The face of the American family is changing. Because of the shift in marriage and relationship dynamics, more and more families are becoming “blended”.
Americans love fairy tales – especially the one where Prince Charming and Cinderella live happily ever after. If that did not come true in the first marriage, we may just have another chance with the second one.
But blended, or step-, families are not without their struggles and must evolve into a balanced and structured family situation.
Eventually fantasy will give way to reality as confusion and conflict settle in. However, with time and patience, a blended family will eventually come together and find resolution.
A Family is What We Make It
A blended family is begun when an adult, with at least one child from a previous marriage, forms a household with someone who has no ties to that child. Although that does not have to be a new spouse, for purposes of this article we are going to assume it is a new spouse.
This new household can be attached to a variety of people such as the “other” parent(s), possible new brothers and sisters, old in-laws and new in-laws, old grandparents and new grandparents, etc. It’s a virtual blender of people that evolves a new family of “step-kin.”
The 5 Stages of Step-Family Growth
Margaret Newman, registered psychologist, in her book “Stepfamily Realities“, lists five stages in step-family growth. Each stage can, and probably will, be experienced with portions of other stages present, too. However, these stages represent the evolution of step-family life.
1. The Fantasy Stage
Husband and wife feel all dreams of family life will finally come true. Step-siblings may be looking forward to living together. There is idealism with everyone putting their best foot forward. In addition, the two parents are getting to know each other as mates. This is hard enough with no children present.
2. The Confusion Stage
Differences begin to emerge and expected happiness is slipping away. Still, there is typically denial of impending trouble. Tension grows, romance wanes, children’s novelty has worn off, and fear of not making it rears its head.
One parent may feel alienated from their step-children and unsure of how to create a bond with them. The parents may begin to notice distance growing between them as they focus more on the family dynamic than on their relationship.
3. The Conflict Stage
Power struggles begin as family members want their needs met. Open or hidden expressions of anger and aggression appear.
Children may not respect the demands of the non-biological parent or parents may disagree on how to raise and discipline the children.
4. The Coming-Together Stage
Relationships are becoming familiar, parts of the family are operating smoothly, and members are learning to resolve issues. Hope is renewed.
Children will begin to place trust in the non-biological parent and begin to form a bond with them. The parents are more relaxed and able to place focus once again on their relationship.
5. The Resolution Stage
Optimism returns and the future looks better. Family members can relax and start to be themselves. Methods for resolving conflict have been learned and can be used as needed. Family ties are growing.
A family is what we make it.
Remember this as you move through the different stages of evolving a step-family and learn to get along with the ex or exes, the his, the hers, and possibly the ours of children, plus the cousins, the grandparents, the aunts, and the uncles.
You can move through conflicts, become step-kin, and form the new American family of the 21st century.