The challenge of forming a blended family

The blended family, or step family, is actually a familiar family form that has been around forever, and growing fast. Out of the approximately 20 million blended family units in the United States today, the most common blended family is the divorce engendered step family, in which a man, who may or may not have children of his own, marries a woman who may or may not have kids from a previous marriage. When two separate groups of people merge into one blended family, goals, challenges, and outcomes vary greatly.

Step kids of all ages bring conflict

Divorce and remarriage is not limited to blended families with young children. Middle aged and older adults also remarry after divorce or the death of a spouse, bringing adult children into the blended family dynamic. Just as often, new spouses are surprised to find their all-adult blended family going through many of the same issues younger families struggle with.

Blended family challenges

The blended family dynamic is a constantly evolving system, with step family relationships changing, sometimes quite drastically, over time. For a step family with small children, the focus is necessarily on nurturing close, tightly bonded relationships; this focus is often at odds with the urgent developmental needs of adolescent step kids to learn how to separate from family involvement and influence. Many hopeful blended family partners hope their adult-only step family will not entail the types of suffering and insecurities involved in blending a family with younger kids. This is not necessarily so.

Issues for adult step kids

Adult kids whose parents have remarried typically still struggle with the standard step family concerns of acceptance and loyalties. Even more often than their younger peers, adult step children can view a new step parent with suspicion and outright dislike. They also struggle with two major issues: sex and money. The concept of their parent falling in love with someone new, even after experiencing a divorce or death of a spouse, shocks some adult kids. Others are shocked simply by the idea of their parent having sex at his or her age! The issue of family money is another major concern.  Adult children worry that their parent may be influenced to give away to someone else what they feel is their own birthright. Who inherits what and who loses out on what can be a bone of contention among all-adult blended families.

Coping with adult step kids

The good news is that, usually, adult step kids have their own lives elsewhere, leaving you and your new spouse to thoroughly enjoy your relationship. The bad news is that if your new partner and his or her kids have old unresolved parent-child issues, remarriage and the involvement of a new step parent is not likely to help matters.  Take care to not attempt to fix things between them. You can, however, do this: you can assure your step children of your support for their continuing relationship with their parent, and that you are not at odds with their claims to family property or finances. You can make it clear that your priority in your new relationship is your spouse, and not in replacing their other parent. And you can make it clear, in a very nice way, that while you and your new partner would like their blessing, you do not actually need it in order to live a happy life together.

Primary relationship

Whether your blended family involves young children, adolescents, or adults, keep in mind that your primary relationship is between you and your spouse. Nurture this relationship, enjoy it, and know that you will have each other for the rest of your lives, no matter how well step kids, step parents, or even step siblings get along. Do your best to build loving and supportive relationships with and between adult step kids, and hope they respond in kind. Encourage biological relationships, be friendly and interested, and treat everyone with courtesy and loving kindness.

The urgency to build a cohesive blended family is a bit less when the step kids are grown adults, but that does not mean it is not important to you, or to your spouse and his or her children.  Family is as family does, and however your blended family dynamic settles out, if all parties are comfortable with it, all is good. Keep your blended family goals in mind, keep trying, keep your sense of humor, and keep working on your primary relationship. Contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching, if you need a little extra help.