Approximately 65% of remarriages include children from past marriages, which means the problems of a past family system sometimes cross over to a new one. While family conflict happens in all types of families, blended families have many unique issues that many people are unaware of until they start dealing with them. Knowing what to expect in a blended family can help family members address issues before they spiral out of control, or avoid these problems altogether.
Common Issues in Blended Families
Children Have a Difficult Time Sharing Parents
Blended families often have more children than nuclear families. Two children who are accustomed to sharing their mother's love between the two of them may find their mother's attention and time suddenly divided among five children. A reduced amount of time and attention can become a problem. In addition to this reduction in time from the birth parent, children may feel that their biological parent should spend more time with them than with non-biological children.
Resolving this common issue takes a lot of time and patience. Encourage your children to talk openly about their feelings, but make sure that this is done in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
When a blended family forms, the struggles for performance increase and become more complicated. While competition among siblings exists in all families, rivalry with non-biological siblings can be especially bitter. Expect more frequent fighting, and encourage the children to compete against their own personal best instead of what their siblings may be capable of doing.
Several aspects of forming a new family can create identity issues for young children. If the mother's name changes to the last name of the new husband while the children of the mother keep their own last name, children may feel suddenly abandoned.
Another common identity issue is for children to feel confused about their feelings for a step-parent. While many kids dislike the new spouse or partner at the start, positive feelings often develop fairly quickly. While this may seem like a positive thing, it can cause difficulties for children sorting out their feelings for their real father versus the father they live with on a day-to-day basis according to Dr. Jeanette Lofas of the Stepfamily Foundation.
Two families becoming one can add to the legal issues that arose when each original family separated. In a divorce, one partner may get the family house, but when a new partner comes into the picture, the legal agreements may need to be changed. Financial difficulties can arise from ongoing legal disputes or mediation fees.
Blended families often have large numbers of children, and all of the costs associated with raising them. Money may be scarce because of divorce proceedings. Solving these financial issues is difficult, but can take a large amount of worry off the shoulders of the parents. Get help from a financial advisor to get your finances on track; consult a lawyer if you think you are not receiving enough child support, or are paying too much in alimony to your ex. Blending finances in blended families is difficult, but with a little help you can get things in order.
Infringing on Territory
Children in blended families often have difficulties with one another's turf. If one half of the new family moves into the home of the other half, expect considerable amounts of fights and tears in the first few months. The children whose home it originally was may feel threatened by others taking over parts of their space; the children moving into the home will not be happy either because they feel like the place is not 'theirs' and they are not welcome.
If you can't, as a family, move into a new home together, try the following tips to reduce territorial issues:
- Start from square one on bedrooms: everybody swaps, even the parents
- If there are not enough bedrooms, make the den into one, or finish the basement
- If children must share rooms, make sure the kids have an active voice in dividing the room and decorating it
- Clear out all drawers and closets in family spaces (marker drawers, closets full of games, etc.) and start from scratch putting away all family members' belongings
- Keep each family member's allotted space as equal as possible
Remember that territory will include items as well as space. Create schedules for who may use the family computer when, and how long each child may play the Playstation. Encourage the children to share, and provide praise or rewards when they do so.
Does Jane's horse riding lesson conflict with John's baseball game? Coordinating after-school schedules can be difficult. As with organizing the house, try to give each child equal amounts of time and extra-curricular opportunities.
Scheduling in time with the parent with whom each child is no longer living can also throw a wrench in the scheduling. A few different options exist:
- Have all of the kids go to their other parent on the same weekend each month to ensure the kids are all in the blended family enough to bond with one another and work out the issues that arise.
- Have all of the children go to their other parent on alternate weekends so that you have time to share with your own kids without the new siblings being present.
- On a week-to-week rotation schedule, ensure that the kids are not ships passing in the night. If your kids are in your house on week one, and then leave in week two, when your partner's kids are with you, becoming a family will present even more challenges.
It's essential that the kids live together under one roof in order to form a blended family, but it's also nice to have their biological parents to themselves sometimes.
Solving Blended Family Problems
While blended families face even more family challenges than most nuclear families do, these problems can be addressed and solved with a little patience, and a lot of love and good communication.