Blended Families: Don't Expect the Brady Bunch

The Brady BunchAs a family law practice, we see a lot of blended families. Some of them have it figured out, and others (usually the more newly formed) are still struggling with the wicked step-mother issues. It’s true that we rarely see a blended family with a wicked step-father problem but maybe that’s because there remains the expectation and reality that women do more in terms of childcare thus are easier targets for the kids in blended families. What we have certainly learned over the years in our law practice is that while every blended family may have the best of intentions and the intent to create the perfect union, please don’t expect the Brady Bunch. That type of blended family harmony won’t happen quickly if it happens at all. So, don’t set yourself and your family up for disappointment.

When you combine two households and two families, there will inevitably be conflict. Isn’t there conflict in your own family? It’s a natural state of being when people live together. Sure you may love your brother or sister, and mother or father, but that doesn’t mean that you will always like that person all of the time. So of course the same holds true for a step-parent or step-sibling. However, there are things you can do to help yourself and your family through the awkward blending time. Try some of these coping tools:

  • Get rid of the step-whatever labels: we’ve written about this before, the assignment of alternative names for step-mother such as bonus mom. Kick out the negative stereotypes of the wicked step-mother and get clever. If you get the kids involved in selecting new monikers, it will become a creative bonding exercise for the family.
  • Don’t push too hard or too soon: it takes time to form meaningful bonds with anyone let alone a child. Don’t be too sensitive to the rejection you may receive from your new step-child. Instead, you need to work on the relationship and try to view the situation from the child’s perspective. You cannot expect the same in return from the child so don’t. A child will likely always have some resentment over the breakup of the biological parents. Accept that and move on.
  • Confide in your partner but don’t expect interference: always remember that your partner is in a tight spot and trying to maintain the peace between you and his/her kids from another mother/father. There will also be some degree of guilt suffered by your partner over the breakup of the prior family unit, and the stress and grief that has caused the kids. Don’t take that personally – it’s natural to have those feelings – because if you start to put up a wall between you and your partner, then you’re creating new problems in an already complicated situation.

Family counseling helps, too. We don’t want to minimize the importance of giving the kids an outside party to talk with. Your partner’s ex may be reinforcing a child’s anger over the new blended family set-up, which of course is the exact opposite of what a responsible parent should do, but it happens far too frequently. Recognize the swirling and conflicting emotions in your step-child and work with him/her to get through them. Love, patience, understanding and hard work do wonders to develop a blended family, but don’t be disappointed if you never become the Brady Bunch!

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