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  • Marisa T. Cohen PhD, LMFT

The Work of Blending Families

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Rules for ensuring success when combining households.

The Work of Blending Families Therapy

  • A blended family is a unit that includes parents and their stepchildren.

  • Joining family members enhances the social support network.

  • Despite the benefits, navigating the creation of a blended family can sometimes present a challenge.

A blended family is a unit that includes parents and their stepchildren. Joining members of more than one family can increase the number of people available in members’ social support networks and lead to expanded opportunities to form strong and loving connections. However, navigating the creation of a blended family can sometimes present a challenge. For example, psychologist, Anne Malec, who authored Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works, notes that stepchildren may often experience tension between wanting their parents to be happy but feeling upset or disloyal to their other parent. No matter what the growing pains may be, there is likely to be an adjustment period.

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Take for example hypothetical couple Shawna and Ray, who recently got married. Shawna has two sons, aged 20 and 17 from a previous marriage, and Ray has a 7-year-old-son and 5-year-old daughter from his previous relationship. They purchased a house big enough for them and the kids but are encountering many challenges. Shawna’s sons are adults and view themselves as such. As a result, they don’t want to join the rest of the family for dinners or game nights, and they feel that since they are in college, they don’t have anything in common with Ray’s children. Ray’s children had been living in another state with their biological mother until recently, so even though they have known about Shawna for a long time, they are adapting to being around her for extended periods of time and living with her. They often ignore her requests and rules, not viewing her as a parental authority figure. Shawna and Ray, in trying to get their family to come together as one, are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, which has resulted in them getting angry with one another over small things that never used to come between them.


Below are some helpful suggestions for blending families:


1. Move Slowly and at Your Own Pace

While Shawna and Ray have been together for a while, their four children are just getting used to living together under one roof. They are also just getting accustomed to having another parental figure as a part of their daily lives. Shawna and Ray, because of their desire to create a happy and cohesive family, may have instituted too many rules and changes too quickly. While they were well-intentioned, trying to have a family dinner, family game night, etc., as well as giving the children new house rules, roles, and responsibilities, may have been too much all at once. Instead, allow the children to get acclimated to the new family and family environment, slowly introducing new things one by one.


2. Be Present and Be Active

Remember to show your partner’s children that you care about them and understand how big of an adjustment blending your families is. Be sure that you are there, answer any questions they have, and address their fears/anxiety. Don’t make any assumptions; let them know that you are available and that you are able and willing to talk to them and engage with them. Opening the lines of communication between you and your stepchildren will establish trust between you and ensure that you are all on the same team. To do this, Shawna and Ray could each have a separate conversation with their stepchildren to let them know that they are there for them, without going in with a specific agenda.


3. Be Open and Honest with Your Partner

It is important for you and your partner to discuss parenting roles and responsibilities, as well as your parenting styles. While you may have had these discussions when dating, now that you are all under one roof, responsibilities and stressors have changed. So, it is imperative to have another conversation/series of conversations. For example, what role do each of you want/feel comfortable with in terms of creating and implementing rules for your partner’s children? How important is it for your children and your partner’s children to be friends? Having a clear understanding about where each of you stand on parenting issues is important. A united front will communicate to your children the importance of creating a new blended family unit.

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By following these steps, you not only ease the stress on the family members, but on yourself. This is a big transition, so remember to practice self-compassion, as change can be slow, but rewarding.


Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D - Website - Book


References

Malec, A. B. (2015). Marriage in modern life: Why it works, when it works. Advantage Media Group.

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