Christian Living

Family Matters 03/24/11

Parenting Challenges in Blended Families

Suddenly there is a stranger sharing the bathroom, giving directions and checking your homework. Mom or dad is no longer exclusively yours. One parent’s daily presence is lost. Holidays become complicated. And what do you call this new person who shows up at the breakfast table with habits that annoy you? 

From the child’s point of view, blending a family is no easy task. The loss of the original family is replaced with a new arrangement, but not by choice. Feelings of anger linger long after the parents’ divorce is final. If the child hasn’t openly worked through anger and unforgiveness towards the original parents, these feelings carry over to the blended family as well.

Being a parent of a blended family can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help move things in the right direction:

First, the remarried couple is delighted to put their former marriage failure behind them and hopeful about the future. Children of divorce are not in the same place. Often their feelings of rejection intensify when strangers enter the family. Remarried adults must constantly ask, “What are the needs of the children?” When parents honestly address this important question, they can’t give each other the exclusive attention they may desire. Time and effort must be given to assessing child needs and meeting them, especially during the transition from single to married. Ask God for wisdom to discern the needs of your children.

Second, blended families should not pretend to be a replacement family for children. The reality is that children lose a parent and parents gain a new partner. You must continually talk about this fact. Encourage emotional expression. Reassure the children that no matter what they feel, you can handle it and will deal with it. 

Third, be patient. While stepchildren need to be helped through the transition of blending a family, don’t force closeness. It takes time for a child to get to know a new adult and feel comfortable having him or her in the house. It is normal for a child to want the original family back so he/she doesn’t have to divide loyalties, visitation, and important moments of living.

Fourth, be careful to give children privacy when it comes to their physical bodies.  As stepparents, you did not change their diapers, tuck them into bed every night and you are not biologically related. Therefore you must be extra sensitive to appropriate physical boundaries.

Finally, keep God the center of family life. He is your constant source of strength and healing. He can help work through even the toughest emotions and disappointments. Remind yourselves of His ever present love and grace. He is the model of a good Father in terms of the challenges you’ll face.  

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