A Blended Family: 7 Stages – 8 Steps

A blended family is a common situation in society, but there are unique and complex difficulties in that type of family system.  

The book Old Loyalties, New Ties by Emily Visher and John Visher is a good resource if you can find it. There are some copies of the book on Amazon.com, but they are used and somewhat expensive. Still, it is a good resource for anyone seeking help with a blended family.

The following is only in outline form to reduce the size of the post. It is also easier to see the information in this structure. Although, many people might disagree with that statement because they need more details.

A Blended Family: 7 Stages – 8 Steps

"...but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. - Exodus 20:6

7 Stages of Emotional Development

1. Fantasy: “It won’t happen to us.”

  • Adults expect instant love and adjustment
  • Children try to ignore stepparent—hope they will go away—biological parents will be reunited

2. False assimilation: “Of course, we’re one big happy family.”

  • Attempts to realize fantasies
  • Vague sense that things are not going well
  • Increasing negativity
  • Splits along biological lines
  • Stepparents feel something is wrong with them

3. Awareness: “ I see what’s bothering me, but I don’t dare tell you.”

  • Growing awareness of blended family pressures
  • Stepparent begins to perceive what changes are needed
  • Parent feels pulled between the needs of the children and a new spouse
  • Groups divide along biological lines
  • Children may observe and exploit differences between the parents

4. Mobilization: “You’re wrong; that’s not how it is.”

  • Strong emotions begin to be expressed, often leading to arguments
  • Stepparent is clear on the need to change
  • Parent fears change will bring loss
  • Sharp division between biological groups
  • Stepparent with no children is in an isolated position and lacks support

5. Action: “It’s hard, but we’ll work it out together.”

  • Couple begins working together in attempts to find solutions
  • Blended family structure changes
  • Boundaries are clarified
  • Children may resist changes

6. Contact: “We’re all getting closer.”

  • Couple working well together
  • Closer bonding between stepparent-stepchild and other step-relations
  • Stepparent has a definite role with stepchildren
  • Boundaries are clear
  • More ability to deal with the larger family system issues

7. Resolution: “It’s different and OK.”

  • Blended family identity is secure
  • When difficulties arise, the family may regress to earlier stages but moves ahead quickly
  • Usual difficulties are around specific family events involving the larger family system

8 Tasks for a New Blended Family

1. Deal with Losses and Changes

  • Identify/recognize losses for all individuals
  • Support expressions of sadness
  • Help children talk and not act out feelings
  • Read blended family books
  • Make changes gradually
  • See that everyone gets a turn
  • Inform children of plans involving them
  • Accept the insecurity of change

2. Negotiate Different Developmental Needs

  • Take a child development and parenting class
  • Accept the validity of the different life cycle phases
  • Communicate individual needs clearly
  • Negotiate incompatible needs
  • Develop tolerance and flexibility

3. Establish New Traditions

  • Recognize traditions are different and not necessarily right or wrong
  • Concentrate on important situations only
  • Stepparents take on discipline enforcement slowly
  • Use family meetings for problem-solving and giving appreciation
  • Shift “standards” slowly whenever possible
  • Retain/combine appropriate rituals
  • Enrich with new creative traditions

4. Develop a Solid Couple Bond

  • Accept this as your primary long-term relationship
  • Nourish couple relationship
  • Plan for couple “alone time”
  • Decide general household rules as a couple
  • Support one another with the children
  • Expect and accept different parent-child stepparent-stepchild feelings
  • Work out money matters together

5. Form New Relationships

  • Fill in past histories
  • Create stepparent-stepchild 1:1 time
  • Parent make space for stepparent-stepchild relationship
  • Do not expect “instant love” and adjustment
  • Be fair to stepchildren even when caring has not developed
  • Follow children’s lead in what to call a stepparent
  • Do fun things together

6. Create a Parenting Coalition

  • Deal directly with parenting adults in the other household
  • Parents keep children out of the middle
  • Do not talk negatively about adults in the other household
  • Control what you can and accept limitations
  • Avoid power struggles between households
  • Respect the parenting skills of a former spouse
  • Contribute own “specialness” to children
  • Communicate between households in the most effective manner

7. Accept Continual Shifts in Household Composition

  • Allow children to enjoy their households
  • Give children time to adjust to household transitions
  • Avoid asking children to be “messengers/spies”
  • Consider the teenager’s earnest desire to change residence
  • Respect the privacy (boundaries) of all households
  • Set consequences that affect own household only
  • Provide a personal place for non-resident children
  • Plan special times for various household groupings

8. Risk Involvement Despite Little Support

  • Include stepparents in school, religious, sports, etc. activities
  • Give legal permission for a stepparent to act when necessary
  • Continue stepparent-stepchild relationships after the death or divorce of a parent when caring has developed
  • Stepparent includes self in stepchild’s activities
  • Find groups supportive of blended families
  • Remember that all relationships involve risk

PURSUING THEIR BEST - Freedom in Relationships

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