Hopefully, you have given up expecting your new blended family to look and feel like a so-called normal nuclear family. The differences between the two are enormous. A nuclear family is sovereign and cohesive. In a nuclear family, generally speaking, a new couple sets off on a new life together full of optimism, unencumbered, and with the support of friends and family. Nuclear family life is linear, meaning that one thing rationally follows another, typically affording the couple time to adjust to new developments, such as the arrival of a child.

Once a child is born, the couple learns to love, care for, and appreciate the child; as a couple, they begin to redefine each other, moving from partners and lovers to co-parents, accepting these relationship changes as they come along simply as part of the way family life is, and ought to be. Having children usually adds to the relationship, giving it depth. A nuclear family grows together, formulating its own systems and methodologies, and all the while making memories that validate the family unit.

Look at your blended family as unique

It is this identity with the nuclear family which makes it so very difficult for a couple to form a new blended family unit, becoming step parents and sharing their new spouses with step kids. By the time a new blended family couple establishes a home together, they have been through loss, heartbreak, and perhaps legal battles. Their ability to begin a relationship full of optimism is burdened by experience; they have significant responsibilities outside of the relationship; they have an ex-spouse; they often suffer recrimination from friends and family for the divorce or for their remarriage. For couples that become step parents, the linear formula of meeting, falling in love, forming and nurturing a satisfying relationship, and then having children, is turned upside down. Building a successful relationship takes devotion and energy; when you throw children into the mix, the added stress often takes its toll.

Children conflicted in blended family transition

Children in a blended family have an equally difficult transition. They have learned, or think they have learned, that love has boundaries they can never understand or anticipate. Family values of loyalty and unity now seem up for grabs as they are asked to accept someone else in the place of one of their parents. They feel very vulnerable to rejection and loss, and have a difficult time trusting. The older the step kid, the more difficult it is to adjust; the older the step kid, the more vocal their feelings of conflict.

Soon after the blended family formalizes its union, two or three things are sure to occur. Children start acting out; this is common, largely because most kids know only this single means of affecting their environment. In response, the new step parent feels woefully inadequate, and a little resentful that their efforts at being accepted by their step kids are not being appreciated. All too often, the bio parent wonders why his or her new partner cannot get along with, understand, or love their kids the way they think they should.

What’s the name of the game?

Conflict is the name of the game in a blended family. Step kids are naturally conflicted in their loyalties, in meeting the expectations of bio parents and step parents alike, and in how well their own expectations, regarding what home life ought to be, are being met, as well. The step parent is conflicted in their relationship with uncooperative and sometimes belligerent step kids, and feeling like an outsider in the bond between the new spouse and his or her children. The bio parent is conflicted in their relationship with the new spouse, wondering whether their loyalties should lie with the children or with the new spouse. And when you throw in the conflict an angry or demanding ex-spouse, the typical blended family is rife with discord and disharmony.

Conflict a fact of life in any home

Conflict is a fact of life in most blended family homes, despite the best efforts of everyone concerned. Met with fairness and generosity, blended family conflict can sometimes teach us how to accept the inevitable and also how to effect change.

Try to accept that conflict will arise; acknowledge its place in your blended family; seek to learn from the issues conflict brings to light; teach your step kids conflict resolution by example; believe things will eventually get better.