Life Stages: Blended Families

Traditions are made, broken and redefined as  years pass.New generations pave the way with fresh ideas and a new outlook on how things should be done. A major change as of
late is the tradition of marriage. There are gay and lesbian marriages, couples foregoing church weddings and couples opting to live together before marriage.

Another more common occurrence of recent generations is divorce, often as a result of individuals who rebel against the standard forced belief that a married couple has to make it work forever. While a divorce is known to be viewed as a negative occurrence, it allows for individuals to remarry. With remarriage comes the blending of families. The changes in what are considered traditional relationships and marriages are affecting the original concept of what a blended family once meant. Now, it has a much more elaborate and detailed definition.

Mike Daniels is the owner of Outpatient Services at Haven House in Allentown. He is also the owner of Creative Treatment Solutions, a private psychotherapy practice in Bethlehem that specializes in adolescents, attachment, family and parenting. Daniels has been working in his field since 1986, and through his experiences, he supports the idea that blended families are no longer limited to its original meaning.

“I believe ‘blended family’ is a much more inclusive term that, on some level, describes any family,” explains Daniels. “After all, don’t two people from different families ‘blend’ into a marriage or relationship and have children, thus, blending two families, cultures, faiths and more? In a more traditional sense, a blended family is one where a parent or parents care for children not born to them as a couple.”

Divorce is a main contributor for remarrying and blended families forming. According to Daniels, some estimates show that up to 75 percent of the nearly one million Americans who divorce every year remarry.

“Our parents and grandparents were much more likely to stay in marriages based on traditions and values,” says Daniels.  “Women now work at a far higher rate than they did 30 years ago, so traditional families staying together for financial reasons is less of an issue.”

For children and the spouses, blending families together can cause initial difficulties. There are obstacles in the relationships of the children and new step-parents as well as conflicts between the step-siblings.

“The most common difficulty in blended families is how much of a role in discipline does the step-parent play in child-rearing,” says Daniels. “When new relationships begin for single parents, their partners are often seen as fun, even as playmates on some levels. But, once the partners are married, this can quickly change. Other difficulties include step-sibling rivalry, which differs from sibling rivalry in that there is another parent involved with each child.”

Remarriages can come from various reasons, including breakups, divorces or even the loss of their previous spouse. When a child has to endure the end of what they considered their real family, it can be traumatic. This is why Daniels reminds all parents to keep the children’s feelings in mind.

“Whenever a family breaks up, allowing the development of a blended family, it is stressful, especially for the children,” he says.  “Stress can cause changes in children’s appetites or sleep patterns or cause somatic issues such as headaches or other physical ailments.”

To counter that, blended families also present a chance for a more stable life. If the previous relationship was not stable or presented an unstable environment emotionally, transitioning into a stronger relationship with positivity can benefit not only the adults, but also the children.

Daniels encourages strong communication for newly blended families. Allowing a child to open up and be honest is vital to the child thriving and accepting the new transition in their life. But, the main reason for the blended family is the joining of the parents. According to Daniels, this is one of the most important aspects of making a blended family function successfully.

“In any family, the most important relationship to nurture is the adult/partner relationship,” stresses Daniels. “That relationship is at the heart of the parenting decisions, communication patterns and what children are taught about how adult relationships can and should be.”

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