Some families are created in different ways. But are still in every way a family. Unknown
I had a conversation with some friends the other day that triggered my writing of this article. The discussion was around how to make blended families work. Blended families are becoming quite common in our society. But what are they? What is a blended family?
A blended family is formed when a couple starts their lives together with children from one or both of their previous relationships. Such a family can be considered as simple blended, where only one spouse has a child from a previous relationship, or complex if both have children from their past relationships. The new relationship could arise as a result of desertion, divorce or death.
I am part of a blended family. At the beginning, the journey was quite difficult as my husband and I tried to adjust as a new family. There were different expectations from him, from my child and myself. Though we are still a work in progress, we’ve come a long way. And I appreciate my family a lot for the efforts made every day to try and make this institution work.
What is God’s desire for marriage and family? He created man and woman, in His image, for them to be fruitful, to multiply and to dominate over all creatures. (Genesis 1.28). God desires godly offspring. ‘Has not the one God made you? You belong to Him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So, be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
It is important to understand the Lord’s longing for the family unit as one embarks on that journey. Marriages and families are God’s idea. It is the fall of man that brought about sin which has impacted families heavily. As a result, some marriages end in divorce, while death is also a sting that snatches loved ones from our families.
There are examples in the Bible of blended families that struggled to work. Abraham with Sarah, Haggar and Ishmael. Jacob and his children from Leah and Rachel. David’s family. These families all went through a number of hard issues.
Since blended families are not like traditional families, they are faced with a myriad of challenges from the word go, if not more, than in a traditional family. A number of them do not work due to these challenges. However, despite the statistics out there, there are those that do work and we shall consider what to do to make it work.
What challenges do Blended Families face?
1. Whereas the couple may be eager to start out life together, it may not be the case for the children. In situations where biological parents are no longer together, the children may have some expectations that their parents will still reunite. They may not understand the couple’s excitement to move on. In the event of the loss of a parent, a child may still be grieving and it becomes hard to move forward.
2. Blending may not be a smooth process due to the fact that the parties are coming from different backgrounds with different expectations, e.g. on discipline due to clashing parenting styles, use of finances for the new family unit or new responsibility of parenting the (step)children. Harmonizing two different ways of doing or living life may take a while.
3. In the event that the ex is still in the picture, there is the challenge of co-parenting if this is not handled well. Sharing custody of the children can pose an issue due to the interaction with the ex. It can also be hard for the children too who have to share homes with their biological parents and still adjust to a new parent. Children below the age of 6 years may adapt a bit faster than the older ones, who are aware of the changes and may even challenge the new authority.
4. The couple comes with baggage from the previous relationships, which may result in emotional conflict as they try to work out their new normal. This is a new territory and, therefore, the couple could find themselves lacking the necessary conflict resolution skills needed to navigate the storms.
5. Managing sibling rivalry may be difficult if the transition of the new family is not handled well. Some children may bully the others in a bid to push them away and push their way. Others will seek the attention of the parents in order to be favored.
How then can a family blend well? What are the considerations for those seeking to start out Blended Families?
When in the process of starting out, one should be well prepared mentally for the work that will go into making a blended family work. You should be clear and go the whole nine yards towards making things work from the beginning;
1. Understand that blending will take time. Do not rush things or have unrealistic expectations on the children as to how soon they should adjust to the new family.
2. Go through counselling to help the family go through the transition well. For a first time parent, parenting classes will also help one learn about parenting effectively.
3. Where exes are still involved, try as much as possible to be civil with each other but still respecting the laid out boundaries. Bad mouthing the other parent will only end up hurting your child or your partner’s.
4. Talk with your spouse-to-be about finances and discipline before marriage. Identify the different parenting styles and who will be in charge of disciplining the children. A rule of thumb, the same set rules of discipline should apply to all children. In terms of money matters, how will the finances be split for the different children? Will the ex be allowed to chip in financially? And to what extent?
5. For stepparents, foster a trustful relationship with the children and assure them of a safe environment for them to grow. As parents, it is paramount to ensure the mental, physical and social wellbeing of all the children in the relationship.
6. Be of the same mind and work on growing your marriage. Have in mind that the weakest link to the family unit is the marriage relationship.
7. Have a strong community around you to give you the necessary support. Never walk alone. However, be careful who you open up to about your current challenges.
8. Lastly, allow God to guide you and draw closer to Him in moments of uncertainty, insecurity or confusion. He is working for your good. If considering to start a blended family, please seek God’s will through careful prayer and godly wisdom from the community around you.
Remember, God has made everything beautiful in its time.
By the grace of God, every blended family can become an opportunity to see His redeeming and restoring love at work. Debbie Alsdorf