Living as a blended family can be difficult. In fact, 66% of second marriages that involve children fail. It is important to recognize the difficulties associated with a blended family so you can work to prevent them. Whether the blending of your family seemed to be going well at first but has now started to become difficult, or it was a struggle from the beginning, you should consider seeking professional help to assess your current situation and give you tools to work as a couple and a family. Below are three of the most common sources of stress that you may be facing as the parent in a blended family, and what you can do to reduce the stress you are experiencing.
Different Parenting Styles
Different parenting styles is a common complaint by both the parents and the children in a blended family. It is usually exacerbated if one parent is the stay-at-home parent and is in charge of all of the children. The stay-at-home parent's biological children are used to their parenting style, and the non-biological children can be seen as problem children if they cannot adapt quickly to the new parenting style. Alternatively, if the stay-at-home parent adjusts their parenting style to accommodate their new children, their biological children can become defensive and resentful. Often, the working parent may sense the disharmony at home and feel that their biological children are not being treated fairly, causing relationship problems as well as family stress.
The key to dealing with parenting style issues is consistency. Both parents need to agree to a certain parenting style and then stick with it for an extended period of time. It may take over a year for the children to adjust to the new parenting style, but if you constantly try to make adjustments to accommodate your children, they will become confused and frustrated.
A Lack of Authority
A second common concern in blended families is a lack of authority from the step-parent. This can happen because the step-parent does not feel comfortable stepping into a role of authority or because the children refuse to recognize the authority of the new parent. Over time, both parents and the children can experience feelings of resentment and insecurity if boundaries and authority are not established. However, it is not as simple as the biological parent explaining to their children that the step-parent has authority. If a biological parent relinquishes too much control over the home situation before trust is established throughout the family, their children may feel abandoned.
You should build authority over an extended period of time. To do so, both parents should engage equally in the setting and enforcing of rules. Only after trust has been established should the step-parent begin enforcing boundaries without the active input of the biological parent.
Undermining from the In-laws
While you may expect problems with your ex-spouse when you are building your new family, you may not be prepared to deal with undermining from in-laws. Undermining of your blended family can take on many appearances. For example, grandparents may only want to spend time with their biological grandparents, or perhaps your sister-in-law constantly makes negative comments about you to your step-children.
Unfortunately, you cannot bring your entire extended family into therapy sessions. However, you can build defenses against their undermining words and actions into your family. While you may not want to completely cut out in-laws who refuse to accept your blended family, you can limit the time they spend with your children. Any time your children spend time with in-laws without you, you should be prepared to discuss any negative conversations they may have had about your family as soon as you meet with your children again.
If you are struggling with one of these common issues, you should contact a marriage counseling professional to help you and your spouse.