On the eve of traditional annual celebrations such as Thanksgiving, many reconstituted families deal with challenges created by blending-impacts. Blended families have always existed. In more modern times, marital breakdown has become more common and socially acceptable. A popular American television comedy show, the Brady Bunch aired from the late 1960’s to 1974. The series lasted for years in syndication thereafter, and showcased two widowed parents, each with 3 same-gendered children forming a new blended family.
Of course, since the late ’60’s, there have been many more programs produced for television that deal with reconstituted families resulting from separation and divorce, not just widowhood. Where two families decide to merge or blend together, there are often many conflicts and problems that arise. During the early years of social work, when separation and divorce rates were significantly increasing due to societal changes at large, professionals in Family Therapy used a predominantly developmental stage and change model to explain blending-impacts. Therapists often advised reconstituted families to expect a period of at least 7 years for everyone to blend together in a healthy and functional manner. A period of readjustment was to be expected as family members adapted to new household routines, responsibilities, and expectations.
In more modern times, co-parenting children and teens whose biological parents remain directly involve with their children present an entirely new set of family communication challenges that has yielded a variety of revised therapeutic strategies and tools. Feelings of equity and fairness between blended existing sibling groups and newly born children are often at the source of parenting frustration and conflict. A period of testing loyalties and emotional attachment to biological parents whose visitation is restricted or limited due to residual marital conflict, domestic violence, or court order also complicates processes of reconstituting families.
You may find that some children and young adults have great difficulty understanding that they are not the only people in the home to consider. Your children may struggle with required changes in celebrations, rituals, or traditions that better meet the needs and wants of new family members. Sadly, growing as a new family may in fact result in some family members feeling disenfranchised, neglected, and in more serious situations emotionally stuck and abused.
Even where divorced couples remain locked in patterns of conflict, a majority of healthy co-parents agree to work at meeting the emotional needs of all children involved in blended families. Adults are responsible for determining whether accusations made by children are reality-based, reasonable, and fair. Adults are also expected to possess a more mature understanding of life than their children. They are also charged with the responsibility to know the unique emotional coping style of each child. Be prepared, as there will be some periods when your child or children feel(s) very unhappy with your decision to separate, divorce, move on with someone new, or to remarry.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your child(ren) is to seek a credible mental health practitioner or therapist you trust to help navigate the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies your exciting transition to start anew. There are many wonderful aspects of reconstituted family life that is well worth this period (however long) of adjustment and readjustment. Creating your family on a foundation of true love and respect is a corrective experience that you and your children deserve.
Happy Thanksgiving !!!!
Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW