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 family challenges 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
Although blended families can face some difficult challenges, there are many options when it comes to finding an appropriate solution that works best for your family.
Children Have a Difficult Time Sharing Parents
Blended families may have more children than nuclear families. Two children who are accustomed to sharing their mother's love between 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 may 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 their siblings. Do not encourage sibling rivalry, but instead praise kindness and understanding amongst the siblings.
Several aspects of forming a new family can create family 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 a sense of abandonment on some level. Be sure to make the best decision for your children when it comes to changing your name. Some children won't feel bothered by this, while others may internalize this act negatively. You can always change your name later on once your children are older if you feel it would upset them to do so at this time.
Mixed Feelings About a Step-Parent
Another common issue is for children to feel confused about their relationship with a step-parent. While many kids dislike the new spouse or partner at the start, positive feelings can develop fairly quickly. While this may seem like a positive thing, it can cause difficulties for children sorting out their feelings for their biological father versus the father they live with on a day-to-day basis according to Dr. Jeanette Lofas of the Stepfamily Foundation. Be sure to speak with your child about their feelings and let them know that it is okay to love their biological parent, as well as a step-parent and that doesn't mean one will replace the other.
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. Be sure to not involve the kids in anything inappropriate when it comes to legal disputes and keep legal conversations private. These are not suited for kids, even ones who are older, as it forces them to participate in adult issues.
Blended families often have large numbers of children, and all 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 may 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 may not be happy either because they may feel like the place is not "theirs" and they are not welcome.
If you can't move into a new home together as a family, 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 members allotted space as equal as possible.
Remember that territory will include items as well as space. Create schedules for who may use shared family items and for how long. 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 on 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.
Family Challenges With New Routine Adjustment
Different families will all have their own unique routines. Blended families may face the challenge of combining two routines that don't necessarily work well together. As a blended family, create your own routine that works best for all of your needs. This can include:
- Having set rules and preferences regarding family dinner and time spent together on weekends to foster family connection.
- Creating new curfews that work fairly for all the children. This doesn't necessarily mean they need to be the same time, but they should be similar based on age to minimize bickering.
- Creating a new carpool schedule.
- Creating new family traditions that strengthen your family.
- Adjusting to new holiday needs and customs.
Even though it can feel challenging to create new routines, doing so and sticking to them can help strengthen your blended family.