“Most of us live our lives like chips in a kaleidoscope, always part of patterns that are larger than ourselves and somehow more than the sum of their parts” (Minuchin 1984)
Many children are living in families that consist of stepparents and stepsiblings. As the number of stepfamilies continues to increase they will soon outnumber first marriage families. Changes to the family structure take time to settle, new relationships need to be formed and adjustments to the usual family routine take place. Both parents bring to the newly formed family their experiences from their previous family and from their original family.
For the children, this shift in the pattern of family life can be challenging.
Rose, 22yrs, who grew up from aged 5 in a stepfamily reflects on her experience:
Probably the most difficult thing for me was dividing my time and belongings between two houses and two different families. I went on alternate days to each house, which meant I always had to take stuff I needed for the next day and had to plan ahead.
When my step dad moved in I found it difficult to adjust to how he lived, it was strange letting someone come into my family. Over time this got easier, and as I got older I realised that my stepdad treated me like one of his own children and helped bring me up.
My mum encouraged my stepdad to attend everything that my dad would as well, meaning that nobody was left out and there wasn’t any awkwardness. Everyone gets together at Christmas and birthday celebrations, which is a stress free experience!
10 Good Guides for Blending a New Family
- Change needs to be gradual with lots of preparation; the children can help to set the pace.
- Just because children who come together in a stepfamily are the same age it doesn’t mean they will get on!
- Do lots of fun things together so that the new relationships can form slowly.
- Understand that different children will have different needs and ensure relationships are respectful.
- Keep as many of the ‘old’ routines as possible, this will help the children feel secure.
- Ensure your previous partner stays involved, ex-partners can feel very left out and the children can feel very worried about their mum or dad so if you can include them in some celebrations or other events this can help.
- Older children can find it helpful to have a calendar showing them clearly which days they will be in which home.
- When children come back from the other household, tell them what has happened whilst they’ve been away
- Adolescent children need privacy and adults may need to agree a suitable ‘dress code’ in the home.
- Look at stepfamily life from the viewpoint of the children, keeping in mind the children’s developmental needs at various stages.