Why do more than 60% of blended families end in divorce? Why is it so hard to blend a family? The reason so many partners in blended families feel frustrated and begin looking for help or a way out is because no one is taught how to deal with the complexities, challenges, and frustrations of stepfamily life. People who marry again, or people who are in a relationship with someone who has children, are typically not prepared for: The disputes over parenting, money, privacy, vacations, responsibilities, boundaries, rituals, holidays, etc.; stepchild behaviors like disrespect, “acting out,” and/or “favoritism”; common stepchild discipline problems; custody, visitation, and/or financial support issues; stepsibling relationship problems. The list goes on and on.
Successful blended families are difficult to achieve. That’s why so many blended families ultimately fail. However, there is a pattern of success that has helped thousands of couples. Stepfamily life is complex and all families are unique; adapt the information to your own situation. Below is an abridged version of the Pattern of Success for Blended Families.
Acknowledge and Mourn Losses
There are losses of all kinds: the dream of a successful marriage, opportunity to raise your own children from birth, finances, stability, friends, familiar surroundings, daily contact with both parents, etc. Acknowledge that all family members will have experienced significant losses prior to the new family and need an opportunity to grieve them. Children often need to be invited to talk about concerns. They may prefer to talk with someone other than the parent. Respect this, and allow it.
Have Realistic Expectations
Instant love and adjustment are not realistic. It may take 4 to 7 years to go through the stages of stepfamily development. Step relationships will never be the same as biological relationships. It’s OK not to love your stepchildren. Do not compare family success to a first marriage model.
Be Unified as a Couple
Put your marriage first. View time alone together as a necessity. Children benefit from the model of a happy relationship. Do not disagree in front of the children – decide in private.Put your marriage first. View time alone together as a necessity. Children benefit from the model of a happy relationship.
Form Satisfactory Step-Relationships
Stepparents who define their role with stepchildren as sort of an “aunt” or “uncle” type of relationship are usually the most satisfied. It is the biological parent’s responsibility to take care of, and discipline, their children. Loyalty conflicts are common and step-relatives do not have to love each other. At first, it is best to let the biological parent discipline.
Develop New Traditions and Rituals
Be creative developing traditions specific to the new family. Children may need to hang on to some past traditions that were meaningful. Work out innovative ways of dealing with transitions such as holidays or visits.
Find a supportive church or another faith-based environment. Find or organize a Stepfamily Small Group. Obtain help from a professional, trained in stepfamily issues, as needed.