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July 26, 2013

Personal Matters: Navigating the challenges of a 'blended family'

Although one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, Americans often marry again.

If there are children, a new, “blended” family is created.

Blended families are much more complicated than biological families. The new couple are in love and committed to creating a new life together, but the children of each find themselves in this new life not out of their own choosing.

In order to navigate the enormous emotional challenges of blending two families with children together, it is important to understand the internal adaptations that are required to evolve into one cohesive family group. According to the Stepfamily Association of America, blended families typically experience specific stages of emotions and behaviors before they achieve a healthy, well-functioning family unit.

Stages of Growth of the blended family include:

Fantasy. In this stage, the new, unprepared couple expects instant love and adjustment among family members. The children, though, hope that the step-parent will ‘just go away’ so that their biological parents can magically get back together again.

Pseudo-Assimilation. In this phase, the fantasy begins to be challenged. When difficulties arise, family members tend to split along biological lines. The atmosphere becomes tense, and the step-parents blame themselves, feeling that they may be the problem.

Awareness. The fantasy of instant compatibility is now completely gone, and the step-parents recognize that changes in the functioning of the family must take place. Each of the biological parents feels pulled between their own children and the new spouse. The children become aware of the tensions between the couple, and often try to exploit them to their advantage.

Mobilization. A “reaching out” stage. Frustrated with the situation, strong emotions are expressed by all family members most often culminating in fierce arguing. Each of the parents is afraid of what this new situation is creating, and feels overwhelmed. At this point, most couples reach out to self-help books, support groups, to family therapy.

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