Blended Family Situations and Helps
His and hers
My blended family
When my dear second husband and I married there was very little help, books, or even acknowledgement out there. We felt adrift in a sea of nuclear families with no one to go to with our unique problems. We managed to maneuver through the challenges by making a ton of mistakes, but living through them. Today is much better for blended families because there are slues of books, websites, blogs, counselors, pastors, and general knowledge for the struggling blended family to turn.
My husband had two children, a boy and girl, from a previous marriage and I had two girls from a previous marriage. They were ages 6, 7, 8 and 9, when we married. Our problems were nearly immediate. My oldest girl was angry for years. She had moments of happiness, when she actually enjoyed an event or holiday with all of us, to be closely followed by a week or two of acting up. It was as if she felt guilty for having fun.
All seemed happy at first
The middle two, my youngest and his oldest, were very compliant and easy going most of the time. From time to time the oldest made them feel bad about being so accepting, but they both managed to fit in well in the new family order.
The youngest had a number of social and behavioral problems, but was mostly happy to be one of the family. However she and the oldest clashed constantly. I’m not sure why that dynamic was so volatile but it was.
On top of being a blended family, we were also a multi-racial family. If things weren’t hard enough before, the extra dynamic made it harder but not impossible. We were determined not to experience another divorce. Murder, maybe; but no divorce. (That’s a joke.) I think that is part of what it takes to make a second-chance marriage work. You must determine not to use the “D” word at all. Not an option! The most important thing that kept us together was our mutual faith in God and our consistent pray time together.
Birth Order dynamic
The studies show that typically it will be the oldest, which has the biggest problem with the new blended family situation. Perhaps it is because he or she feels a loyalty to the absent parent; perhaps it is because they are old enough to remember the family before it broke up. Either way, the oldest will not want to accept this new family dynamic. If they do feel good or accepting about it, they typically will feel guilty or even disloyal for feeling that way. This causes the oldest to want to act out, set up family disturbances or fights amongst the others, sometimes without even know that they are doing it. It is incredibly hard to keep things fair and balanced in the blended family situation but this dynamic will add extra stress. The best thing to do is to take him or her away from the rest occasionally, talk intelligently with them and assure them you understand that they miss the absent parent. Ask how they are doing with the others and with school or other stressors. Remember a child has a hard time articulating feelings. They know they feel deeply but don’t always know why or know how to tell you about it.
I remember one summer when my oldest was told in a letter that her father was coming to see them during the summer. As I look back now I realize she placed herself near the window in the living room all summer so that she would be the first to see him driving up the driveway. When school began in September she completely melted down, throwing things, yelling and refusing to go to school. When I got her alone she finally was able to say that school starting meant that the summer was officially over and her father had not come. This is so difficult for children. She wasn’t mad at me or the other members of the family, but we were there and her father was not. Don’t be too surprised if you are on the receiving end of blow-ups that are not really about you.
How would you feel about strangers children calling you Grandma or Grandpa?
Extended Family dynamic
You have no control over how your parents or your new spouse’s parent accept or receive the new stepchildren. Some people are wonderful and accepting of these new additions to their grandchildren, remembering birthdays and Christmas gifts. However not all extended families are like that. I was unaware of this dynamic and upon bringing my new stepchildren to my parents for the first time, the sweet innocents called my parents “grandma and grandpa.” My parents were not ready for this and were offended as if I had instructed the children to call them that. If I had it to do all over again, and had the presence of mind, I would have told my new children to ask my parents what they would like to be called. This would have put the ball in their court and allowed them the freedom to decide what their role would be. My sweet stepchildren were very mystified at my parent’s rejection of them. How do you explain something like that? There really isn’t a way. This one incident kept my parents from getting to know two sweet and lovable children. Wasted years. Don’t let this happen.
Absent Parent dynamic
Just as every individual is different, every family and divorce is different. What will work well with one absent parent, may not work at all for the next one. While some are very accepting of the new marriage and stepsibling dynamic for their child’s sake, some are totally against the new marriage and “subjecting” their child to having to live with some stranger’s children. You will have to work out the best means possible to continue regular visits with your child’s absent parent. I think this inequality may be the hardest to explain to children. While my stepchildren’s mother lavished her children gifts, my ex did not do the same for his children. They often looked at all the things that their stepsiblings brought home from visits with their mother and couldn’t help but feel jealous. The stepkids were wonderful in their generosity, often sharing or giving things to my girls. This made my oldest even angrier. She was angry at her father’s inattention but could only take that anger out on those of us who were there with her. This is so typical. Remember that children are not really rational people; not yet. They are filled with emotion and sometimes cannot process that emotion well. Again, my best recourse was to take the oldest out and help her to process what she was feeling and why.
Blended Family Don'ts
My dear husband and I found that the biggest no-no for blended families is the one most often indulged in. Blaming the absent parent for the past failure or present concerns in front of the children. It makes sense that the children still love and want to honor their absent parent. In their minds, they are at least on half that parent. What you never want to do is talk bad about the absent parent to or in front of the children. This causes a conflict of emotions within the child, which eventually they will have to decide on a side. Making them take sides is immature and wrong. My ex beat me for 4 years 2 months and 28 days till I grabbed the girls and ran away. When my oldest was about 12, she wanted to know what broke up the marriage with her father and I mistakenly thought she was old enough to understand. Also I thought the truth was more valuable/important than a lie. A lie would have been much better for her to hear and process, because she simply could not take in the truth. She later asked her father if it was true and he said I was a liar. It was easier for her to believe that I lied, than to believe he was capable of the things I said he had done. He later showed his true colors but it would have been better for her to find out that way than the way I told her. There were many hurtful years were she disparaged and distrusted me over that one incident. Again, you know your child better than anyone and every family is different. However I have found that the less negativity you say about their absent parent in front of them, the better.
These are just a few of the dynamics that come into play in a blended family. Believe me we all make mistakes. It helps to go to your child and apologize when you know you handled something badly and let them know you don’t intend to do that again. This is very freeing to a child. It allows them to feel that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay for them to make a mistake: even mom or dad makes mistakes. Also it shows your child that you are willing to say you’re sorry. Children are very forgiving and willing to give allowances when they know you are on their side. I also liked to let them know that this blended family-thing is as new to me as it was to them. I don’t have all the answers but I’m trying to do my best. In the end we can ask no more of our children or ourselves.
One of the key things to remember, whether you are having trouble with your ex, your spouse’s ex, or your stepchildren, is that none of this will last forever. Only your marriage is to last. Never do anything that will compromise your marriage. The kids will grow up and move away, go to college, get married, have a family of their own and the exs will not need to be seen by you again except at key events like weddings and funerals. This means that you need always to work on keeping your marriage important.
My husband is my best friend. We rallied around each other when hard times came and we survived, although there were times when I just wasn’t so sure. He has my back and I have his. Today our relationship is stronger than ever and I’m so glad we made it through those tough years when the kids absent parents were harassing and sabotaging us as a family. Stay strong.