Merger Ahead: When Two Families Become One

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With more than 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, blended families are becoming more common than ever before making it that much more important to develop healthy habits to keep families happy and together for the long haul.

Counseling prior to marriage is a great first step for any union but particularly for blended families and those involving children, where challenges can be vast and many unexpected issues may arise.

The joining of two parents and children from a previous relationship can be a difficult transition. The parents bring their own experiences, wisdom, parenting styles, and routines to the household, while the children may be accustomed to something completely different. Discussing this with the other parent before moving in together may be invaluable to achieving a strong union.

 

8 Potential Issues Blended Families May Face

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a couple joining two families together is aligning different outlooks on how to raise children.  One parent may be more of a disciplinarian and have more rules and one parent may be more flexible and laid-back. It is important for couples to address their parenting styles beforehand and what their parenting style would look like when blending their families.

Would each parent only discipline and apply their rules to the children they brought into the union? Or would the parents together devise a set of rules and determine the level of discipline to apply to all of their children? There is no right answer but it is vital to address their parenting style and concerns from the beginning and build a plan to avoid co-parenting conflicts.

Gotta Have Faith

Parents may have differences in which religion is practiced, how religious or spiritual each parent is, if children are attending Sunday school, and how often they attend worship. Which holidays will you celebrate, and where will you spend them? Discuss religion up front to avoid future conflicts.

“You’re not my Real Mom”

In the beginning, children may dislike the stepparent because they don't know how to feel about living day-to-day with a parent other than their own mother/father. Furthermore, a child may not feel they have to answer or abide by the rules of an adult who is not their parent. Children may also feel that their stepparent may take time away from them and their parent or change the tone of their home they knew before.

Always observe the dynamic between your spouses ex and children before jumping in. It’s vital to respect the rules, discipline, traditions and relationship that have been in place and integrate yourself when you feel comfortable. In some cases, positive feelings may develop quickly, but it is still important to openly address any concerns.

Brothers From a Different Mother

While gaining new siblings as a result of a remarriage may be exciting, it is also important to keep in mind that this is an adjustment and conflict may arise. Plan ahead about how you will manage conflicts between your children when they arise. It’s natural that a parent may align with their own child if a conflict develops between step-siblings. Try not to allow these natural allegiances to inject conflict between you and your spouse or partner.

New Additions

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Remarriage may lead to having a baby. This is an exciting and wonderful change yet it may bring up a range of feelings in children.  A child may feel upset that they don’t share the exact same parents or may be upset that they have to go back and forth between their two parents homes while the baby always remains in one home.  It is important to acknowledge this important change in their lives and validate that it is ok for the child to have mixed emotions about having a new sibling.  

The Lawyers Came Along to the Party

Ongoing legal battles from the previous divorce or break-up can lead to financial difficulties and stress for all parties.  Custody and financial battles may linger on for years following a divorce.  Although legal disputes are extraordinarily stressful and emotional, it is very important to try to shield children from these issues and not allow it to negatively affect your family life.

Money can be Tight

Blended families often have more children to support causing finances to be tighter. It is wise to review your finances beforehand and plan accordingly. Responsibility of school tuitions, after school activities, camp, household bills, and retirement are important and costly. Finances should be addressed sooner rather than later to reduce future conflict and stress.

Give me my Space!

The children of the household may have difficulty adjusting to changes in living arrangements. Most children love their home and their bedroom in particular. When new people move into the house, the child might feel their space is being overrun by outsiders, and vice versa.

Children moving into a new space might feel that space isn’t really theirs. Children, who may not have shared a room before, may need to share a room with a step-sibling. This may feel overwhelming and uncomfortable at first, as it is an adjustment. Be sensitive as your children acclimate to their new environment. 

If you made it through this long list, don’t panic!!  You bring valuable experience and insight into the new exciting chapter of your life.  Being aware of possible challenges and planning in advance how to manage will only make you more successful. There is no doubt the joining of two families poses many challenges, but with a little patience and a lot of love it can be richly rewarding.


Laura Goldstein, LMSW is a psychotherapist with a Good Place Therapy in NYC. To learn more about how therapy with Laura can help you achieve your goals, please check out her page on the website here.