children and parents. Open communication is key as new parenting boundaries and expectations are established, and the children need to feel that they are all loved equally. Counseling is an important step in the process as all family members transition into their roles within the new unit. At Thriveworks Henrico, our helpful and compassionate counselors understand blended families and will guide you in an effort to facilitate a smoother transition as the new family comes together in a healthier, happier, more positive way. For more information on our blended family counseling services, or how to become a certified Thriveworks Short Pump coach, call: (804) 205-3408 today or visit our Contact page now.