Prepare your family for remarriage and a blended family
Almost a third of weddings today create a blended family, and today the step family outnumbers any other type of family in America. That is not to say the blended family has reached the level of validation and acceptance which is afforded to a first marriage and nuclear family. The blended family remarriage, unlike a first marriage, is less often celebrated for the new beginning that it can be, and is less likely to garner the unconditional support that a first marriage, or the birth of a first child, predictably generates. This often leaves blended family partners, and their step kids, searching for ways of dealing on their own with the challenges inherent in blended family life.
Be prepared in your blended family
Take advantage of any pre-marital counseling available. One important goal for premarital counseling is for couples to take a critical look to see how their planned marriage, and its proposed timing, will likely affect everyone concerned. Another objective is to present a realistic look at what challenges lay ahead. If your remarriage into a blended family is one of the third which includes children from previous relationships, you should be aware the numbers are not on your side. With the presence of children in a remarriage, the strains of parent-child loyalties, conflicts with ex-spouses, and step parenting issues, work to keep remarriage divorce rates higher than other remarriage failures, at 60 percent. If you can’t find local therapists or ministers who specialize in blended family counseling, check out The Blended and Step Family Resource Center, which is online and available to all.
Truth about a healthy step family
Even the healthiest blended family is an assemblage of intra-family, and inter-family, relationships, each with their own importance and their own limitations. For example, it is fact that most step parents are not as attached to children as biological parents are; step siblings do not have the natural bond with one another that blood siblings share. To expect otherwise is to deny the very real, very valuable, bonds that make us who we are. Blended family partners who respect these bonds can more easily accept that building a unified step family will take time, energy, and patience. Allow time and space for step siblings to grow into a relationship, and do the same in your budding relationship with your step kids.
Changing roles and changing perceptions
Blended family couples, before becoming step parents, typically have limited contact with future step kids; their focus is, as it should be, on each other and the new relationship. Staying uninvolved and at a safe distance from the children of your new partner is relatively easy, and beneficial for everyone, during courtship. Often, though, polite and neutral conversations and the desire to be liked become less apparent once family blending is underway. Before their divorced or widowed parent remarries, children often genuinely enjoy spending time with the people their parent dates. Kids seldom consider liking this temporary visitor a betrayal of their other parent. After the wedding, however, generous feelings toward a new step parent can change, and step kids may suddenly become distant, and even disagreeable. To ratchet up the discomfort, many step parents believe a more hands-on role with their step kids is appropriate once they are married, which represents a new situation which step kids notice and resent. Where is the nice adult who never hassles the kids? Where is the charming and friendly child?
Ex-spouses and other extended step family members
A prime example of how blended family relationships change after the wedding involves the ex-spouse. Remarriage can be very painful for ex-spouses, leading them to feel more threatened by affection their children may feel toward the new step parent; as a result, many ex-spouses become more demanding about some things, and less cooperative about others; like co-parenting. Ex-parents-in-law become worried they will be cut off from their grandkids, and often distrusts the new relationship and the new blended family enterprise. These changes, like those experienced by step parent and step kids, result in greater stress and less cooperation between new step family relationships following the wedding. Couples who are aware of these possibilities prior to marriage cannot be blindsided, and can address these issues beforehand. Some, though not all, call be avoided with sensitivity and good communication.
The bottom line is, be prepared for changes and challenges inherent in building a blended family. Unless you accept them as fair and understandable, you may be in danger of failing to appreciate when things actually go well! If you want your blended family to succeed, your marriage must become and remain strong. While some of the other changes and challenges that affect your blended family are out of your hands, your relationship is entirely up to you and that is good news.