Blended families, or step-families, comprise of two parents who have come together in partnership, each with their own children from previous relationships.
With the rise of divorce rates and split families, it’s no wonder that the number of blended families in this world has risen as well. And while blended families can be a beautiful blend of love and compromise, they are not without their problems as well.
Here are three common conflicts faced by blended families everyday:
1. One spouse feels his/her children are treated unequally in the family.
The key to a successful blended family situation is to find balance. One parent will always favor their own biological children over those of their spouse, but it is important to ensure that all the children feel wanted and welcome.
An imbalance may occur when one parent feels they are trying much harder with their spouse’s children than their spouse is with theirs. Or one parent may feel they are doing everything possible to be fair to their spouse’s children but the spouse is not being fair to their children.
Over time even small inequities can build up to major problems when relatively consistent.
2. Problems with the biological parent.
A biological parent will be a real portion of your new married life, dead or alive.
Alive biological parents present practical problems such as holidays, major family events, involvement with school, sports, and other outside activities, plus continued contact between your new spouse and his/her old spouse.
Deceased parents bring discussions of death, grief, visits to cemetery, emotions, and living up to an idealized parent and possibly an idealized former spouse.
Pearl Ketover Prilik, in her book “Stepmothering: Another Kind of Love”, gives advice that can apply to stepmothers or stepfathers. She writes,
“It’s uncomfortable to have someone in your life whom you may never have seen and may not like when you finally meet…. Stepmothers often resent being forced by their husbands of stepchildren, either directly or indirectly, into contact with a woman they would not, under normal circumstance, choose to have in their life in any context whatsoever. But in order to keep your sanity, you will have to learn how to integrate this woman’s existence into your life.”
3. Underestimating the bond of the biological parent who is now your spouse with his/her children.
Taube Kaufman, in her book “The Combined Family A Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships“, writes,
“One-parent families develop their own standards of conduct and methods of communicating. The longer parents and children are together,, the more entrenched they are likely to become in their own unique culture. There is a special bond, a silent code, between single parents and their children that is closed to outsiders.”
Underestimating this bond can give rise to negative feelings ranging from jealously to resentment of the children to feeling left out to a complete feeling of being unloved by your new spouse and his/her children.
“Some stepmothers are shocked to discover that they feel resentment, anxiety, jealousy, indifference, or even downright dislike for their stepchildren. These negative feelings are perfectly normal, but they are difficult to admit and still more difficult to face.”
(Unfortunately, “Stepmothering: Another Kind of Love” by Pearl Ketover Prilik is no longer in print. If you can locate a copy of this book through a local library or a used book store, it is an excellent book to read and/or buy to keep.)
Dealing With Blended Family Conflicts
Julie Johnson, instructor at Hand in Hand Parenting, suggests that stressed-out step-parents should find support from outside of the home. “Talking about the stresses of blended families,” she writes, “is an essential survival tool.”
She also suggests using laughter and fun to reduce tension and build closeness. She says, “Laughter and physical play can be the antidote to tension that arises in any family, and in blended families it can be used strategically during transition days or to build the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren, as well as between new and old siblings.”