One third of marriages in Australia have at least one previously divorced partner (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics) which means that a significant number of couples are now parenting either a step or blended family.
If you are a part of a family like this you most likely will experience some unique issues that nuclear families do not. These can include:
Learning to negotiate different parenting practices
How you manage joint money
Step-sibling relationship problems
Step-parent / step-child rejections
Managing family holidays and rituals
Continuing relationships and communication with ex-partners and their extended families
Trying to co-parent with ex-partners
Family Court matters that have not been finalised
There are seven developmental stages that blended and step families go through. These are:
It can take families anywhere from four to seven years to move through these stages and it is usually not a clear cut process with different family members experiencing different stages at different times.
For many couples the first few years can feel overwhelming, where they are confused, discouraged, depressed and doubting their decision to become a step-family.
Couples who tend to fair better when the relationship is new have more realistic expectations of what will happen once the whole family starts to live together.
Things to consider:
Don’t jump into living together too soon, get to know one another, dating is NOTHING like living in a step or blended family. Also children may be quite comfortable visiting a new partner some of the time but may react very differently once everyone is living under the same roof.
If you are dating do not introduce your children too soon. At least 12 months post separation is a good timeframe for children, they are still mourning the loss of their parents relationship and to introduce new people too soon can cause so much conflict.
Most children will feel a sense of loss at your new beginning, the loss of a dream that their biological parents might get back together. Loss of your time and energy now that they are sharing it with your new partner and their children. Loss of birth place – moving from first born to maybe a middle or youngest child within the new family dynamic. Kids need time to adjust so try not to rush them.
Children can feel like they are betraying a biological parent if they do enjoy the company of your new partner. Let them know that you understand that they love their other parent and let them slowly build up a relationship with your new partner at their own pace.
Try not to take things too personally, most of what is happening in your family is a normal part of the process of ‘blending’. It’s important to remember that everyone is doing their best under what are probably challenging circumstances.
Parenting together can be a very difficult experience, understand that you are probably going to have different parenting styles and that your children will probably have expectations about how you will both parent and this may not be how it plays out in reality. Its important for you and your partner to work as a team to manage the new style of parenting that you will bring to your blended family. Make time to sit down and workout what the family rules and boundaries are early on and communicate with each other about how things are unfolding, then make changes to your plan as needed.
Don’t forget to celebrate your new family by creating traditions and rituals that bring everyone together.
Debbi Carberry is a Relationship Coach and Expert who has been helping women and couples from around the globe for over a decade to find the recurring issues in their relationships and to rewrite their relationship story so that they can have the loving and connected relationships they long for and deserve.