Starting a stepfamily is a major life transition for children, couples, and even any ex-spouses.
Thus, blended families are complex and it may take some time to build a strong family relationship.
Many people are unprepared for the difficult challenges faced by blended families. This can be due to:
- a lack of negotiation skills;
- unrealistic expectations;
- emotional upheavals from the previous marriage breakup;
- disparate parenting styles;
- mental health issues;
- children’s unmet emotional needs.
Failure to address unresolved problems can cause marital tension and threaten individual wellbeing. Distressed couples and children may find therapy is beneficial in resolving these challenges.
Different Parenting Styles
It is extremely common for a couple with children from any previous relationships, to have disagreements over their attitudes towards child rearing.
Parents or their ex-spouses feel frustrated, angry and confused, when the blended family does not have clear lines of communication about expectations and responsibilities in the household. Strong opinions about the other partner’s parenting style can be easily seen as criticism.
Grief and Loss after Divorce
The consequences of divorce can be devastating for children as well as their parents. People have not only lost their partners but predictable life routines, family homes, and contact with their children, friends and family.
When children are unable to cope with the separation, they likely exhibit some behavioural and emotional problems, which may include sleep difficulties, trouble at school, self-harm, frequent outbursts of anger and non-compliant behaviours.
It is important for parents to understand how children cope with the loss, so that they can support their children timely and effectively.
Then there can be problems with an ex-spouse, trying to interfere with the blended family’s routines, parenting styles and rules.
Blaming and criticism can also cause children’s behaviour problems. Children may also feel pressured to show loyalty to absent biological parents.
It is typical for children’s complaints of unfair treatment or disconnection by their stepparent, to cause defiance and non-compliant behaviour towards the new stepparents and siblings. In some cases, blended sibling rivalry can also result from age gaps, personality clashes, different interests and the perception of favouritism.
In blended families, children are likely to be more sensitive to their parent/stepparent showing affection towards the other children. Attention seeking and jealousy often cause siblings to fight. Recognising the underlying causes of sibling rivalry is the first step in helping children to stop fighting.
Parents can help by dedicating their time to connect with their children individually, and also plan fun family activities together
Building a happy blended family involves work! It takes time and effort for family members to understand and accept each other’s differences.
If you are experiencing problems with your children/step children, or your ex-spouse, don’t be easily shaken by the rough patches. Professionals can help your family learn new skills and knowledge about blended families, so you are able to improve parenting skills and strengthen bonds with your partner and stepchildren.
Lastly, just remember it is worth the fight for what you have already built for your family!
Author: Claire Pang, B Psych (Hons), Masters of Clinical Psychology.
In couples counselling, Claire adopts a combination of Interpersonal Therapy and Emotion-Focused Therapy to help couples to deal with the strong negative emotions associated with conflicts. More importantly, the therapy process aims to facilitate an emotional bond between couples.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Claire Pang, freecall 1800 877 924 today or you can book online!