Blending a Family after Remarriage? 3 Reasons Why Stepfamily "Together Time" is Hard
- 5 Minute Read
If there is one thing I wish remarried couples could be aware of before they attempt to blend families, this would be it...
When a couple remarries and brings their children together, doesn't everyone have to spend lots of time together to become a family? It's counter-intuitive, but the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT, especially in the beginning of a new family's development. Here's why...
1. Biological parent-child relationships are fragile in the beginning of dating and remarriage.
Many kids are used to having their single parent all to themselves. When a new love interest enters into the picture, kids may become anxious when they lose their parent's time and attention. This can be the reason why kids resent the newcomer and, knowing this, it's easy to understand why pushing for everyone to spend more time together is counterproductive.
In most cases, kids need to know their relationship with their biological parent is secure and they don't need to compete for their parent's attention before they can begin to bond with new family members. To accomplish this, parents need to ensure they are spending regular, quality time alone with their biological children, especially in the beginning of stepfamily formation.
2. For step-parents, family together time can intensify the experience of feeling like the outsider.
As a step-parent, the experience of feeling like an outsider, while painful, is a normal and mostly unavoidable part of stepfamily life, especially in the early stages. Having your stepchildren mostly ignore you while they lavish attention all over your partner (their parent) is REALLY HARD. It's like they're all part of an exclusive club and you're not a member.
On the other hand, your partner is probably aware of your discomfort, but struggles to provide the attention his/her children need while attempting to include you. (Especially if the kids are needing to spend "alone" time with their parent...See Reason #1.) In stepfamily therapy jargon, we call this the "insider" position.
Both insider/outsider positions are difficult to occupy, and lots of family "together time" can exacerbate the situation. The key here is to make sure you are spending enough quality, one on one time with your partner, and when your family is together, make sure the two of you are connecting in small ways throughout the day.
Why is this important? While feeling like the insider/outsider when the kids are around is difficult, it's much less difficult when you feel secure in your relationship with your partner and your sense of "belonging" is renewed. On the bright side, as stepfamilies move through the early stages of development, these insider/outsider feelings usually begin to ease up a bit.
3. The kids aren't interested in forming new stepfamily relationships.
This is common when remarriages involve older kids and teens. Kids may reject the new family for a variety of reasons...grief over the loss of their first family, a step-parent who is acting as a disciplinarian too soon; and with teens, the normal separation-individuation may be taking place. Last but not least, kids may reject the new family because their other parent (your partner's ex) communicates (either implicitly or explicitly) that caring for a new step-parent is unacceptable.
The key here is not to push too hard. In the early stages of blending, go slow and don't force excessive amounts of family time. Accept where your kids are at in their process of adjusting to their new reality. Remember, just because you love your new partner doesn't mean your kids automatically need to love, or even like, their new stepparent and step siblings.
So, how do you have some sort of family life in this situation? Set the expectation that everyone, at the very least, will be civil towards each other, just as you would expect your children to behave with civility outside the family environment. This takes the pressure off to form relationships too quickly. It gives new family members a chance to grow their relationships more organically and discover shared interests and activities at their own pace. Activities outside of the home that bring the focus off the family and on to something else can be great ways for the whole family to spend time together - the zoo, a baseball game, or a movie are all great examples.
Of course, like so many advice blogs, this is all easier said than done sometimes. If you believe your marriage and/or family could use some extra support, contact me for more information about how I can help.