By Shavonda Bean
The American family structure is more diverse than ever. With remarriage on the rise, many who decide to share their lives will do so with someone who already has a child. The latest U.S. Census data indicates 16 percent of children are living in blended families. Envisioning the love you have for your child, combined with the love you have for your new spouse, might paint the prettiest picture. Yet, blending families is not always as smooth as it sounds.
While we know divorce can be a life-changing experience for all involved, blending families can also involve challenges worth advance consideration. The age of your child at the time your family dynamics will change is significant. Children under 10 often find it easier to adjust and accept new parental relationships. As research and my practical experience indicates, children between ages 10 and 14 have more difficulty adjusting. They are old enough to process their emotions and grapple with the loss or idea of their original family. Teens, however, are more likely to be engrossed with seeking their own identities, be less involved in the blending process or have less need for a new relationship with a parental figure.
Helping children of all ages prepare, adjust and thrive in blended families requires planning, communication and commitment. Here are a few points to consider when planning for your new family unit.
How Children Cope
Children can experience a range of emotions during the family blending process, including feeling very happy, angry, sad, anxious or confused. Many questions surface as children contemplate their importance, their place in the new family or what it means to have new siblings. So while a range of emotions can be normal during the transition, look for signs of maladaptive coping that might include aggression, withdrawal or significant decline in academic or behavioral functioning. Create space for your child’s thoughts, ideas and emotions to be heard, considered and discussed. Ask open-ended questions and listen…without judgment.
Rules and Order
Finding your soul mate does not always mean you will share the same style, tone or approach to discipline. When a new parent enters the scene, it is critical to discuss discipline. Some decide to share the responsibility or discipline their own children, and it depends on the child’s age. Regardless, don’t begin disciplining a child before you have formed a healthy relationship. Make this discussion a priority and establish an agreement and standard of respect for authority. Avoiding this discussion or assuming it will work itself out can strain a marriage and parent-child relationships.
It’s Worth the Wait
Your child’s elation and excitement about the new face of his or her family does not happen automatically. Give it some time. Children often have a sense of loyalty to one parent or another, thereby making it difficult to balance their own emotions and the need to protect, defend or support their parents. Don’t expect your child to love your new spouse as much as you do in half the time. Healthy relationships require nurturing, room to grow and time to get to know each other.
Share the Love
Remind your children that there is enough love to go around. We can have separate buckets of love for our children and spouses. Maintaining a relationship with your own child and spending one-to-one time is important. Remember, children need to be loved, want to feel safe and function well with stability.
Marriage and blended families can create meaningful relationships and support systems that last a lifetime. Prepare for the transition and lay a foundation for surmounting those bumps in the road of a wonderful journey.
Shavonda Bean is a licensed psychological associate and owner of Essential Assessments & Behavioral Health. Visit Essentialhealthnc.com for more information.