Starting a step family is a major life transition for children, couples, and even any ex-spouses. Expecting instant love in a new step family is a myth.
Step (or blended) families are complex and it may take some time to build a strong family relationship.
Many people are unprepared for the difficult challenges they face as a step family. This can be due to:
- a lack of negotiation skills;
- unrealistic expectations;
- emotional upheavals from the previous marriage breakup;
- disparate parenting styles;
- mental health issues;
- children’s unmet emotional needs.
Failure to address unresolved problems can cause marital tension and threaten individual wellbeing. Distressed couples and children may find therapy is beneficial in resolving these challenges.
Different Parenting Styles
It is extremely common for a couple with children from any previous relationships, to have disagreements over their attitudes towards child rearing.
Parents or their ex-spouses feel frustrated, angry and confused, as the new step family usually doesn’t have clear lines of communication about expectations and responsibilities in the household. Strong opinions about the other partner’s parenting style can be easily seen as criticism.
Grief and Loss after Divorce
The consequences of divorce can be devastating for children as well as their parents. People have not only lost their partners but predictable life routines, family homes, and contact with their children, friends and family.
When children are unable to cope with the separation, they likely exhibit some behavioural and emotional problems, which may include sleep difficulties, trouble at school, self-harm, frequent outbursts of anger and non-compliant behaviours.
It is important for parents to understand how children cope with the loss, so that they can support their children timely and effectively.
Some ex-spouses typically express their worries that the new partner will replace them as parents. They may even try to interfere with the blended family’s routines, parenting styles and rules.
Blaming and criticism can also cause children’s behaviour problems. Children may also feel pressured to show loyalty to absent biological parents.
Rivalry between step siblings
It is typical for children’s complaints of unfair treatment or disconnection by their step parent, to cause defiance and non-compliant behaviour towards the new step parents and siblings. In some cases, step sibling rivalry can also result from age gaps, personality clashes, different interests and the perception of favouritism.
In step families, children are likely to be more sensitive to their parent/step parent showing affection towards the other children. Attention seeking and jealousy often cause siblings to fight. Recognising the underlying causes of sibling rivalry is the first step in helping children to stop fighting.
Parents can help by dedicating their time to connect with their children individually, and also plan fun family activities together
How Family Therapy can help
Building a happy blended family involves work! It takes time and effort for family members to understand and accept each other’s differences.
If you are experiencing problems with your children/step children, or your ex-spouse, don’t be easily shaken by the rough patches. Professionals can help your family gain new skills and knowledge about building a strong step family, so you can improve parenting skills and strengthen bonds with your partner and step children.
Lastly, just remember it is worth the fight for what you have already built for your family!
Author: Claire Pang, B Psych (Hons), Masters of Clinical Psychology.
When providing family therapy, Claire adopts a combination of Interpersonal Therapy and Emotion-Focused Therapy to help clients to deal with the strong negative emotions associated with conflicts. More importantly, the therapy process aims to facilitate an emotional bond between couples and their families.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Claire Pang, freecall 1800 877 924 today or you can book online!