Helping remarried couples create a solid marriage & develop a successful stepfamily has been one of my specialties for more than 20 years.
Parenting is never easy. But when you have a family with biological kids, stepkids, your spouse’s ex, your ex—and other extended family members thrown into the mix—things can get very complicated very quickly.
How Can Stepfamilies Succeed?
Blending into a new family unit is not a simple process. Studies show that it generally takes from 2 to 5 years for a blended family to transition successfully. Statistically, 66% of remarriages which include children from a previous marriage will end in divorce. Difficulties in integrating all the step relationships is the prime factor.
Instant love and bonding doesn’t usually happen, which can be disappointing when the newly remarried couple is ready for everyone to connect and share their newfound happiness.
Before trying to blend a family through marriage or living together, many people find it helpful to learn the unique ways to navigate this territory, avoid hazards, and facilitate a smoother transition. Others wait until they hit unexpected bumps in the process to seek outside help.
Family Therapy for Blended Families
When family members accept that the new family will not be the same as the previous family, learn to respect each other, and give new relationships time to form gradually, they more often are able to ultimately succeed as a cohesive family.
Family therapy is an effective way for a blended family to work through the issues that each member brings to the new family in a respectful manner, avoiding the build-up of tension and resentments.
Parents face the challenge of sorting out their new roles and setting boundaries with regard to parenting, discipline, financial obligations, transitions between households and how family time is spent.
They also need to learn how to best reassure their children that they will answer questions and discuss feelings the children might have about the family changes since the remarriage. Children need to gain confidence about their parent's continued love for them and help to ease the tension in forming a relationship with their stepparent.
Parents can also learn ways to maintain a healthy relationship with their own children while building a solid, loving bond with their spouse and stepchildren.
Typically, the initial family therapy meeting would be with the couple alone first to get a clear picture of the remarriage and the complexities of the entire system. Then, if appropriate, other family members would meet as a whole group or in various combinations depending on the pertinent issues.
Are you using any of these 10 ineffective strategies?
- Are you and your spouse attempting to push the feeling on everyone that you are just “one big, happy family?"
- Is the stepparent trying to replace the out-of-home parent?
- Are you deciding how the new family will be run without considering children’s input?
- Is the stepparent moving quickly to change how discipline is handled?
- Has your stepfamily resulted in a dramatic change in the time spent between children and their natural parent?
- Is the stepparent moving into an authority role before building a good relationship with the children?
- Have you failed to shift your primary commitment from your children to your spouse?
- Have you neglected to form a strong couple bond?
- Do you brush off problems rather than deal with them because you fear failing your new marriage.
- Do you personalize the rejection by your stepchildren and feel defeated after all your efforts?
Top successful Stepfamily strategies:
- Build, nurture and protect a strong couple relationship (which can be tough with the demands of children).
- Go slow–let attachments between step relationships evolve gradually
- Invite kids to give input on various changes to rules and roles (kids appreciate being included in the process even when adults get to make final decisions)
- Let biological parent handle discipline for the first year while the stepparent focuses on bonding with kids
- Stepparent does not personalize stepchild’s rejection
- Accept that conflict is normal and encourage kids to express emotions
- Expect there to be feelings of loss or resentment for the inherent changes caused by the new family situation
- Create new rituals and traditions with input from kids