The blended family (the “yours, mine and ours” as in the Brady Bunch) is the new norm, yet a remarriage – one that brings with it children from a previous marriage – means a tough climb up a steep hill. And no matter how much children and wanted and loved, children from a previous marriage can easily become factors – and victims — in the failure of the second marriage.
The second timers, as has been said, are the triumph of hope over experience. Theirs is the hope of a fresh start and a new beginning. Blended families face many large and small challenges that traditional families escape or postpone, and what works for a newly wed childless couple does not work for the blended family carrying the baggage of failed previous marriage(s).
Research shows that women who already have children at the time of remarriage are more likely to have their second marriage end in divorce than women who do not have any children at the time of remarriage. If the children were unwanted, the probability of the second marriage ending is even higher . After 10 years of remarriage, the probability of that marriage ending is 32 percent for women with no children at remarriage; 40 percent for women with children, but none of whom were reported as unwanted; and 44 percent for women with children, and any of whom were reported as unwanted (slightly higher, at 47 percent, among white women).
It is not surprising that the presence of children from a prior relationship can affect the stability of a second marriage, nor that the presence of unwanted children may have a greater effect.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), which represents over 8,700 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry, says that when a stepfamily is formed, the members have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different beliefs. In addition, a child may feel torn between the custodial parent (the parent he or she lives with most (more) of the time) and the visitation parent he or she visits and who lives somewhere else. Also, a readymade family may reduce the time the spouses have for each other.
The members of the new blended family need to build strong bonds. Each spouse must acknowledge and mourn his or her losses; develop new skills in making decisions as a family; foster and strengthen new relationships between parents, stepparent and stepchild, and stepsiblings; support one another; and maintain and nurture original parent-child relationships.
Most stepfamilies do work out their problems. Stepfamilies often use grandparents, clergy, support groups, and other community-based programs to help with the adjustments.
A good foundation gives a second marriage the best chance of success.
Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another. Change, even when it is desired, can upset people, and too many changes at once can unsettle children.
Stepparents may expect too much, too soon, and they should not expect love with your partner’s children overnight. Love and affection take time to develop. Partners must limit expectations. Time, energy, love, and affection in the new partner’s kids may not be returned immediately, but it may be a small investment that may one day yields a great return.
According to Winningstepfamilies.com, stepfamilies pass through seven stages of development before achieving what is called the resolution stage, where the stepfamily now has solid and reliable relationships, and although some children may be more inside the family than others, there is clarity about and acceptance of this fact. The stepparent role now brings satisfaction and nourishment. Some families complete the entire cycle in about four years. Most families take about seven years. Many of the families end in divorce, others remain stuck, and a small number eventually move on successfully.
In faster couples the biological parent understands the stepparent’s jealousy and confusion, and the stepparent has been able to sympathize with the intense pull that biological parents experience from his or her own children. These families usually have fewer deeply held fantasies and more realistic expectations. Movement through the stages do not happen neatly and precisely. A family may move ahead in one area but remain at a much earlier stage in another. Often, a stuck family may have talked to almost nobody who understood their experience.
The blended family must do things together, which means find ways to experience real life together. Every day cannot be an excursion to a theme park every time the family is together, even though it is fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. All the children must try to get along together in daily life situations.
The couple should agree to regimes and routines before they marry making necessary adjustments to parenting styles in advance. It’ll make for a smoother transition and the children and the new spouse won’t become angry for initiating changes.