Blending families

Gwen Randall-Young

In past columns I dealt with strategies for making life easier for children in blended families. This time we will look at some of the issues faced by adults.

If both parents re-marry, there are now four parents instead of the traditional two. Each of the four likely has a different idea as to how life should be managed. This can create conflict not only between the two sets of parents, but also within each pair.

It is important, firstly, to acknowledge that this is an incredibly complex situation, and secondly, that there will need to be a lot of compromise. If you are a stepparent, the most loving thing that you can do is to find out what your partner really needs in relation to his/her children, and support that. If she gives in too often to her ex-husband, just to keep the peace for the sake of the children, that’s her decision. Only if this directly creates difficulty for you should you pressure her about her choice. If decisions need to be made about the children, it is best to leave those to the natural parents to work out, again intervening only if something directly affects you in a negative way.

It can be hard enough for two parents to come to agreement, much less three or four. Be sensitive to the difficulties that arise when your partner feels caught between you and an ex. Avoid allowing an issue between them to become an issue between the two of you. Try not to make inappropriate generalizations about your relationship based on what is happening in the negotiating process. If she’s bending over backwards to work out an agreement with him, don’t jump to the conclusion that her ex is more important than you are.

Discuss with your partner your role in relation to his/her children. Find out if he wants the two of you equally involved in the care and discipline of his children, or if he prefers you to act in a supportive role. For the sake of your partner and the children, it is best to move into a parenting role gradually, building the trust of all as you go. Try not to attribute selfish motives to other parties, for you will only upset yourself more. Assume that others are acting in accordance with what they need and may be so caught up in their own emotions that they aren’t even thinking of yours.

This is different than if they were consciously trying to make things difficult for you. Ideally, in time, all parties will be able to look at blended family issues in terms of what is fair and equitable, and also what is in the best interests of the child. If there are ongoing troublesome issues that keep coming up, it may be wise to seek counselling.

Often there are simple solutions that just have not occurred to those directly involved. Remember too, how quickly the children will be grown and gone, and try to keep things in perspective.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.