This relatively new development in family structure produces its own set of challenges and difficulties, which are not always easy to overcome. This is reflected in stats showing that blended families have a 50-60% chance of breaking down in divorce or separation.
A family can be viewed as a system in which each member of the family is an integral part of that system that is mutually influencing other parts of the system. The metaphor used to describe this phenomenon is the pebble that’s dropped into a pond creating ripples that spread throughout the pond. Likewise, a family members’ actions send ripples through the family structure. When multiple pebbles are dropped into a pond the resulting ripples form complex wave patterns. Similarly, there will be multiple influences in a family system creating complex family dynamics and patterns.
Family Therapy hypothesises that family structures will have sub systems within the main unit, such as one family member having a closer relationship with another member of the family or a son is valued more than a daughter. In addition, these subsystems form hierarchies, for example, parents having more authority and power in decision making with respect to their children. Embedded with subsystems and hierarchies families will have their own set of values and traditions that are governed through family lines or the society they are live in. For instance, one family may have a strong religious orientation, which place a high value on spiritual observances and traditions. Whereas another has a more secular approach that see individual choice as a measure of value. Other factors that influence family systems are communication, boundaries and flexibility.
For blended families these factors are just as prevalent, but they can become more complicated because step or blended families have different dynamics to cope with. This is particularly prevalent with the challenges of non biological adults re-partnering with someone who has children or each adult brings their own children into the family configuration. In biological families there is a natural connection between parents, their children and the broader family of grandparents, aunts and uncles etc. Whereas this is much less likely the case with blended families that have to negotiate new sub systems, hierarchies, rules and values.
The possible challenges that face blended families could be:
- Biological parent having an expectation that their children will instantly love and adore the new step-parent.
- New step families may trigger the loss of the previous relationship.
- The children resenting their new circumstances and rejecting the step-parent.
- Biological parents experiencing guilt about their children having to experience the breakdown of the biological family.
- Negotiating different values between family members which can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, friction and arguments.
- Step parents experiencing rejection from their partner’s children.
- If both adults bring children into the relationship then the children maybe at different developmental stages such as one parent may have teenagers, whereas the other has children under 10.
- Dealing with the ex-partner and possibly their new family and negotiating shared care, finances etc, which is further exacerbated if there is ongoing conflict between the separated parents.
The above list is just a snap shot of the possible difficulties faced by blended families. However, with proper attention, work, commitment, communication and support the mine field of traversing the step family journey can be achieved, so the potential of the new family configuration can come to fruition.
If you require support for this journey then please contact one of our therapists at Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Hope this day finds you well.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Team