40% of American families are blended families. That means that 40% of the families in the United States have at least one child living with one biological parent and one step-parent. That’s a lot of shared love, and steadily rising.
It’s so important to understand what a child of divorce experiences when other partners are brought into their lives. There is an adjustment of authority, of intimacy, of just living in the same house with an adult you may or may not know well or feel comfortable around yet. I had a really nice client some years ago who went from filing to Legal Separation, and then came back about a year or so later to file for divorce. There were two young children of the marriage, ages 7 and 9, and since I got to know him through the Legal Separation, I asked how his children were doing since I last saw him. He said, “Not so good. They’re in therapy. They want to spend time only with me and not with my girlfriend. But isn’t my happiness important, too?”
The immediate response from me and my assistant at the time, who had a minor child in a very difficult custody situation, said in unison, “No!” We further explained that the children need time adjusting to the separation of their parents and reattaching to them individually instead of as a parental unit in the same house. They are explaining their needs to their dad, who if he would understand how important it was to respond positively to their needs, would eliminate the need for a therapist sooner, and would create a stronger bond between the children and their father.
It’s tricky introducing a significant other into the parent-child relationship. The children have to be ready to accept a new parental partner, and the timing for that is different with each child. When your children tell you what they need, at least in the early stages of the parental separation, listen to them. If the resistance to meeting and spending time with a new partner is a year or so, then family therapy might be needed. There could be a fear in the children thatchy will lose their biological parent’s love. We humans tend to resist what we don’t know. Perhaps the therapist is help construct a step-up plan with activities that could bond the children, the biological parent, and the new partner.
Slow and steady is the name of the game. Nothing forced prematurely will help the blending of families be a successful unit. Everything will work out in its own time, generally. Patience, love, understanding, empathy, and a willingness to listen to each other are the tools that will help people blend as a strong, secure family unit.
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