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31 July 2020

Blended Families 101

Since the lockdown came into our lives, I have been watching a Swedish drama series Bonus Families.

It deals with the complexity of relationships that arise within a blended family but also the critical role the parents play in making a blended family a positive experience. It is a thought-provoking and beautiful show, which leaves you thinking - what makes a blended family a success?

 

Blended families are challenging and very different from nuclear families. Research tells us that there is a need for boundary management, solidarity and adaption (Braithwaite, Olson, Golish, Soukup & Turman, 2010) for a positively communicating blended family. 

Cherlin and Furstenberg (1994) also argue that stepfamily members must “create a shared conception of how their family is to manage its daily business” (p. 370). But how, you might ask? 

Here are some of the crucial ingredients that contribute to a smoother blended family relationship.  

Set time aside to build relationships 

Forming new relationships means it takes time and energy. Love grows slowly! Traditionally step-parents are considered “outsiders” emotionally and physically (Johnson &Bradley, 2011) and themes of rejection and abandonment are widely experienced.

Spend time doing activities together that allow you to get to know the children, and allow children to form their relationships at their own pace.  

Collaborative Parenting 

Where possible, allow the biological parent to do most of the laying down of rules and discipline. As a step-parent, focus on building a positive relationship with the children based on being a friend, role-model, and helping them problem solve.

Working as a team of parents also allows couples to focus on the positives of their relationship.  

Keep it consistent 

Children thrive on routine and stability. If your children have recently needed to adapt to their parents not living together, this can take time for them to adjust to their new life.

Providing a consistent, predictable and “normal” routine across both households is best for children. Sure, all parents are different and do things differently, but if the routines, expectations of behaviour, boundaries and consequences for poor behaviour are relatively similar across households this will help children to adjust better, as they will know what is expected of them. 

Don’t give up the sports & play dates 

If possible, keep children involved in their sports activities, music lessons, regular play dates etc that they had before the blended family situation.

These are important to your child’s wellbeing and need to be a priority (even if it means giving up your Saturday morning to watch football in the rain!) 

Communication between all parents

Parenting adults must be able to communicate about the different children’s needs and support requirements that can help make the transition between homes smoother. Putting the needs of the children first helps lessen the instability children may feel.

Consider how you want to communicate and when (i.e. emails, phone calls and or weekly updates etc) and stick to it. 

Finally... THE most important thing… LOVE! 

It really is the most basic need of any child - to feel loved and valued by their parents.

Step Families Australia state in their publication that “it is crucial that you all reassure your children that they are loved and they will always have a place in your life,” and this needs to come from not only their biological parents, but step-parent as well.

Hug them, read to them, play together outside, listen when they want to speak to you, give them space when the need it, kiss them goodnight, and see them for the wonderful part of the new family that you are creating together.

 

Angela, Family Counsellor
Priyanka, Family Counsellor 

 

References: 

  • Braithwaite, D. O., Olson, L., Golish, T., Soukup, C, & Turman, P. (2001). “Becoming a family”: Developmental processes represented in blended family discourse. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 29, 221–247.  
  • Cherlin, A. J., & Furstenberg, F. F. (1994). Stepfamilies in the United States: A reconsideration. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 359–381.
  • Stepfamilies Australia online publication. Stepfamilies, how to work together.
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