You’re probably here because you’ve formed or are about to form a new family unit, where at least one other family unit already exists. In other words, when you know you need to seek counselling, you are blending families. This means at least one of the parties is bringing in children from a previous relationship and in order to start a brand new family. The desire is of course for everything to work smoothly from day one, but more often than not, you will encounter some bumps in the road when starting a new blended family. But how do you tell if these are just bumps you need to ride in order to move forward, or if they are real issues that you will require help & support to overcome?
In order to know this, blended families must first understand what are healthy & unhealthy dynamics to be expected in the new family. When the needle starts to swing towards unhealthy, that’s a signal for counselling or support to be considered. Disagreements, arguments and other issues are common in the beginning, but if this has progressed to unhealthy levels, it may be time to seek professional help.
Navigating the world of a blended family can be quite different to being in a traditional family. Often, a significant amount baggage can come along from past relationships and kids. Some families can find that they struggle to blend well. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help to smooth out the creases and make it easier for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at the blended family, some common problems they face, and when they should consider counseling.
What is Blended Family?
A blended family can come in many different forms. It is basically a family that occurs when parents try to combine together with children from one or both of their previous relationships. It often results in a step-parent on one or both sides. Each family has already spent time growing and developing with their respective parents. When they try to blend with a new person, the step parent, or even with other children from the step-parent, there’s bound to be some kinks along the way.
Whether the original parent was ever married before or not, this blended family will cause children, as well as the adults, to go into a new family dynamic that they were not used to before. Whether both or just one partner is bringing kids into this relationship, it is important to give it time for the children to learn and understand the new dynamics they are in.
Keep in mind that these new relationship dynamics can get complicated. If Suzy were an only child with her parents before the divorce, she may not understand how to get along with Tim and Ben when they start living in her home with her mom and new step dad. This is a confusing time already, with Suzy trying to get used to a new parent in the mix, and she also has to adjust to two new step-siblings as well.
Things are tough for Tim and Ben as well. They now have to get used to having a sister for the first time, as well as a new mother figure in their lives. If you as the parent feel confused and overwhelmed by the changes and adjustments, just imagine how much harder this is for the children involved, regardless of how many.
Common Problems That Show Up In Blended Families?
There are many different problems that can arise in a blended family. With some of these families, some work and mutual understanding can help them to handle the problems on their own. For others, help from the outside might be necessary.
Regardless of whether the blended family should consider seeking help for their problems or not, some of the common issues that blended families may face include:
1. Not being on the same page
If you and your partner are not able to get together and agree on important things in the family, it will be harder for the children to get along as well. Right from the beginning, sit together and discuss how you will handle important decisions such as how to parent the children and what your discipline strategies are. Some blended families do better by allowing only the biological parent to be involved in discipline for their child.
2. Trying to be the same as before
It goes without saying that going back to the way you were before is not going to be a reality at this point. Both you and your partner are now responsible for a family that is larger and much different than it was in the past. You can’t continue things as before because you have new people in the mix and the process is different. So sit down with your partner to see how you should handle how the new household should be run, from chores to errands to everything else, that will come up on a day to day basis.
3. Forgetting the ex
If there are children in the relationship, then there is an ex somewhere in the picture. And forgetting to factor this person in is probably not a wise move. Unless the ex is completely cut off from the children and hasn’t been seen in years, they will have some part to play in your family too. So what’s the healthiest way of going about this? Your ex will always be important to your children, even if you have re-married now. So it’s probably best to conduct the ex relationship in the most civil and friendly way that you can muster up in order to help the kids.
4. Not letting your partner parent your children
It can be hard to allow someone else to parent your biological children. As it would be difficult for your partner to accept you parenting or disciplining their children. However, there should be some agreement as to what could be acceptable for both parties. If Thomas the step-father is beginning to find that his step-son Max tends to be very messy, he should be allowed to raise this to his wife Sarah (Max’s biological mom). Sarah may want to try to be objective about this. The couple might want to discuss what Thomas should do in a situation like this. Would Sarah prefer Thomas to approach Max directly to address his messiness? Or would Sarah prefer Thomas to come to her so that she can address issues with her biological son herself? See if you can agree to be fair and kind in these situations and to not get offended as long as your partner keeps the conversation healthy & constructive.
5. Sibling Rivalry
The children from both sides of the relationship are not going to always get along. Even children from the same parents sometimes don’t get along. So be prepared, that with the added complexities of a blended family, that this can multiply.
6. Not giving your children enough attention
You have more children now. This means that you and your partner need to take extra time to really give each one some individual attention. Find even a little time each week to spend with each child in a positive way. Even 10 mins per kid per day will do at the start. This helps them to feel like they are still important in the family, even with all of the changes.
7. Forgetting that it takes work
No matter what fairy tales you have in your head, it is going to take work to make a blended family come together. There is a learning curve and you do not need to master it right away. But do realise that this is something new for everyone and it may not be easy at the start.
Do I Need a Counsellor?
Sometimes blended families can put in a lot of work to try and get everyone on the same page. And to see success with their new dynamic and yet you find something is still not working. There are too many arguments, not everyone feels like they are truly a family. Or you worry that you may need to break up with your partner just to get some normalcy back to your lives.
Consider seeking out the help of a counsellor for your blended family. Did you know that there are more than one type of counselling available to help you through this? Perhaps you and your partner just need some assistance with learning how to navigate your new parenting roles? Or perhaps you feel that a few of the children are struggling with this new dynamic and need help adjusting? Would the whole family benefit with coming in and learning about this new family and how to work together?
All blended families can benefit from working with a counsellor. However, there are a few red flags that show that counselling may be more urgently required. These include:
- When the yelling and screaming is almost constant.
- When a child tries to run away from home.
- If physical violence, either from a parent or a child, as begun.
- When a child has begun to exhibit self-harm.
- When the parents are at the brink of splitting up to stop the insanity.
If any of these have occurred, and especially if several have already happened. It is time to get the blended family into counseling sessions to deal with the problems.
How to Make a Successful Blended Family
No matter how hard you try, be prepared for some hiccups along the way. Bringing together two different families and trying to make it work is no small feat. It is natural for the kids from each side to experience some pullback at the idea that some of their traditions and routines will now be different.
The good news is that there are things you and your partner can do to make your blended family work. Considering counselling when things seem to get out of control is a great first place to start. But some other things you can do include:
- Be civil: If the members of the new family can be civil to one another, rather than trying to withdraw or be hurtful, then the relationship will go more smoothly. Make it a rule that no matter how angry or upsetting something is. Everyone is expected to be civil to one another.
- All relationships are respectful: This includes everyone. Not only should the children be respectful to you, but you need to be respectful to them. Remember that this is hard on them. They are trying to adjust to changes as well. When you can be open and respectful to each other, the family will work.
- Compassion for everyone: The children that come into a blended family are all at different life stages, meaning they all have different needs. Each one may also be at their own stage of accepting this relationship. Teenagers may adapt to this differently than a toddler for example. Keep an open mind and discuss with your counselor how you can respect and work with these differences.
- Understand that things will change with time: The goal is that after being together for a few years, the family will be able to grow. Members will have time to adjust and when the rules above are followed. They can start to create their own bonds. If handled well, even if that means help from a counselor, the family will blend together well.
Too many blended families do not seek the counseling they need. This is often a combination of being in denial about any real problems in the family and the negative stigma that is left behind when it comes to visiting a counselor.
Seeking help from a counselor is not a sign that you are weak or that you did something wrong. It is a recognition that something is not working and you need help. Your blended family is important and if you can recognise that something is off and that the members of the family need help bonding and getting along. Then a counselor may be the best route to make that happen. Seeking help early on, rather than pushing it to the side. And forgetting about it is the best way to give everyone a voice in this new family dynamic.