Blended Families - What does it take to make two families one?.
Saanich News March 16, 2005
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Famliy Counsellor
This is my second marriage. My present wife brought her two kids. I brought my two. It’s been over two years now and there’s still a huge gulf between us all. Sometimes it seems like we’re dragging the kids along side us kicking and screaming. Just what does it take to make two families one?
Stats Canada reports that close to one out of every two marriages end in separation or divorce. Further, within five years of divorcing 89% of men and 79% of women remarry. And, of course, they bring their children along. That’s a lot of newly put-together families!
My guess is that you hoped that your decision to marry would leave you all immediately transformed into this new and happily launched family.
And then you ran smack into some harsh realities.
The first being that the wedding didn’t change the fact that you are really strangers to one another. Strangers now living in the same house.
The second fact is that as a beginning family of individuals you are missing so much that binds and ties the natural family: common history, shared experiences and memories, family rituals and norms, established roles.
If it feels like you’re strangers it is because you are. You may not even know if you like each other yet.
And there is such an enormous amount to settle together.
Where to live? Whose house? What will mealtimes look like, bedtimes, and who has the bathroom when? Whose computer is it? What about finances and the decisions to buy who what?
And there’s - establishing the family rules and standards. Sorting out the communications channels. The issues of discipline. And, of course, including the other spouses, the ex’s. And visiting arrangements. Along with all this, add attending to your own sense of intimacy and relationship with your new partner.
Blending families is one heck of a job.
The biggest difficulty couples bringing two families together talk with me about is the tension, competition, the uncertainties, often experienced between the new spouse and the biological child - feelings that arise in this new system of relationship.
Feelings can be easily hurt. Sensitivities are raw.
It is impossible to ignore the long standing bond between you and your biological children. This is the deepest tie. Along with this there seems to exist a compelling need to protect your own. These natural feelings can set up insecurities among many in the new family.
Sometime in their exuberance the step partner may “take over,” over-step their relatedness, and fuel resistance or resentment. Sometimes he or she withdraws, feels impotent and shut out, then resentful. The step parent can feel frustrated about how to find their place in the new family structure. These are problems that must be solved.
To the biological parent I say: be responsible for including your new partner in your relationship with your children. Expect your children to find ways to honour and include your new spouse.
Challenge them both to get to know one another. Cheer them on. Most of all get out of the way so it can happen. Give them the room to work their relationship out. And let them know the difference it makes to you as they do.
Allowing them to find their way together can be difficult. It means allowing them the conflict, at times, and the opportunity to sort it out.
To the step-parent in the blended family I say: Accept the beginning place. You can receive any kind of personal response to you being there from step-children.
One client reports his spouse’s daughter “was calling me Dad even before her mom and I married. She was totally on for it.” The other step-child he says “made it known from the beginning that this new family thing was definitely not his idea! He didn’t get to vote ”
A child may be confused with split loyalties, may resist or hold back, find it difficult to move or adjust to the requirements of the changes. But remember - it’s not personal - even if it feels like it. Try not to take it that way.
Further to step parents: It’s your job to create a relationship with your new partner’s children.
Relationship expresses itself in many ways: as taking an interest in the other; as an involvement in their basic care; as the noticing and responding to another’s simple needs; as play together, as affection and light-heartedness.
Which simply translates: “ Do you like them and have you made sure they know that you like them. “ That’s the foundation of relatedness. And there can be no easy authority without the foundation of relatedness.
So, Richard, just what does it take to make two families one? Lots of patience and acceptance of the process.
Accept where ever you are at together, hold a vision for the future of your new family, and you’ll succeed. You acknowledge each step, applaud each new accomplishment, appreciate each new development.
The Step Family Association of America estimates that it takes 5 – 7 years before a step family feels like a safe, comfortable, and established family to its members.
So clearly it’s a process. You’ll do it. With patience over time, and your common commitment to succeed - you’ll do it.
Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.