Pastor Bob Tousey
Blended Families: Making The Family Work
BY: Rev. BOB TOUSEY
I recently saw the remake of the 1960's classic "Yours, Mine and Ours". This film reminded me in a very comical way the challenges that are faced when you try to join two families. While the movie had it base in reality, I am sure many families in the 60's thought of it as more fictional. Blended families were the exception rather than the rule. The remake has a different audience. Each day another 1,300 step families are formed . Some 6.4 million children in the United States live with one step parent and one birth parent. Sixty five percent of all remarriages involve children of another marriage. Sixty percent of these marriages end in divorce.
These eye opening statistics are not surprising when we consider the challenges faced in blended families. There are issues arising from loss of the traditional family, jealousy, misunderstanding and different styles of discipline and trying to blend in family rules and cultures. There is a great need to address these issues and make these unions more successful.
One of the first steps is to include the children in the ceremony planning. Donna Ellis, the founder of Idotaketwo.com, a web resource for second marriages has observed that by including the children in the wedding planning "It helps them feel like they're making a family, rather than their parents are just getting married." My article "Getting Remarried: What About The Children?" in the spring 2005 issue of the Single Parent discusses ideas to include the children. But to make the family successful requires more than just including the children in the ceremony.
Emily Bouchard, a therapist and founder of blended-families.com provided me with four thoughts to remember when entering a blended family. 1) begin with the end in mind. Know what you want to accomplish and work towards it. 2) Respect is key. Respect the children and you will earn their respect in return. 3) The kids did not sign up to be in a blended family. Understand this in your dealings with your step children and finally, 4) Parents and
Step Parents can not undermine each other. If you disagree with something another parental figure did it should be discussed with them in private away from the children. It is important to point out that this goes not only for disagreements with your spouse but also with the former spouse and the other step parent.
Step parents face an interesting challenge and must earn the respect of the children. Peggy Barta, MSW LCSW observes "when a step parent enters the family as disciplinarian, competitor or replacement parent, the chances for a satisfying relationship are greatly hindered."
My stepson, Christopher Barnard, now 24, had step parents and siblings on both sides. When I was preparing to write this article I asked him what was the best thing his step parents did and what was the worse. His answer was quick. The best thing is they never tried to replace my other parent and the worse was when a step parent would "trash" the other parent. Respecting the other parent was a key theme as I spoke to members of step parent families. Kat Ralston, who married her husband, Craig, while her daughters were in elementary school, said "Neither one of us ever spoke poorly of the girls' father."
I have found a step parent can not come in like a bull in a china shop. A step parent must respect the child and all the other "parents" in the child's life. The step parent must also earn the respect of the child. Once respect is earned then there is a solid foundation to build the rest of the relationship.
I have found it is best to define a step parent's role as being another adult who is able to provide support and encouragement for the child. The step parent provides the child with another shoulder to cry on, another person to share joy with and someone else to seek counsel from. It is good to keep in mind Emily Bouchard's observation the kids did not sign up to be in a blended family. Be gentle, be kind, be respectful and keep the lines of communications open.
Kat Ralston spoke of how her husband Craig was able to build his foundation with her daughters. We spent a lot of time together as a family. "We would always figure ways to include the girls and to teach them." It also helped that Craig was still in school at the time and assumed the duties of what we now affectionately refer to as "Mr. Mom". He involved the girls in projects and let them do things. When he was taking a sailing course one of his step daughters served as his sailing mate. Kat recalled another humorous antidote "One day I came home to find my 6 and 8 year old daughters sitting with Craig at the dining room table as he taught them how to rebuild a carburetor." Craig understood need to earn respect by mentoring and interacting with the girls.
The success rate for blended families can be increased. It takes time, effort and commitment but it is worth it. Take it from me being a step parent is one of life's most rewarding experiences.