By: Jeralyn L. Lawrence, Esq.
More than half of the families in the United States were formed by remarriages or recoupling of relationships. Based on current statistics, half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and the average length of a marriage is seven years. With the ending of marriages, the subsequent remarriages or the forming of new relationships after divorce — particularly those remarriages or relationships that integrate children into the new relationship — create certain dynamics that are different from those of prior relationships.
First, when blending a family, it is critical to support the children, especially emotionally. It is not unusual for a child to pine for the original family unit, and a child may struggle as he or she adapts to a new stepparent, new stepsibling(s), new neighborhood, and/or new school. It can be overwhelming for a child to digest and process this transition into a new family unit, and if not done with the best interests of the child in mind, can often lead to emotional outbursts, or internal psychological turmoil, detrimental to the health and welfare of a child.
The key to a successful transition is ensuring that the family has the therapeutic support it needs, and working with a family therapist can be the key ingredient to successful blending. This process can work if the family, as a unit, remains committed and engaged in the process, without trivializing any member’s needs or expectations.
Obtaining therapeutic support even before remarriage or moving in with a significant other is ideal, as it allows ample time to identify and address issues. The need for therapeutic support may continue long-term, however, as complicated issues with the role of the stepparent and stepfamily emerge. Some children respond well and are receptive to active, involved stepparents, and may even become comfortable with discipline from a stepparent. Others may not adapt as easily, especially when a stepparent takes the role of disciplinarian without respecting the boundaries of a child’s comfort zone. In that case, a stepparent may need to step back and learn how to be a friendly, supportive adult in the stepchild’s life. The focus should be on trying to establish a bond and connection to the stepchild without trying to replace a biological parent. Children often do not want or need replacements, but rather a unified support system with strength in numbers. Children tend to thrive when they have loving, connected adults to support them. Therefore, surrounding a child with meaningful adult relationships such as these will have a positive effect on a child’s happiness.
The recipe for a successfully blended family rests on a generous helping of love, complemented with a dash of patience, a handful of tolerance, and a sprinkle of luck, and topped with an abundance of selflessness. Above all, it is paramount that the adults involved put the child’s needs before their own. In time, a happy, loving, balanced family should be perfected.