Working with families: Blended families
Thursday, April 14, 2022
One of the fastest growing family types in Britain is the step family, or ‘blended family’. Within five years of going through a separation or divorce, up to half of parents will have remarried, so be reassured that your child is highly likely to know others who are also living in blended families. That said, it is a big transition that your child will need to be supported through.
How do I explain it to my child?
Joining two families can be an exciting new start and doesn't have to be a negative experience. As with all transitions, it is important to discuss an upcoming change of living arrangement with your child as soon as possible. This will allow your child to think it through, ask any questions and accustom themselves to the change, rather than having it thrust upon them.
Explain the change of situation in a simple and age appropriate way, such as that your girlfriend is going to start living with you all the time but that they will continue to see their mum at weekends. Or that you will be moving to a new house with your partner and their children but that they will be able to take their books and toys with them, and share theirs too.
You may be excited to begin this new chapter, but be mindful of your child's feelings, and any other children involved, and try not to rush the transition. Make sure that your child has the chance to get to know and feel comfortable with the new people in their life.
How may it affect my child?
Getting used to a new living arrangement is often a big adjustment for everyone and many factors, including how much change is involved (will they be moving home? Leaving their nursery?), can affect a child's reaction and ability to adapt. Even if they are happy that they will now be living with your partner, they may feel guilty about spending more time with them than their other biological parent.
Also, the inclusion of other ‘step’ children is likely to have a big impact and can cause resentment, especially if they have a more involved relationship with their other parent. It can negatively affect children's wellbeing and sense of identity.
A child's age often impacts on how they react, with younger children often finding it easier:
Under-fives: this age tends to be more accepting of a new family set-up and less aware of the ‘family politics’. Be conscious of the importance of attachment and that they are likely to become more ‘clingy’ with their parent, this is natural.
Primary-aged children could take longer to bond with new members of the family and need lots of reassurance. They may not like competing for attention and could feel their position in the family threatened by a new partner and their children.
Teenagers can resent having new household rules and routines imposed on them but tend to be less involved in family life, preferring to have more solitary time or be with friends.
How do I continue to support them?
- Reassure your child that they are still loved and are an integral part of the new blended family
- Make the effort to have one-to-one time with your child, don't force them to always do things with the new family
- Reassure your child that they have gained a new, caring adult in their lives who is not trying to replace their other parent
- Enable your child to maintain regular contact with their other parent, unless there are safeguarding issues. It may seem unsettling but is best for them in the long-term
- Acknowledge your child's emotions as they transition between two households and try to make it as easy as possible for them, such as ensuring they have their favourite comforter and are packed for the visit. Try having a pictorial calendar or count the number of sleeps before they see their other parent
- Be consistent with the rules you had before becoming a blended family and don't relax these rules in order to endear yourself to the child or annoy the other parent. This relaxation of boundaries can be confusing for a child and impact on their feeling of security
- Maintain your own treasured family traditions while slowly adopting new family celebrations too.
- http://www.nfm.org.uk - National Family Mediation