Blended Families have unique dynamics that affect all members of the household whether permanent or visiting. Becoming a step-parent means having all the responsibility without any authority. No wonder things get tricky and challenging very quickly. Many times a professional with an objective opinion and expertise in handing the stages of Blended Family development, family transitions, childhood and teenage development is needed to navigate the choppy waters.
As the step-parenting adult you'll find yourself silencing your own voice, avoiding your own needs and ending up with a lot of resentment. This helps no one - especially the new marriage. Counseling can help restructure necessary marital boundaries while normalizing the many emotions and challenges that come with Blended Family "bonding."
I have personal experience with Blended Families as I married a widower who had twin-teenage sons, so I have lived through the stages of development and intricately know the challenges presented in the marriage, the relationships inside and outside of the family, and the dynamics generated through the new marriage regardless of who is involved.
1. We'll become one big happy family - Though possible, it can take a very long time. Experts state that it takes about six years for the new blended family to feel comfortable and longer if there are complications. There are 8 stages of blended families and Disillusionment around expectations is the just the first stage of growing together.
2. The Stepparent should love their new children - The new marriage is exciting to the new couple but usually not so to the children. The children often experience loss and grief over their former family and parent. Relationships and friendships take time to build so plan to take the role modeling respect and kindness without overt feelings of love or fondness as you start off blending your family.
3. Stepparents are evil - This is mainly a stigma produced through themes in popular movies, and being inherently evil is really hard to do unless there is an underlying personality disorder. The so-called "evil deeds" may be emotional reactions to hurt feelings, insecurities in the martial relationship or potentially a survival mechanism (though an unhealthy one) for a stepparent to keep their sanity. These issues can be worked on and changed.
4. Marrying a widower is easier - True there isn't an "Ex" per se to deal with; however, friends and family of the late parent and bio-parent can (and will) step in to fill the role "interloping Ex-spouse." Stepparents will need to create their own boundaries (focusing on what their emotional reactions and behavior choices will be in response to boundary crossers) in order to keep themselves and the marital relationship safe from injury.
5. There is only one way to be a family and one way to blend a blended family - False. The definition of family will expand when joining a blended family as people bring other friends and family members into their "inner circle" depending on who they trust and can depend on. Differing family cultures and upbringings lead to thoughts and judgements of what "is" or "is not" right - or more poignantly what "should" or "should not be" happening. Those ideas are based on personal upbringing and will stifle the blending of any family - especially blended families. Blended families need to function with different rules than first families (usually having two sets of rules for the children in blended families so parenting stays with the parent and not the stepparents until the later stages of blended family development). Blended families also need to have different expectations that pertain solely to their home and members and not to the blended family next door (or the former family as it was before the marriage ended).
6. Some professionals in the stepfamily world say that calling your family a "blended family" instead of a stepfamily will raise expectations too high and increase the chance the marriage will fail - False. First, if you're depending on your marriage succeeding based on what you label it, versus the choices you make to strengthen it, then you're off to an idealistic start. There is no way to avoid the hurt feelings, disappointment, unrealized expectations that blended dynamics bring, so rather than avoid them, learn about them. Learn what is normal and not normal for blended families, stop comparing yourselves to first family functioning because blended families must function differently. Lastly, if you're approaching a Blended Family marriage, or any marriage, without high expectations then why bother to get married in the first place? The goal is having distress tolerance to make it through the tough times, gain understanding and compassion for others so the family can move forward together.
For more information on blended families go to Helpingblendedfamilies.com HelpingBlendedFamilies.com