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Stepfamily, a Growing Concern
Challenges of a Blended Family
The blended family had become more popular than the traditional nuclear family. Today about 24% of the American population comprise of the nuclear family as oppose to 40% in 1970. (Wikipedia) The divorce rate in North America is about 50%. This means that the blended families will continue to grow as more people get divorced and remarried. According to the Census Bureau, by 2010 the blended family will become the dominant family structure in the US
Today's women on average get married for the first time in their mid twenties to early thirties. Statistics of Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark show that the average age of women's first marriage is usually thirty years old and men 32 years old. For North America, the average age of first marriage is between 25 and 28 for women and 27 and 29 for men. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_age_at_fir_mar_for_wom-people-age-first-marriage-women
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of women getting divorced for the first time is 33. The average age for women getting divorced from a second marriage is 39. As the median age between re-marriage, i.e. second marriage is 3.5 years, this means that a women will be in her second marriage by the age of 37 and a man at the age of 42. This means that both are both still within the childbearing age range, and so having children together is highly likely. They are also likely to bring children to the new marriage.
The blended families phenomenon is growing as about 65% of remarriages involve children.(US Census Bureau) The Bureau states that 2/3 of all remarried women and 23% of children will cohabit as stepfamilies.
The blended family has to deal with the realities of merging two families. This is sometimes challenging as values and parenting styles collide. Children are usually caught up in this collision of biological parents and stepmother/father. Coordinating holidays and vacations can become a huge undertaking. Small details can become very complicated, especially, if the exes are still feuding. One parent may undermine agreements with another, thus creating confusion and changes in previously arranged plans.
My personal experience confirm some of the statistics and trends. My husband and I were divorced for an average of ten years. This is our second marriage. He came into the second marriage with two teenage daughters and I with a teenage daughter. Raising teenage girls is difficult without the baggage of a stepfamily. The differences in our parenting styles were major challenges because we had opposing expectations of the children.
I am very involved with my daughter since I had been a single mother for over ten years. My daughter and I had open communication and even though I allowed some independence, I expect to know where she was always. She had a curfew of 11pm and had to call to let me know if she was going to stay out later. She was expected to respect and participate in family obligations. This does not mean that she was an angel, of course, she was a teenager, with normal reactions.
My husband, on the other hand, was very much hands off. He did not set a curfew for his children; they could stay out as late as they please. He did not demand that they respect family obligations. This is not to say that they were dispespectful, they just had other priorities. Initially these differences in expectations were the bases of many conflicts. Gradually, we learnt to respect each others style.
Raising a six years old son together has enabled us to utilize our different parenting approaches. We have to constantly work at our parenting skills so that we do not undermine each other. In our family, it would appear that my son is the bridge that blends the family together. From time to time the children have commented on the differences or similarities with their upbringing as compared to their brother. When all is said, they respect and love each other and that's all that a family can expect.
Stepmothers historically do not have a positive image and so that can put some stress on the relationship with stepchildren; stepmothers sometimes find it difficult to decide whether they should be a friend or a parent .The role of a stepfather to teenagers or young adults can be very strained; as stepfather struggles to balance being a disciplinarian or a cool "yes man". It is uncharted territory as biological mother and father,stepmother, stepfather, and stepchildren compromise in the interest of each other. There are no easy answers or solutions as each case is unique and require specific considerations.
I love all my children; biological and step, and would not trade them for anyone else. Even though it continues to be a struggle as personalities clash over the smallest of issues, patience is a virtue. Respect, support and understanding are attributes that allow for a workable relationship in a blended family.