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Blended Families – The Merging Of Yours And Mine
A blended family is formed by the amalgamation of two or more family remnants from previous marriages or family constellations through an official or common marriage. At least one of the spouses was in a parental role in the previous family system and brings a child or children from this union into the blended family. Blended families vary greatly in composition. The children may belong to the spouse from a previous marital union or may be theirs under the current arrangement. Since care is usually given to the mother, a typical mixed unit consists of the wife, her children, and the husband, whose children, if any, live with the mother.
With the growing popularity of joint custody and the increasing number of serial family relationships, blended family configurations are becoming more diverse and complex. Many children now belong to two households and divide their time equally between the two. In some families, children from two or more previous marriages keep their father’s surnames. Thus, many surnames can be used within one family, which significantly affects the process of creating ties and identity.
Blended families can be extended families with exponentially complicated structures, although the term is commonly used mainly to refer to newly formed nuclear families that are composed of integrated subsystems from units of previous families. The main task of the blended family is to develop into a cohesive unit. Yet it must be defined by boundaries that allow appropriate contact with the often large, disjointed network of relatives in the new extended family. These families must negotiate several critical developmental tasks in order to bond.
One of the tasks all members face is grieving the lost families they represent. Family failure and dissolution is a serious emotional trauma, and this loss requires considerable grieving if one is to be prepared to invest in new relationships. Blended families often arise from relationships motivated by rebounding from earlier relationships in an attempt to escape the pain of loss, loneliness, and shame of failure. Even though one may have cognitively accepted the end of the previous family bond through death or divorce, the new relationship symbolizes the old loss and failure. Out of loyalty to the new relationship, one can suppress the grief/loss, but that only obscures and subverts the remaining grief. Later it will surface in some destructive way.
This grief can be especially true for children, who often grieve long after a family breakup. This is seen in the persistent longing to be reunited with the absent parent and the persistent fantasy that the child’s mother and father will eventually remarry. It is also manifested by the refusal of some children to establish a relationship in a new family constellation or with a step-parent. Unfinished grief tends to warp the child’s loyalty exclusively to the natural parent. This usually creates destructive counterforces throughout the family constellation. Unresolved grief is poison to a blended family. It creates intra-family tension and saps emotional energy that could otherwise be channeled into strengthening family relationships. Professional help is often necessary to resolve this type of grieving due to its insidious nature.
A critical developmental task for spouses is to create a strong marital bond. Continued contact with the ex-husband and ex-in-laws, for example during regular visits to the children, can disrupt the development of a new marital relationship. These ongoing contacts easily activate issues of jealousy, trust and loyalty. However, the cornerstone of a blended family is the quality of the new marriage bond. Furthermore, one dimension of this marital bond is the development of a partnership with the co-parents in the care of each other’s children that is strong enough to withstand the repeated counter-power dynamics injected by the children, who probably still have their own unresolved and pathological agenda. act or resolve. Children will accept a stepparent more easily if their natural parent demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the marital relationship and its long-term viability. Children often create conflict between a parent and a stepparent and try to gain the support of the natural parent. Feelings of loyalty and guilt on the part of the parent, especially about having failed the child by failing in an earlier relationship, tempt the parent to side with the child against the new spouse. This kind of triangulation is always destructive.
Maintaining a “my/your” view of children undermines the stepparent-stepchild relationship. It puts the stepparent in the untenable position of having to borrow authority from the natural parent when dealing with stepchildren. This hinders the process of true blending between the new spouses as well as among all the members of the new family constellation. Triangulation leads to division.
Building functional half-sibling relationships is further complicated by the fact that the rank order between siblings and the entire structure of the genogram for the new family will be greatly altered by the merging of family remnants into a blended family. Sibling rivalry may decrease as this family remnant closes to this new experience, but step-sibling rivalry often increases, painfully altering the roles, identities, and self-concepts of all children. A related problem for blended families with teenage or young adult offspring living in the home as part of the family constellation is the fact that children who could be walking live together as siblings. Sexual boundaries are usually weak because mixed families may not have well-established inherent taboos. Conflict and rivalry are ways that adolescent step-siblings set boundaries to protect themselves from anxiety and the threat of excessive intimacy. Many blended families achieve well-adjusted and harmonious relationships, although the usual critical period of adjustment is two to four years.
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