Till somewhat recently in India, it was mostly only acceptable for a man with children from his previous relationship to get married to an unmarried woman. However, today, both men and women in such similar situations are coming together to form a family. This new unit is called a blended family.
If you are considering blending your family with your partner’s, or already have a blended family, it would be wise to think about the impact it might have on your children. This is especially because the process of a blending a family can be both rewarding and challenging.
As a parent, you may be approaching remarriage with a lot of joy and expectation of finding a companion and a parent for your children, and the idea that it would provide them with a semblance of a complete family. However, it could be daunting for children to accept a new parent and step-siblings, especially because it gets a lot more complex as both parents and children have to re-adapt to a new family.
Often, children from such families face difficulties that may be unheard of in a regular nuclear setup. Such issues are seen more often in older children who could experience emotional and behavioral outbursts, too.
“Adjusting to a blended family dynamic can be challenging for both parents and children, as they have to navigate new relationships, roles, and boundaries," explains Dr. Anjali Chhabria, Founder of Mindtemple Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Mumbai.
Therefore, going into the situation prepared can help build a healthy, happy, and cohesive unit. Here's an overview of the challenges that might crop up, and the ways by which they can be dealt.
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Relationship between a child and stepparent
Children might find it difficult to accept someone as their new parent. They might feel resentment and anger as this person takes the place of their biological parent.
There might also be a reluctance to trust a stepparent, especially in the early days. Those whose biological parent is still alive might face abandonment issues after a divorce.
“Children may struggle with adjusting to the new family structure and accepting their stepparents or stepsiblings," notes Chhabria notes. "They might feel insecure or worried about the changes and wonder where they fit into this new family. Children might feel a longing for their previous family life, yearning for the stability and familiarity of their pre-blended family days," she adds.
Relationship between children and step-siblings
Quite often, blended families set up have children from previous relationships of both partners. In such a scenario, children have to deal with step-siblings. Often this can mean children end up feeling threatened, and compete for dominance and attention in the household.
“Sibling rivalry can become more complicated in blended families, especially when children feel they are competing for attention, resources, or affections", explains Chhabria. They might start bullying the other children in the family, especially if they are insecure or competitive.
Besides these, a child might also be dealing with grief and loss. “Children may experience grief and a sense of loss, especially if the blended family is formed due to the death of a parent or a divorce. They may miss their previous family structure and struggle with the changes," says Chhabria.
Children take time to process their emotions, and it could be a huge turmoil for them to accept the new setup and at the same time mourn over the loss of a parent.
Communication is key
Keep the communication channels open. In fact, talk to your children before deciding to remarry. Make them a part of the process. This will make the transition easier. “Encourage open and honest communication among all family members. Create an environment where children feel safe expressing their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment," says Chhabria. “Acknowledge and validate your children's emotions, even if they are negative or conflicted. Let them know that it's normal to have mixed feelings during this transition."
Give them space
As adults, you require your space to deal with this new situation. Even children require some time out. Don’t worry if they are not as social as they were earlier. Give them ample time and space to get used to the new way of life. Provide them a separate physical space too, maybe a room for them. This would give them a sense of belonging and privacy.
Acknowledge the absent parent
When one of the parents is not part of their regular life, children need special attention. Cutting off the absent parent would be detrimental to their well-being. In fact, you should keep alive the memories of their parent and give them access to meet or talk to the parent, if you are divorced. It will give them a sense of normalcy and connection.
“The requirement of therapy depends on the current mental state of the child. It's not a necessity for each child if the integration process has commenced smoothly. The decision to seek therapy for a blended family depends on the specific circumstances and challenges they are facing. Some families navigate these adjustments smoothly on their own, while others may find that professional support can make a significant difference in their overall well-being and family dynamics", explains Chhabria.
She recommends Structural Family Therapy. “It centres around enhancing and fortifying the family system to establish parental authority and ensure that both children and adults establish appropriate boundaries. Even Strategic Family Therapy (SFT) works well in these situations. It is primarily aimed at families with children or adolescents facing behavioural challenges."
Emotional-Focused Therapy is relevant in these cases too. “It places emphasis on emotional experiences and relational bonds," notes Chhabria. “It helps family members understand and accept each other's unique emotional experiences and individual approaches to life."
Take heart in knowing that not all children from blended families will face lifelong issues. “Many children adapt well over time, especially with appropriate support from parents and caregivers," says Chhabria, adding that “open communication, understanding, and patience are essential to help children navigate the adjustments that come with being part of a blended family."
Shweta Dravid is a self-confessed explorer who writes on travel, health, wellness, mindfulness and life truths.
- FIRST PUBLISHED08.08.2023 | 01:00 PM IST