The Complex
Dynamics of
Blended
Families
(PART ONE)
Lydia Jayne Doyle, LMSW
Definition of Blended Families
The blended family is the modern
term for Stepfamily. As our
society has changed so has the
traditional image of stepfamilies. Today stepfamilies can
include multiple children from
several previous marriages and
relationships.
Societal changes, new
biological changes,
shifts in marital
expectations, all have
lead to a wide variety of
family forms (Visher).
The Pew Research Center released a
national report in 2012 giving the
following statistics on blended families.
• 42% of all American Adults have some
kind of stepfamily relationship, that is
95.5 million adults.
• 13% of adults are stepparents with
males leading females in the overall
percentage.
• 1/3 of all American children are
expected to live in a stepfamily
before age 18.
According to the 2011 U.S.
Census the 52-62% of all first
marriages end in divorce, with
75% of those divorced persons
remarrying (U.S. Census 2011)
• Data varies from study to study on the
numbers of remarried and successful
remarried families.
• According to Marriage Foundation
(2013) new research reports 2nd
marriages are not more likely than first
to end in divorce.
• Studies did report there is a need for
therapist who have the ability to
counsel blended family couples and
children of blended families (Good
Therapy)
There are differences and
similarities between first and
second marriages.
1. Remarried individuals tend to be
older.
2. In most 2nd marriages at least
one of the individuals has a child
from previous relationship.
3. First marriages don’t have a
social stigma of 2nd marriages.
4. 2nd marriages have more
financial obligations.
5. 2nd marriages have more
emotional baggage.
6. 1st marriages has less
responsibilities.
7. 2nd marriages have more
disagreements.
Second marriages have very
complex dynamics.
NEW
COUPLE
EXPARTNER
&
EXPARTNER
&
CHILDREN
CHILDRE
N
AUXILLARY FAMILY
• The continued involvement of
former spouses and family
members complicates the
blended families ability to
integrate.
• The ongoing relationship with
previous partners, either in
terms of closeness or conflict
has a profound effect on new
family.
Dynamics of Stepfamily living
• Cultural Concept of step family livingdevaluing of stepfamily in society.
• Paths to Stepfamilies
1. Divorce-loss-parenting or lack of parentingloyalty conflicts-guilt
2. Death-bereavment-loss-loyalty
3. Never married-legal concerns-respect issues
Differences Between 1st Families and
Stepfamilies
•
•
•
•
The family begins after loss or change
No shared family history
There is less loyalty
All parties have expectations from previous
families
• Children can be members of two or more
households. Which causes children to have
multiple parenting figures.
• Step-parents do not have a legal relationship with
stepchildren.
• There is a long integration period-the age a
child is at time of stepfamily inception, it will
take that many years for the child to accept
the step-parent.
• The household experiences intense
unexpected emotional changes
• Ambiguous family boundaries
• Ambiguous roles
• Stepfamilies have overall more stress
Generally, there is more
complexity, more ambiguous
boundaries, and more
ambiguous roles, less
cohesiveness, more loss, and
more division
(www.stepfamily.org)
The Stepfamily Structure
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Stepparent-outsiders
Residential stepmother/residential stepfather-are often caught
between their partner and the children. Stepfathers fare better than
stepmothers.
Non-residential stepmother/non-residential stepfather-often distant
and uninvolved.
Remarried parent/non-remarried parent-jealously, feeling of
inadequacy, insecurity.
Children/step-siblings/half-siblings-anxiety, fear of unknown, unable to
cope with loss, less nurture from parent and affection, more overall child
abuse. Half-siblings integration is dependant on older children’s
acceptance of new child and frequency of contact with the new child.
Step-siblings often struggle for affection and financial resources. All tend
to have more behavior issues, school issues.
Grandparents-Can be instrumental in building the bridge for families or
instrumental in destroying the family and affecting adults and children
Later generations.
7. Auxiliary Family-Aunts/Uncles/Cousins Can
have positive influences or very destructive
negative influences on families.
The negative influences by outsiders projected
to the new family have a greater impact to
influence integration.
Stages of Integration
1. Fantasy Stage-Couple is “in Love”, children
are hopeful
2. Immersed Stage-Family is attempting to
assimilate to a nuclear family mold.
3. Awareness Stage-This is hard, changes might
need to occur, family splits along bio-lines,
remarried spouse caught in middle.
4. Mobilization Stage-Step-parent starts to be
accepted into family.
5. Action Stage-Occurs 3-4 years after couple
inception. Boundary around couple is
developed and is accepted. Ex-spouses and
new spouses are more accepting of each
other. Children still do not quite there.
6. Contact Stage-Step-parent is no longer an
outsider.
7. Resolution Stage-Acceptance of family,
cooperation between homes.
Elements of Successful Blended
Families
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Realistic expectations
Focus is on couple
Children feel safe
Family rituals
Household boundaries with flexibility
Intentional development of step relationships
Step-parent does not compete with bioparents
8. Step-parents discipline less and have less
responsibility for step-children
9. Spend more “one on one” time with
individuals of family
10. Auxiliary Family members have strict
boundaries and are not allowed to have as
much influences on family integration.
Part II
• Types of Therapies used to
Counsel Blended Families
• Initial Assessments
• Developing a Foundation
• Facilitating Stepfamily
Integration
References
References
Resources
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The Complex Dynamics of Blended Families