Most families today have shifted from the original biologically bonded mother, father and child. We are now a nation in which the majority of families are divorced. When one or more of those parents remarry, a stepfamily or blended family is created.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, 1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day. More than 50 percent of US families are remarried or re-coupled. Fifty percent of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner.
As one might imagine, this creates many challenges for all those involved in the blended family. Perhaps the most significant is the effect this familial change has on the children involved. Since most dissolution of families is because of divorce, the impact that has on the children is paramount in making that transition.
Judith Wallerstein is a psychologist and author of “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study,” which followed 93 now-adult children for about 25 years on the affects from their parent’s divorce. The study showed that only 45 percent of children “do well” after divorce while 41 percent are doing poorly, worried, underachieving, and often angry. Often children blame themselves for their parents’ breakup and spend years hoping they will get back together.
Many parents are unable to separate their needs from the children’s needs and often share too much of their personal life with their children, placing the children in a precarious emotional state, vulnerable to grandiosity or to depression within what is left of their families. They often feel uncomfortable with the new parent and their rules as well as the sibling rivalry with their stepbrothers and stepsisters.
The good news, according to the study: The children of divorce tend to do well if mothers and fathers, regardless of remarriage, resumed parenting roles, putting differences aside, and allowed the children continuing relationships with both parents.
It is important for all the adults in these blended families to get on the same page when it comes to parenting of the children. They should make sure that they never speak poorly of their exes. Children love both of their parents regardless of the state of their marriage. Doing so makes children even more uncomfortable in the new blended family feeling they must tip-toe around their relationship with the non-custodial parent.
Parents should realize that children experience a great deal of loss after divorce and that includes the relationships they had with extended family such as grandparents and aunts and uncles. Whenever possible, try to keep those relationships intact.
Children will adjust better to the blended family if they have access to both biological parents. It is important that all parents are involved and work toward a parenting collaboration. Let the kids know that you and your ex-spouse will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives. Tell the kids that your new spouse will not be a replacement mom or dad, but another person to love and support them.
From biological family through divorce to a new blended family, children face many challenges as do their parents. Communication will be the key to making that transition work better for everyone. There is no handbook but there are many good resources to help in this area. A couple of them are: www.focusonthefamily.com and www.goodtherapy.org. Check your local area for support groups of parents in similar situations as well.
There is also an excellent resource for children called Rainbows for Children. This resource was created to help children and teens grieve and grow after loss such as divorce. You can find more information at www.rainbows.org.
Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor, consultant and longtime Cherokee County resident.