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Ingredients Before Blending
family is the term used when previously separated parents remarry and
combine families. If you are looking at “blending” consider these
points to facilitate the children’s adjustment:
Have a suitable courtship period.
purpose of courtship is to ensure compatibility prior to marriage. When
children are involved, the issue of compatibility extends to the potential
stepparent/stepchild relationship and between potential stepsiblings.
Families each have their own culture, and their own rituals. During the
courtship process, the adults and children use the time to learn and
experience their family differences with the view to determining
compatibility, adaptation and change. This can only occur over time and a
year or two would be a reasonable minimal period for such courtship.
Guessing how the kids will respond, adapt or change to anniversaries,
birthdays, religious holidays, etc., places them and the blended family at
risk. Experiencing and planning for these events during courtship will
give some clue as to what to expect after blending and give time to plan.
Consider how the kids should address new partners.
courtship you didn’t expect the kids to call the potential stepparent as
mom or dad, but with marriage, many parents do expect this change. For
some children this represents an enormous emotional adjustment. Some kids
just don’t view the stepparent in the same capacity as a parent and they
may fear upsetting their other parent when calling the stepparent mom or
dad. As such, what the children call stepparents must be a matter of
discussion, not only between parent and stepparent, but also with natural
parents and then with the kids. The degree to which this can be sorted out
in advance of marriage, the greater the likelihood of a smooth transition.
Names do matter and showing respect can go a long way to facilitating
Find an “up-side” for the kids.
choice to marry is based upon the adults’ desire for a significant
intimate relationship. However from the child’s perspective, they can
perceive themselves losing time with the newly married parent. Further,
they may now have to share other family resources and there may be a
change in residence away from familiar community, friends and school. As
such, kids may begrudge the new family and take out their upset on the new
stepparent as the source or cause of change. The additional risk in these
situations is when the child then complains to the other parent, seeking
to avoid the newly blended family. The other parent will likely take the
child’s side and try to minimize their upset. Frequently this takes the
form of a challenge to the access regime with more restricted access to
the newly blended family so as to keep the child away from the upsetting
situation. However, this only
creates new problems. Allowing time for new relationships to develop and
facilitating a tangible benefit to the child in the midst of the changes
can minimize the risk of this situation.
Determine issues of responsibility and authority.
entering into blended families need to discuss expectations and the limits
of authority for the care, management and discipline of each other’s
children. Planning in advance and having the children experience these
clearly set structures help the children learn and adjust to new rules.
new partner can be a wonderful and refreshing experience for separated
parents. However, before moving too quickly to marriage or co-habitation,
it is best to take time to facilitate adjustment. The purpose of this is
to increase the probability that the newly blended family will succeed for
everyone and thus limit the chance of another failed marriage with all the
disruption it brings to the children.
Do develop and enjoy new relationships. This is natural and healthy. Do so with sensitivity to your children’s adjustment. It really does take considerable time, energy and discussion.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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