This article is written by BCC Counselor Dr. Lucy Ann Moll as part of our new series on the family. In this series, our counselors examine various difficulties of family life and share ways to pursue healthier family dynamics.
Blended families have ups and downs, joys and messes. If you’re in a blended family, you know what it takes to bring together two families. It’s hard work!
For those considering remarriage after divorce or the death of a spouse, you should consider premarital counseling.
Already blended and struggling? Counseling works for you too! Don’t despair. Be encouraged. At the end of this article, you’ll find helps just for you.
Did you know 40 percent of married couples with children in the US are blended? This percentage counts full-time and part-time residential stepfamilies with children under age 18 as well as adult children.
In this article, we’ll cover four key aspects regarding blended families.
Take it Slow
After years of parenting alone, it’s tempting to “follow your heart,” as today’s popular mantra advises, and marry quickly. As Ron Deal of Family Life Blended says, “You cook a stepfamily slowly in a Crockpot, not forcibly in a blender! Kids need more time than adults to get used to the idea of a wedding.”
For example, consider a couple I counseled who married within months of meeting each other. Fiona and Eli (names and details have been changed) were previously married and have five school-age children. (Two of the children also lived with their mom during the week.)
The couple disagreed over parenting, handling money, and dealing with the ex-spouses, among other things. Both of them were Christians and declared their love for each other. However, life’s struggles created significant stress. Fiona became controlling; Eli backed away. Sometimes he moved in with buddies for a few days for a break.
Meanwhile, the children were confused and acted out.
As one spouse said, “I just want to live and make life fun. It seems that everything is a task. I’m just drained.”
Do these words resonate with you?
Did you go through pre-marital or pre-engagement counseling before you remarried? What difference has it made? If you didn’t have pre-marital counseling before remarriage, do you wish you had?
Pre-Marital Counseling Before Remarriage
First, during premarital counseling, you’ll think through the complexities of combining families and determine if the marriage is wise.
Second, you’ll discuss topics that may have factored into a previous divorce — everything from communication and conflict resolution to parenting styles and personality differences. You won’t address every potential problem in premarital counseling but you will see the glaring ones.
Third, you’ll consider reasonable expectations between the children and the new spouse. Did you know that children cling to the hope that their parents will get back together? I did when my parents divorced when I was the age of eight. But when you remarry, your children’s dream dies. This is a loss for them.
Helping the Children
In counseling, you can discover how to listen to the children–their hope and their fears.
You’ll also learn how to talk to the children about God’s role in blended families. Now they’ll have more people to love and support them! This includes the non-custodial parent when possible.
Sometimes children become fearful that the new blended family will also end up in a divorce. In counseling, you and your future spouse can develop a habit of praying with and for your children. reassuring them and each other that you choose to glorify God always.
Encouragement for Blended Families
Blended families will also appreciate these reminders from Ron Deal. I encourage you to peruse his ministry website, where you’ll find extra resources.
- SLOW your expectations of how quickly your blended family will harmonize. Deal says, “The average stepfamily needs between five to seven years to form a family identity. In movies, love between adults and bonding with children happens quickly; in real life, it happens gradually.”
- INVEST in your marriage relationship. It is the new foundation for your home.
- BE a united parental team while building relationships with stepchildren. What about discipline? Deal urges, “Early on, biological parents should continue to be the primary disciplinarian to their children while stepparents build relationship, trust, and respect with stepchildren.”
- AVOID common pitfalls. For example, a child who says, “You’re not my mom, I don’t have to listen to you” is telling you about their sadness that mom isn’t here. Also, keep some holiday traditions while creating new ones. Money matters can be confusing too. Calmly discuss how you will balance your responsibilities to previous individual financial obligations (such as paying child support) while combining assets for the new family.
- STEP UP your faith. Spiritual resources help everyone in blended families find grace for each other and strength for the journey.