Challenges of a Blended Family: Handling Your Ex + Stepkids

After a divorce, I know firsthand how hard it is to imagine finding love again. Factor in having children, and it just seems downright impossible. We worry whether someone could love our children the way we know they deserve to be loved. We worry if our kids will accept this new man into their life.  What if they have their own children… Will their kids like us (and vice versa)? More importantly, will all of the children like each other? Looking at all of these variables, it’s no wonder that the process of blending families is a very complicated and lengthy one.

Changing Roles

Based on the successful blended families that I’ve known, it took them anywhere from two to five years to become established. In the early days, everyone was struggling to adjust to the changing roles. After sitting on the other end of the phone listening to many a tearful conversation, the biggest adjustment in the beginning for my friends   I don’t have to, you’re not my parent.”

Let’s Talk Numbers

Here is a little factoid: 75 percent of the 1.2 million people who get divorced eventually remarry, and a staggering 65 percent of those second marriages end up in divorce… Ouch!  We don’t need to see those statistics to know how hard relationships can be, but factor in a multitude of different lives, and it just makes sense for us to do everything we possibly can to ensure success before we take on the challenge of merging separate families.

Expectations And Establishing Rules

In my friend’s cases, when they began seriously talking about blending families, they agreed to learn as much about each other’s (past) romantic and family relationships as possible.  They put all of the expectations they had for their relationship out on the table, and did their best to make sure that all past hurts and disappointments were put to bed so that they could move forward with a clean slate.

They also had to establish clear rules when it came to the issue of disciplining the children, agreeing that the biological parent would be the primary enforcer of discipline with their own kids, and the other person would always back them up no matter what.  It wasn’t easy in the beginning, with both sets of children trying their best to push the boundaries, creating a tremendous amount of stress on everyone. When my friend was tempted to step in and intervene when she felt her partner was being too lenient on his child, she honored their rule, held her tongue and waited until they were alone to express her thoughts.

Parenting Styles

Experts agree that the number one cause of divorce is primarily due to differences in parenting styles. One can only imagine the challenges that parents of blended families have to face, coming into a situation with step children whose parents have already established the disciplinary roles. These kids have it all figured out, and they’re not about to let some interloper come in to the picture and change the game.

The Exes

Another big obstacle that I watched my friends struggle to work through was the effect that their partner’s ex-wife had on the children.  In my friend’s case, it seemed like every time she was making progress with her step kids, their mother would deliberately attempt to sabotage her efforts by creating drama.  Thankfully for her, she had a partner who didn’t think she was being paranoid or too sensitive, and he listened to her concerns, supported her feelings, and did what he could to handle the problem.

The Kids Aren’t Getting Along

In the middle of a venting session, one of my friends announced with a long, pained sigh, “The kids hate each other, and I don’t think that there will ever be any peace in our house.” 

“Well, are you making them spend all of their time as a family, or are you both carving out some special time for each of your own kids?” I asked.  Long pause… “We have been trying so hard to unite as a family, that I guess maybe we forgot,” she answered.  It seems to me that they may be more receptive to the idea of blending families if they felt like they still had part of their old one too.

Carving out Some Time Sans Kids

“What about you two? Are you guys working on your relationship separate from the kids?”  I added a few minutes later. Another long pause. “Well, probably not as much as we could be. I know that it’s important, but we have been focusing so much on trying to get the kids acclimated to this new life.” My advice? The best thing to do would be to stop worrying so much about building the whole family as a unit, and instead focus on building the parts that make up that whole, letting the process happen naturally.

Do you have a blended family? What are some struggles you face, and how are you able to overcome them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Tags : family   relationships   marriage   divorce   

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