Blended families

Merging families

A blended family is a family that includes children from a partner’s previous relationship. In the past these were referred to as ‘step-families'.

The number of blended families has increased in recent times. In New Zealand approximately a third of children now live in blended families and 40% of women will live in a blended relationship.

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When a person brings children from a previous relationship into a new partnership it’s not uncommon for them to believe the new blended family will function in the same way a first family does where both biological parents are present. The reality is that blending families is often more difficult than people imagine.

Challenges

Blended families face many unique challenges as family networks are likely to be much larger and correspondingly more complex.

Children whose parents have separated often move between households to spend time with each parent. They are required to develop ‘family-type’ relationships with their separated parents’ new partners, and their children and relatives – and they are not always pleased to do so.

Children of blended families may struggle with issues such as jealousy, confusion, animosity, resentment, rivalry, loyalty and loss. They may still be trying to sort out the pain and grief over the loss of the family they had.

If there are step-siblings, the children of both parents may feel like they are losing their remaining parent to the new spouse. This can cause sibling rivalry and tension for all of the children.

Parents must also sort out their new roles and set boundaries with regards to parenting, discipline, financial obligations and time. Different rules between households often create additional conflict.

As much as a step-parent may desire to treat their partner’s children as their own, the reality is that is not always easy to establish a relationship between a step-parent and child. It is often harder to love step-children equally with your own.

When Things Go Wrong

Statistically, a blended family is more likely to break up than a first family. When conflict arises blended family members will often divide along biological lines.

Children living in blended families do face an increased risk for:

  • Not doing well at school and leaving early
  • Low self-esteem
  • Behaviour problems
  • Emotional issues
  • Their own relationships breaking down in adulthood

That is not to say that children raised in a blended family will experience any of these known risks. Most do well within a blended family environment if the adults are able to manage the inevitable challenges.

Seeking help to work through the issues that are commonly experienced in a blended family environment will help to address these issues in a constructive manner. Outside assistance will often bring clarity to a difficult situation and may help to develop a tool kit of strategies to better cope with issues as they arise.