“One of the great enemies of a blended family is the fact that we live in the age of instant everything. It’s natural for Mom and Dad to assume that they’ll have “instant success” with their new marriage and the new family it creates. Sometimes they naively assume that because they love each other so much and because they’ve found the “right” mate “this time,” marriage is going to be so much more wonderful the second time around, and the kids will gladly come along for the ride. The truth is, however, that the term blended family is a misnomer. It’s much more accurate to say that a step family is blending.”
— Dr Kevin Leman
The Modern Prevalence of Blended Family Life
Statistics show that the number of blended families continues to rise. In fact, currently, 40% of all U.S. families are blended families, and that percentage is only counting those who are legally married. There are also many “unofficial” blended families. While divorce statistics have risen steadily over the last decade, the majority of divorced parents marry again. For women under 45, 63% of their remarriages result in a blended family.
Blended families are also commonly created by previously unmarried parents as well as those who have lost a spouse. It is estimated that step-families are created in approximately one third of all U.S. marriages. While the circumstances that lead to a blended family life may differ, the one constant is that an adult makes a commitment to assume a supportive or parental role to the children of their romantic partner.
Challenges of Blended Family Life
With the right tools, many of the unique challenges that blended families face can become opportunities for both personal growth and building strong mutually supportive relationships. Blended families often experience conflict during the process of learning about one another and forming emotional attachments and working relationships. Among common conflicts are children having difficulty sharing. Whether they are adapting to sharing a parent’s time and attention, their personal space, or their toys, learning to share what was previously theirs alone can take time. To help make the transition to blended family life a smooth one, it’s important to have some conflict resolution strategies in place.
Another common source of conflict lies in the process of the step-parent assuming parental authority. Experts suggest that while authority must be given by biological parents as soon as possible, they further suggest that it be exercised only as an extension of the biological parent’s authority until a mutually respectful relationship has been developed. Consistent enforcement of rules that have already been agreed upon and put into place is a good way to build a child’s trust.
To avoid the common occurrence of children of divorced parents attempting to divide them in order to gain more freedom or privileges, parental unity is important. Rules, and the consequences for breaking them, should be negotiated by parents and step-parents in private, then communicated to the children by the parent with the step-parent present in a supportive role. This helps avoid power struggles that end with a child refusing to follow a rule on the grounds that “you’re not my father”.
Another challenge of blending two families is the continued presence of a former spouse in the children’s lives. Agreeing upon and maintaining consistency with rules and consequences is difficult even for two parents, and can be even more so with three or more. This is especially true if one of the causes of the divorce was irreconcilable differences—in parenting. Studies have proven that maintaining relationships with non-custodial parents is important to children’s well-being. Luckily, there are online resources as well as in-person support groups to help smooth the transition, or even provide ongoing emotional support.
Some Benefits of Blended Family Life
Financial and Emotional Support
Of course, far fewer people would accept the challenges of blended family life if it didn’t also offer beneficial and richly rewarding experiences. One of those benefits is economic. Sometimes it means adding an additional income to the family, which can make the difference between a child receiving music lessons or receiving free school lunches. Good day care for working parents is expensive, and when one parent can remain home to care for young children, both the children and the family finances benefit.
Many of the benefits of blended family life for children are of the mental and emotional variety. Personality traits that result from having more adults in their lives, such as increased flexibility, will serve them well throughout their adult lives. They are also more likely to develop superior negotiation skills, partly as a result of having observed that skill being modeled. With more adults in their lives, they are exposed to more interests, talents, skills and abilities, which can have the effect of making them more creative, interesting and popular adults. Finally, they have the opportunity to learn a greater variety of communication styles.
Parents in families expanded by commitment also experience those benefits—plus smiles and hugs from children.