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What is a Blended Family?

Blended Family is simply the modern term for a Stepfamily. The Merriam Webster dictionary states that a blended family is, “a family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both”. Today, a Blended Family can include children from several previous marriages and relationships, “half siblings” (two children who share one parent together and one parent individually), and adopted children.

Pew Research Center released a national report on January 13, 2011 giving the following statistics on Blended Families:

  1. 42% of adults have a step-relationship with either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild. This translates to 95.5 million adults.
  2. 13% of adults are stepparents (29-30 million); 15% of men are stepdads (16.5 million) and 12% of women are stepmoms (14 million).

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Why is Premarital Counseling Important for Blended Family Couples?

Most statistics tell us that 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 75% of those divorcees will remarry, and at least 60% of those remarriages will end in a re-divorce. Couples getting remarried shortly after divorcing is a major factor in re-divorce.

Counselors usually recommend that couples with children from previous relationships who are dating and planning to marry attend premarital counseling for the following reasons:

  1. Counseling provides a setting for each person to reflect on their previous marriage to address any patterns or issues individually before entering into a new marriage commitment.
  2. Expectations related to finances, religion, holidays, discipline, and other areas of both relational and family oriented matters can be discussed and communicated between the couple that will later be communicated with the children, extended family members, and ex-spouses.
  3. Counseling provides an opportunity for the couple to focus on their relationship both outside the structure and within the structure of the Blended Family unit.

What should we do if we are already a Blended Family having problems?

If you are already in a Blended Family and didn’t have the opportunity to benefit from pre-marital counseling…Don’t worry, there is still hope. Make an appointment for counseling as a couple to assess any areas of crisis and prioritize your issues. After the initial counseling session, you and your counselor will work together to create a Family Structure Plan specific to your unique family. Once your Family Structure Plan is in place, continued sessions will help you address the specific areas of your marriage and family to move you toward the harmony and family unit you wish for. Remember…there is no perfect family! All families have difficulty and every family can learn ways to have structure and peace within the home and relationships.

Here are just a few of the many challenges facing Blended Families:

  1. Deciding where to live: Blending two families usually involves changing neighborhoods, schools and the security of familiarity for some or all the family members.
  2. Resistance from the children: Some children do not want their parent to remarry or do not get along with their step-siblings. Children oftentimes will act out in some way against the natural parent and/or the step-parent.
  3. Implementing Rules and Discipline: Determining a structure of rules and discipline can be very challenging for the Blended Family and may also include challenges over disciple disagreement with the ex-spouses. This is a difficult time for children due to having different rules at different homes in addition to having to adjust to the reality of losing the family they had and adjusting to a new one being created.
  4. Deciding how the children will address their step-parent: Deciding how to address a step-parent can be an important aspect of the relationship between the step-parent and child.
  5. Continuing relationships with friends and family members associated with past marriages: Setting boundaries with these relationships is important to the health of the Blended Family unit as well as the marital relationship.
  6. Ongoing interaction with former spouses: Co-parenting can be very challenging and is often the source of discord within the new marital and Blended Family relationships.

What is a Family Structure Plan?

It is important for everyone in the Blended Family to feel secure and valued in the new family unit and not like a “fifth wheel”. In order to avoid as many problems as possible and to consider the emotional wellbeing of all family members, it is a good idea to develop and implement a Family Structure Plan. This can be done with the couple in counseling and then implemented and assessed for changes over a period of time. The purpose of the plan is to ensure that all members of the family feel valued, safe, loved, and aware of their expected role in the Blended Family.

Important Tips for Success in a Blended Family:

  1. Don’t try to make the Blended Family a Traditional One…It isn’t! Try to be realistic in that this is an adjustment and time of growth for everyone. Learn to be flexible in allowing all family members to work through their fears, anger, grief and adjustment to the new family unit.
  2. Don’t force relationships! Not everyone in the family may love everyone else. It is best to set up some ground rules for respect and kindness toward each other, but allow time for relationships to develop naturally, instead of trying to force them.
  3. Be sure to nurture your marital relationship! It can be overwhelming blending two families and working through all the challenges. It is important to spend some time enjoying each other by going on weekly dates and making daily time for communication so you can have the strength and sense of oneness to face your challenges together.

Allow the Natural Parent to administer discipline! It is important to allow the natural or biological parent to administer discipline until a Family Structure Plan is in place. Once your plan is in place and the children are aware of expectations and consequences, both parents can administer discipline that is already decided and agreed upon. After the Family Structure Plan is in place, the natural parent will continue to be the one to administer discipline when unexpected events happen that require disciplinary action.

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