Blended Families

Are you in or do you know someone in a blended family? The chances are that your answer is ‘yes’. A blended family is formed when one, or both, partners have a child, or more, from a previous relationship. Today, this term includes many different types of family profiles: non-married cohabitants, double remarriages (when both partners remarry) or when both partners are widowed or divorced.   This term can also include a dating relationship.

First marriages are full of hopes and dreams. The couple usually celebrates being alone, together, and has time to adapt to each other before having a child. Then, the family develops rituals, mealtimes, bedtimes, vacations, holidays, family fun, dealing with illness, etc. Experience by experience, there is memory building and all that entails.

The old term ‘stepfamily’ comes from the Old English work steop designating a bereaved orphan. A blended family is born of loss – of a parent, perhaps extended family, home, school, friends, family rituals, etc. Stability needs to be a addressed. Children’s fantasies are often initially, “My parents will get back together” and may be an extended wish. The adults may think “My new partner, spouse will never love may kids as I do” or “His/her kids won’t love me”. So, loss is natural and requires grieving and adjustment, for all. The new family needs a cumulative foundation of security to bind it in difficult times[ adolescence, for example]. There can be confusions of roles and relationship boundaries between the adults, adult/bio child and adult/blended child and the blended children. Each of these dyads emanates from a unique family culture. The blended family is rife with echoes of the past and needs to establish new family rituals.

Prevalent blended feelings include loneliness, confusion, anxiety, anger, failure, resentment and insecurity. Family members may feel underappreciated and overwhelmed. Such feelings may be experienced at different times by various family members so they may be out of sync with each other at times. There can also be confusion of boundaries between new family members. Children learn, and then test, the limits of the new couple. Still another emotion is hope,  the seed that needs to be nurtured. Patience and persistence can prevail!

Inherent in a newly formed blended family are complexities of role definitions and structure, for example, the insider/outsider positions. The bio parent and child/ren form an insider grouping while the blended parent and children are outsiders. Bio parents and children have a lifetime of prior experiences, good and bad, tried and true. They have developed ways of relating to each other that are, if not always the best, are at least familiar and often predictable.   Parental loyalties and guilt can tug at the adult relationship. Whose home and community are hosting the new couple? Perhaps they have chosen a new area. If not, one partner/spouse has to adapt to new surroundings, people, perhaps a new school and house of worship as well, definitely an outsider position. Sometimes it can feel as if there is a maze of differences to navigate in a blended family, by all members. There are internal and external (former partner/spouses, extended families and friends) to be dealt with and resolved.

The blended couple takes the lead and guides their children to enjoy and appreciate some new ways of doing things. They can help the children understand that their loss, of first family, can develop into something additional, not a replacement of their other parent. The blended family, new and special, offers more family members to love them and be loved by them.