Blending families is never easy

By Jennifer Gray, Psychotherapist

“The Brady Bunch” it is not. The blending of family after remarriage, when children are involved, is not a simple task. Recreating a family is a complicated act of choreography that does not always play well on performance night. Reality is unlike the sitcom from the 1970s, where step-siblings and step-parents happily spend time together foraging a new family unit free of custody battles, visitation schedules, teenage angst or blatant rejection.

Here are a few suggestions for parents struggling with blended family issues:

• Take time to strengthen the relationship with your spouse. In the midst of this new family system, don’t forget what brought you to this change. The love you feel for the relationship with your husband or wife is the reason you chose to tackle the blending of two families. Make time for each other. Don’t neglect the relationship that brought your families together.

• Be patient and realistic. Family members need time to adjust to the changes involved in blending a family. It can take years for new family members to come together and feel like a family again. Lower your expectations and anticipate some difficulties along the way. There will be bumps in the road, rather than smooth sailing. You and your spouse should respond as a team, calmly discussing and problem-solving the best course of action for the family.

• The biological parent should enforce rules and discipline. Many families find that it works best when the biological parent remains the disciplinarian for their own children. That does not mean that as parents you don’t make decisions together, but it does mean that the biological parent delivers reasonable consequences to the child. In families with adolescent children, this distinction is particularly important in order to eliminate feelings of resentment that can result from a step-parent being the disciplinarian.

• Respect and tolerance are crucial. Being a family means combining many different personalities and opinions. Even under the best of circumstances, this is no easy challenge. If you add to this mix the confusion and frustration of divorce, anger or unhappiness over the loss of the original family structure and sometimes rejection of a step-parent, the emotions in any family will heat up to the boiling point. Throughout the emotional turmoil of being a blended family, all family members should be treated with respect and tolerance.

Family is something to be cherished and nurtured. We all want to be included and accepted for who we are. Family should be a safe place to be ourselves. It is my hope that with a few suggestions you can get your new family back on track.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in Federal Way who provides individual, couple and family counseling. Contact: (253) 653-0168.

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