Relationships today are more complex than ever. First marriage, second marriages, thirds and fourths. Their kids, your kids, adopted kids, the kids you may even birth together. Blended families. In-laws. In-laws of the former spouses even. The family tree for many people looks more like a crazy grapevine growing in all directions! If you have a grapevine of a family tree, you can whine, or you can wine. A Blended family is definitely different, but they can hold their own special sweetness too. Current divorce statistics say that 49% of first marriages will end in divorce. For second marriages, that number jumps to nearly 70%. A very large portion of those failed second marriages are blended families (families that have children from previous marriages).
The Brady Bunch
First of all, let’s just get this straight; The Brady Bunch was NOT reality TV. There were no former spouses in the picture. Did you ever see the grandparents of Mike or Carol Brady’s first spouses come around to see the grand-kids of their deceased son and daughter? Me neither. Pretty darn convenient. The kids all lost a parent and were gifted with an ideal new parent. And a housekeeper. Very neat and tidy. I have never met an actual Brady Bunch with such a simplified situation. Have you?
Reality of the Blended Family
The reality of blended families is much messier. The older children are when the first divorce happens, the messier this becomes. Smaller children (think kindergarten here) are much more pliable. They are in the stage of life where they are seeking approval from adults. They like new adult friends. They often want to please. This is also the hardest stage of parenting for parents to have to learn how to share with the new partner of their former spouse. Easier for kids, much harder for adults.
Starting a blended family when the kids are older is sometimes easier on parents (they can see the light at the end of the parenting tunnel and their teens often are busy not wanting to be home as much either), but often times this is much harder on teens who feel the pain of the loss of having their original family united. Accepting new people as “family” is tougher for older children (and this can go all the way into young adult children struggling too).
Navigating The Challenges
What is an aspiring couple who is facing the choice of blending their family together in order to be together to do? Do you wait until the kids are grown? Do you cram them all together, take a big breath, brace yourself for the drama and hope you make it through? Neither of those scenarios seems ideal, do they?
Blended families are tricky. No two are alike. There is rarely a solid frame of reference to figure out what is best. My advice? Do not attempt a blended family lightly and without true commitment and willingness to put in extra effort. Get an experienced counselor or coach to help you work through the new bonds, alliances and ways to communicate that your new family will require. Blended families can be wonderful when done well; and damaging when done poorly.
Blended Families Have New Situations
Blended families come with a whole new set of situations to have to consider. Some of them include:
- Parenting roles
- Household rules
- Holiday/vacation schedules (mismatched custody arrangements can make this tricky)
- Family relationships with relatives from prior families
- Custody schedules
- Court-ordered parenting plans that may dictate how some decisions are made (what if someone’s job moves but the court doesn’t allow the children to leave the state?)
- Relationships and boundaries with biological parents and step-parents
- Financial obligations for which children by which parent
The list goes on and on….
Great communication and the ability to set aside our personal ego’s is what is called for when navigating the planning and building of a happy blended family. It takes great courage to move forward and get married after you have already gone through the pain of a divorce. To be so bold and brave to do it again as a blended family and beat the odds is even more miraculous. No matter what the statistics say, however, second marriages can be just as, if not more, magical than the first time around! How? Don’t leave it to chance. Be big and bold and brave and give your love the best possible chance by getting help early and as often as you need to.
It takes a great deal of care to grow a grapevine in order to reap the benefits of your harvest.
Cheers to your blended family bliss!