While the divorce rate dropped 18% between 2008 and 2016 and is currently around 32%, divorced individuals meeting new partners continue to come together with their children and attempt to “blend” families. Though best intention may be at the heart of the desire to bring two families together, successful outcomes seem few and far between (with more anecdotal than hard research data available). As a therapist who does work in the area of grief and bereavement and has a blended family, I feel the complications in trying to unite two families are mostly tied to themes of loss.
The potential pitfalls that blended families will have to navigate are complex. Here are the top 10:
- Conflict over differing boundaries – what is and isn’t okay in each family.
- Confusion and anger about differing rules and consequences.
- Loss related to the definitive ending of a child’s original family constellation is triggered (children usually hold out hope that biological parents may unite).
- For children to embrace a stepparent may feel like a violation of loyalty to the child’s biological parent.
- For children whose parents have been divorced for some time, the introduction of a new spouse may feel like another loss and bring up fear that they will be loved less (children tend to think of love as finite). Anxiety and depression may manifest.
- Sharing of one’s home, personal belongings, community space, bedroom may trigger anger and further feelings of loss for children.
- Children may feel pulled in many ways in terms of their role as they go back and forth between biological parents and try to navigate different households.
- Parents may struggle to form attachments with their step children and stepchildren may struggle to form attachments with their stepparents.
- Relationships with ex-wives and ex-husband’s take on another degree of complexity for adults that affect the children.
- Financial equity of all children may be especially difficult when ex- spouses are involved.
My goal in highlighting these difficulties is not to deter people from attempting to blend families. The blending of families can benefit children in many positive ways and provide stability and a healthy environment that was previously missing from their lives. However, what most families fail to do is enter counseling prior to blending in an effort to anticipate and resolve many of the issues above, which may be further complicated by children’s ages, ethnicity, and cultural and religious factors. Instead, couples forge ahead hoping that love and patience will be enough.
Hopefully, this blog will help adults have a deeper understanding of the potential issues that may arise. If you’re contemplating blending your family, I encourage you to work with a mental health professional who has experience in this area and who can help guide you and your loved ones in a way that will support the best possible outcome for everybody. Anticipating issues, talking them through, and figuring how to handle them before they arise is key.
Reference: University of Maryland; The Coming Divorce Decline, Philip Cowen, https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/h2sk6/