Blended families

Meeting with blended families

A blended family is the union of two adults, at least one of which has been married or cohabitating in a common-law marriage. A blended family also contains a child/children, who already existed when the new union was formed or the couple moved in together. Blended families often also involve children that live elsewhere, but who occasionally spend time with the family.

What should a professional take into consideration when meeting with blended families?

Blended families are complicated in structure and differ in many ways from “new families”.

One special aspect of blended families is that the adults in the scenario become both stepparents and spouses at the same time.

The parent has fallen in love with a new spouse and may expect that the child develops similar feelings for the new adult in his/her life as well.

In the beginning, the blended family is essentially two different families that are now living together. Only with time will these families grow together to form a blended family. The children in blended families must accept into their living space people that they have not personally chosen to be part of their lives.

The blended family may be burdened with adjustment difficulties for the new family structure, including baggage from the past (former life), the challenges of social parenthood, a worsening financial situation or lack of social acceptance from the extended family and friends.

Visitation and custody agreements concerning the children have a significant impact on the everyday functioning of the blended family.

In divorced and blended families that are engaged in custody disputes, a circumstantial report on the child’s living situation will usually be requested by social services.

If the custody dispute advances to the court level, additional reports will often be necessary and the process may take a year or several years to complete.

Blended families need special support when the two families are first joined. All the family members need support in a changing family situation in order for the blended family to function properly.

New sibling relationships

Within a blended family, the children may have three different types of siblings. In addition to full biological siblings, a child may also have half-brothers or sisters, which share a biological parent with the child. The child may also have stepsiblings from the former relationship of the stepmother or stepfather.

When a blended family is formed, the children are often forced to find a new place and role for themselves within the family.  For some children, this could be a positive change: the family’s youngest may get to take on the role of big brother or big sister. Others view the situation as a loss and fear having to give up their position in their former family.

In some cases, the children may form alliances, sometimes in a harmful way. It takes time and effort to establish functioning sibling relationships.

At its best, the blended family offers the children involved the experience of a larger, safe community of children, in which each child can take the time to learn and practice different relationship skills and ways to function in a group setting.