Divorce & Blended Families
Raising children is a challenging journey, even more so following divorce or in blended families if they are children from your husband or wife’s previous marriage. Just at the moment you are focusing on the relationship with your new spouse, conflicts arise with the children.
Divorce is a painful and distressful experience for the whole family. Divorce statistics–one divorce for every two marriages—indicate that many families face this challenge. I believe that many marriages can be rescued. But this will demand quality marriage counseling and disciplined effort by both husband and wife. When this has not occurred, we want to work together to achieve the best marriages and parenting possible in blended families. Children are caught in the middle and always damaged to some degree. Children grieve, let go and move on in different ways and over different time frames. Children tend to act out their feelings when they are under a lot of stress. But sometimes the trauma of divorce can be reduced.
- Keep the environment for the children as unchanged as possible, physically and in terms of schedule.
- Explain divorce to your children at an age-appropriate level. Unanswered questions increase anxiety and the possibility children will hold themselves responsible.
- DO NOT say anything negative about the other parent. Do not discuss the other parent in the hearing of your children.
- Reassure the children. “Mother (or Father) loves you and will never leave you.”
- Encourage conversation: “This divorce is not your fault.” “You need not feel responsible or guilty.” “I know you are hurting, so am I.” “Would you like to tell me how you feel?”
- Visitation rights: Be courteous and strive for the child’s best interest, not yours.
- Don’t allow children to pit one parent against the other. This will damage your child.
- Do not over-expose children to your emotions; they should not be expected to supply your needs.
Few children from broken homes, whether by divorce or death, adapt easily to stepparents. This varies greatly with circumstances and ages of children. Being a stepparent is a very difficult tight rope to walk. Children may be hostile to the “invasion” of a stepparent. A stepparent may find that it is difficult to love a stepchild as much as a natural child. And the natural parent, of course, can pull rank, so the stepparent will have to strike a balance of being a parent and a non-parent. Disagreements, conflicts and inconsistent discipline methods between separated or divorced parents can cause emotional and behavioral problems. It will take much communication, lots of sympathetic listening, loads of unselfishness, and with preteens and teens “family councils” can increase teamwork and compliance. Success is possible, and there are great successes.
Children need guidance, instruction, training, choices, consequences and supervision. One thing to remember: You cannot insist on love. All you can do is let it grow. Love must be earned and this takes time. Nurture, encourage, show affection and convey approval.
You may have to deal with jealousy, conflict of loyalties, confusion, resentment, disrespect, aloofness, withdrawal, and frustration. Sit down together and establish rules, responsibilities, and clearly state the consequences and rewards. It is hard to take a back seat to a biological parent. This will be necessary at first.
Be sure to present a unified front. Have your conversations privately before discussing issues with the children. Regular family time will help a great deal. Talk often about how you are getting along as a blending family. Encourage the children to express their feelings.
Attend parenting classes, read good books. If necessary, join a support group. And remember, every child needs to belong, feel important, and believed in.
Divorced and Blended families are dynamic and have great potential.