BLENDED FAMILIES

HOW DO WE BRING OUR FAMILIES TOGETHER IN A HARMONIOUS WAY?

OVERVIEW Parents with young son kicking soccer ball

Blended families bring special challenges as well as the potential for a wonderful expansion of family relationships. Complexity is a given when two adults with previous marriages or relationships, and children from those unions, come together to start a new life. Not only are the partners often still connected to their child's other parent around a variety of logistics, but the children are tied to both of their parents as well as new step-parents, new siblings, and new home environments in which they may divide their time.

Sometimes blended families have their origins not in divorce, but as a result of a death. Feelings of loss on the part of the children involved are intense and complicated in whatever way their parents ceased to be together. Those feelings can create conflict for children in efforts to blend into a new family configuration – feelings of guilt, misplaced responsibility, anger, betrayal, and yearning for 'the way it used to be'. Having to share their parent with a new partner and potentially that partner's existing children or new children to come can intensify feelings of loss and displacement.

And for the adults who have embarked on another chance at 'happily ever after', the excitement felt for their new partner and future is tempered by the need to reassure and care for children to promote the best sense of security and consistency possible. It is no easy task to spread one's energy in so many directions, especially when the most tempting thing would be to revel in the wonderful discovery of new love.

Former spouses or partners can exert their own influence into the new dynamic, in constructive or destructive ways. Unfinished business may lead to resentment of the new relationship, and in turn children may be further put in the middle when an 'ex' is distressed – legitimately or not – by the blossoming of a new family unit. Sometimes however, former partners can enhance the new situation through their understanding that a happy home and new partnership for their ex-spouse can lead to a good environment for their children. Parents have a high bar to meet in terms of conducting themselves in a way that does not further unsettle the children. Healthy communication patterns – directly with each other and not through the children – are key.

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