The #1 thing that can help blended families succeed is for them to learn about the dynamics of a step family and to be prepared for them. It’s like pre-planning for a house fire, except YOU KNOW IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.
Second & subsequent marriages are not like 1st marriages! The dynamics are entirely different. From the number of people to consider in decision making to the pressure you feel from the very 1st day. Couples must still learn to be a family, not just a couple. The couple should not divide by having “mine”, “hers” and ”his”... the family is "OURS"! “Only” being a couple leaves gaps in the family system for animosity and resentment to fill in.
**Renegotiate roles, responsibilities, traditions, and boundaries. These must be very clear and clearly communicated. Blending families means 2 parents must come together and blend philosophies on parenting and other family member roles and responsibilities. They have to renegotiate and blend their traditions and hopes and dreams. They must clarify and clearly understand new boundaries. When this doesn’t happen, these blended families stay divided.
**Resolve their dreams of the past and for the future. Couples need to build a shared history and that usually means resolving some hopes for the future and grief for the past. Often people get married again before they have finished grieving for the lost prior relationship. They add this grief to the chaotic circumstances involved with blending a family and it doesn't often go well.
**Risk being hurt again. A healthy relationship involves being vulnerable and imperfect. This means both must also demonstrate genuine acceptance.
**Remove Ideology; families must get rid of the idea that a family has to be "THIS way" or "THAT way". They have to be flexible and confident enough to build the family they want, not the one everyone else has.
**Respect – this means family members need to ALL understand that each person is going through their process separately and differently. Even between full siblings there will be differing opinions of the situation and the people. BUT respect and consideration has to be expressed, even if one hasn’t formed a solid opinion of the other individuals. If favoritism exists, this relationship will not be a happy one, and likely not successful.
**Reframe ideas about stepfamilies and lose negative connotations. Blended families must consider themselves a FAMILY – not just two families who live together, there is no mine, hers or his. “The family is OURS (when talking to others, filling out forms, etc.). Society (and sometimes family and friends) often disputes this mindset. Referring to your family as a bonus family instead of a step-family can help remove the idea that a step-family is "less than" and first family. We all know the negative connotation that comes with the term “step” when referring to step-mothers, step-fathers, and step-child; that they are wicked, evil, rotten, spoiled, murderous, and just plain old second class citizens. Bonus-Mom, Bonus-Dad, and Bonus-Child are clearly more positive terms.
Copyright © Mary Bowles, 05/31/2014
Mary Bowles, PsyD-C, LMFT