Dr. Wyatt talks about the dynamics of a blended family. Coming from a blended family himself, who better to talk about the topic? He tells us first-hand what parents and children should expect when living in this kind of family environment and how the members of the family can follow some easy steps to have a successful blended family!
With the divorce rate around 50%, blended families are becoming more the norm than the exception. Some of us may remember the old TV series The Brady Bunch where a beautiful blended family of 8 got along fabulously and every obstacle had a happy ending. If only real life were so simple. Most blended families are wrought with difficulty on a variety of fronts.
First, the biological parent can feel torn between caring for their children who just experienced a traumatic divorce, and focusing on their new spouse. The step-parent can struggle by feeling jealous over the attention their spouse pours on their children and frustrated with not being able to parent like they desire to because it’s not their place.
The children can feel jealous of their parent’s attention towards their new spouse and resentment towards their new parent trying to replace their missing father/mother.
“Getting rooted in Godly behavior”
I come from a blended family myself and remember the above dynamics quite well. My parents divorced when I was six and I lived with my mother who remarried. I remember my mom feeling torn between giving attention to my step-dad and me. My step-dad was jealous towards the attention I received from my mother and frustrated about not being able to parent me how he saw fit. I also remember me feeling jealous of all the attention my mother gave my step-dad and resentment towards him because he wasn’t my biological father.
To create a successful blended family requires several components.
- God’s Foundation
The first step for a blended family is getting rooted in Godly behavior. In addition to attending Church as a family of everyone’s liking and having family devotions, it’s also important to get grounded in God’s Word. “…..in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV). As this verse points out, it’s essential for each new family member to value one another over themselves by showing respect for one another. In addition, blended families ought to “…..be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8, NIV). Combining families requires a lot of sympathy and compassion for the challenges everyone faces with the immense transition.
- Open Communication
Because blending families can be so complex and challenging, open communication is a must. The parents must regularly spend time talking to not only keep their relationship strong but to also process together any concerns they see or feel within their new family. Next, open communication should be encouraged between the parents and any children where there is tension and frustration. Feelings must be discussed not ignored and swept under the rug. It’s also recommended to encourage siblings to talk through negative thoughts or feelings they may be having towards one another. Finally, it’s ideal to immediately start a weekly family meeting rhythm for the whole family to discuss together how things are going, what’s been frustrating for each member, and what could help moving forward.
- Family Fun
One of the best ways to start bonding as a new family is having fun together. All too often newly blended families never have a warming up phase to get to know one another before the strain and pressures of life take over. Therefore, families must intentionally carve out weekly time as a family where the sole purpose is to have fun together and doing activities that are enjoyable for everyone. Through unstructured play time, parents and children alike tend to relax and let down their guard, which usually paves the way towards deeper connections. In addition, when we are having fun we tend to feel positive towards those we are having fun with because our feelings spill over.
- Family Rules
The parents must develop a new set of house rules and expectations for the children so they both feel respected and included in the parenting process. Further, it’s wise to involve the children in this conversation as well, especially if they are in middle school or above, so they also feel like they have a voice in creating their new family culture. The more everyone feels heard and respected with their input, the more buy-in will occur from all parties. These new family rules and expectations can then be revisited during the weekly family meeting and revised as needed.
“Open communication is a must.”
Creating a blended family isn’t easy; however, developing God’s foundation, open communication, family fun, and family rules can make it much easier.
Dr. Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in Boulder, CO.