Making the transition into a blended family is a challenging one, no matter the circumstances. Especially for the children, coming to terms with a new parent entering the picture is not always going to be easy. Understanding what to expect during this transition period, and the best ways to cope with your new family dynamic, can improve your ability to handle the challenges.
When entering a new family dynamic, such as blending two families into one, the challenges that arise come from unknown expectations. Unfortunately, the variability of these transitions and the subsequent reactions to them cannot be planned for in advance. Acknowledging the hurdles and understanding the need for communication and resolution is vitally important. Westport Family Counseling Director, Nicholas Strouse, suggests factoring in a ‘distress tolerance’ as the transition unfolds. “Feelings will be hurt, and unexpected feelings will come up arbitrarily. Things may appear to be going well, and still there will be feelings that were not planned for.” Understanding that these feelings need to be expressed and addressed in a safe environment is critical to ensuring that each family member feels secure and comfortable.
It’s also important, and rests on the parents, to take time for self-reflection. “Examining your habits and thinking about how you’re feeling ultimately allows you to assess how you’re affecting others,” says Strouse. “And in addition to self-reflection, one must reflect on other members, too… even, and especially, if they are not.” An important word of advice is to look at the bigger picture, and the development of the individuals and collective members of the new family… everyone’s evolution over time. Strouse tells us, “The examination of new boundaries and the needs of family members may not be resolved in the first six months, as many new dynamics are likely to only become apparent over time… It requires this type of ‘active listening,’” to ensure that each family member’s feeling, thoughts, and concerns are recognized and addressed, respectfully.
At all stages of life, each and every situation poses a new challenge. That can be difficult, or demanding, for even the biological parents. It can present a particular challenge for the parents of a blended family, because of the tendency for a biological parent to feel a certain level of protectiveness of their children. Maintaining an open line of communication regarding conflict management and resolution, as well as discipline, can ensure that the couple stands united. By discussing these types of matters, outside of a crisis, partners can reach resolutions that ensure both are on the same page if, and when, something does crop up.
Strouse also offers a few rules of thumb to keep in mind throughout the blending process.
- Patience is Key – Although the family may “blend” over the course of a move-in day, the process can last much longer. Understanding that there is a “learning curve,” of sorts, for both children and parents alike, can make each family member more amenable when challenges do arise.
- Be Open with the Children – No matter their age, children deserve an age-appropriate frame of reference from which to view this new family dynamic. Explaining the situation, as well as stressing that open communication is vital, can help to ensure the children feel heard.
- Listen and validate – The transition may have seemed “seamless,” and the family may appear to be doing well, as a whole. However, keep checking in with each other. Remember that each member can have a different experience.
Ultimately, there is no one method that will make the transition into a blended family a perfectly smooth process. But, understanding what to expect during this period can help both parents and children to manage it in a healthy and productive way. By maintaining open communication and practicing empathy throughout, the transition can be a more pleasant experience for all involved. Being conscientious in these ways may help a blended family get closer, and actually bring a close family even closer together.
Are you encountering challenges navigating the transition into a blended family? Westport Family Counseling can offer insights through family counseling. Contact us to learn more about these services or to schedule an appointment.