Blended Families, Part I
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked
with children of all ages for over twenty years. Usually parents
drag their kids into my office complaining of a litany of bad
behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up their rooms, to getting
bad grades, hitting their siblings, or worse, stealing, fighting
or doing drugs. I work with parents to change their children's
behavior by changing the way the parents approach the children.
This is part I of a four-part series of articles on blended
families and some of the inherent problems and dynamics kids and
In a blended family, one or both partners have been married
before. One or both has lost a spouse through divorce or death,
and may have children from the previous marriage(s). They fall in
love and decide to remarry, and in turn, form a new, blended family
that includes children from one or both of their first households.
Stepfamilies, another name for blended families, are more of a norm
now than ever. At least one-third of all children in the U.S. will
be part of a stepfamily before they reach age 18.
The psychology of blended families starts out being very
different when comparing the kid's versus the parent's points of
view. While parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new
blended family with great joy and expectation, yours or your new
spouse's children may feel left out of the parent's choice. They
may feel uncertain about the change(s). What will the new person
in their life mean to them? What will their new stepsiblings be
like? How will their relationship with their biological parents
change? Children in blended families may at first resist the many
changes they face. However, young children, especially those under
ten, may adjust more easily because they thrive on cohesive family
relationships. Generally, they are more accepting of a new adult.
While they may still feel competitive for their parent's attention,
they also have fewer and simpler daily needs, which stepparents more
likely can meet. Adolescents aged 10-14, may have the most difficult
time adjusting to a stepfamily. Generally, they need more time to
bond before accepting a new person as a disciplinarian. Teens may not
demonstrate their feelings openly, but may be as sensitive, or more
sensitive than young children when it comes to needing love, support,
discipline and attention. Teenagers fifteen or older may have less
involvement in stepfamily life. They naturally prefer to separate
from the family as they form they own identities. Again, kids in
this age group may not be open in their expression of affection or
sensitivity, but still want to feel important, loved and secure.
Fortunately, most blended families are able to work out their
growing pains and live together successfully. Open communication,
positive attitudes, mutual respect and plenty of love and patience
all have an important place in creating a healthy blended family.