Blended family is another term for stepfamily. This occurs when a person with children remarries. It can take 2 to 5 years to adapt to a blended family dynamic. The first few years can be difficult for many families. But family members that respect each other may have a smoother transition. It can help to accept differences between the new and old family. Acknowledge that these things take time. Letting bonds form at their own pace helps many blended families succeed.
If you are having trouble with your blended family, therapy can help. Talking one-on-one with a therapist can help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. Couples may also encounter challenges starting a blended family. They can speak with a couples counselor. Tension may exist throughout the family. Family therapy could help resolve these conflicts.
Parents of blended families must sort out their new roles. They must set boundaries around parenting, discipline, and finances. Family therapy or counseling can help address these issues. Therapy can provide a platform for family members to voice their feelings.
In therapy, children can express their fears and concerns. They can then better understand their place in the new family unit. They will be reassured of your continued love and affection. You can also learn how to keep up a healthy connection with your children. You may learn how to build new and loving bonds with your partner and stepchildren.
There are numerous approaches to family counseling. Many are linked to family systems therapy. Other approaches include:
- Family therapy. This is an effective way for blended families to resolve issues. Families can may attend most sessions as a group. The therapist can also plan separate sessions with each child. One or both parents may also meet one-on-one with the therapist.
- Family systems therapy. This type of therapy views the family as a system. Each member's role stems from how the system functions. There are different approaches to family systems therapy. Blended families may find the structural and strategic approaches most helpful. The structural approach looks at family interaction in-session. The strategic approach looks at patterns of interaction outside therapy.
- Family Attachment Narrative Therapy. This approach seeks to improve a child’s bond with a parent or stepparent. Families using this type of therapy meet every day for about two weeks. Parents and stepparents build narratives to help their children heal. Children can then process any confusion, grief, or trauma they have experienced.
- Attachment-based family therapy. This has its roots in attachment theory. It is often helpful for relationships affected by outside issues. It can help parents and children rebuild their relationship. They may learn to work through family, mental health, or divorce issues. Blended families with teens who have mental health issues may also benefit. This type of therapy can help teens with depression or thoughts of suicide.
Consider family therapy. Many blended families find it helpful to attend therapy together. Counseling can ease tensions in a blended family. It may help before or after a remarriage. Therapy often helps family members communicate with each other. It may prevent resentment from building up. This allows a relationship built on mutual respect to form.
Plan ahead. This can benefit adults planning to live together or remarry. One way to plan ahead is to think about potential issues. You might prepare for these by talking to your current partner and your kids. Address any possible changes in your parenting styles. Discuss positive ways to handle conflicts that come up. Changes in parenting can take place before the move-in date or marriage. In these cases, the transition to living together can go more smoothly.
Account for any non-residential parents. Determine how non-residential parents will fit into your family. Acknowledge that the children may wish to keep seeing their other parent. Allow this only if that relationship is safe. Make sure your partner understands you may need to communicate with your ex. Try to develop a civil relationship with ex-partners. Do this only if it is safe and possible to do so. If this would be unhealthy, work with your partner to find a different plan. Decide how you will transition children from your household to your ex’s. Look for the approach that works best for everyone.
Pay attention to your children. Encouraging and showing affection can help ease children's concerns. Your kids may be reluctant to trust a stepparent. They may feel worried you might love them less. You can reassure your kids you will answer any questions they have. Let them know you will continue to discuss their feelings. Remain open to any worries or questions they voice. Stay active and interested in their lives.
Putting tips like these into practice may be harder than expected. Healing rifts between members of a blended family can feel overwhelming. A therapist can help you learn skills for working with your new family. Family therapy may help bring your new family closer.
- Adolescent son with behavior issues in blended family. The Williams family goes with their son, Dustin, 14, to a therapist. They complain about Dustin’s problems with behavior in school. The problems seemed to start at once. Mr. Williams, Dustin’s father, remarried three years earlier. He had divorced Dustin’s mother seven years prior. The transition seemed smooth at first. But therapy sessions reveal Dustin’s sister just moved out for college. Dustin’s father now works longer hours. This leaves Dustin and his stepmother alone together for more time. Dustin’s father has always trusted his wife to discipline Dustin as needed. The two children she raised are now successful adults. Ms. Williams’ parenting style is not extreme. But she is stricter than Dustin’s father. She and Dustin are fond of each other. But she is not as energetic or warm as her husband. In private, Dustin shares that he misses his mother. But he does not want to hurt his stepmother’s feelings. Sessions focus on helping Ms. Williams avoid taking Dustin’s behavior personally. They focus on encouraging Dustin to express his feelings. They reach a compromise. Dustin's father and stepmother find a middle ground between their parenting styles.
- Stepmother establishing boundaries with stepchildren. Susan, 42, has remarried and is unsure how to treat her school-aged stepchildren. If she treats them the same way as her own older children, they get jealous. But if she distances herself slightly from her stepchildren, they act out. This makes her new husband irritated. The therapist asks Susan’s husband to attend their sessions. It is then revealed that Susan is home with the children often. She is expected to discipline them. But Susan and her husband have not come to an agreement about some ground rules. They must still discuss discipline, privileges, and expectations. They sort out these agreements. Then they bring the children into the session. There is no explicit discussion of Susan's difficulties. But the process of being together as a family helps the children bond. Susan’s children come to enjoy a new role as elder siblings. This helps them not to feel jealous. The therapist also has private sessions with Susan’s children. They disclose their feelings of rivalry, which the therapist normalizes. The therapist helps them express their concerns to their mother. Susan is then able to address them.
- Kemp, G., Segal, J., & Robinson, L. (2015, February 1). Step-parenting and blended families. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/step-parenting-blended-families.htm
- Shalay, N. & Brownlee, K. (2008, October 5). Narrative family therapy with blended families. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 18(2), pp. 17-30. doi: 10.1300/J085v18n02_02