Despite the many challenges there are ways to ease the transition from two households into one.
The first is to be proactive and engage in what psychosocial expert Samson Khoza calls preventative therapy. “People hold on to the past, especially if it’s their comfort zone, so preventative therapy really helps,” Khoza says.
“Because we can predict what type of challenges might arise, we can tackle them before they actually happen. Pre-knowledge helps eradicate a lot of unnecessary fights. Everyone involved needs to know exactly what they’re getting into beforehand.”
Here are a few challenges and how to address them.
1 FEELING LIKE TWO FAMILIES INSTEAD OF ONE
This is normal, says Cape Town-based family therapist Lindie Pankiv Greene. It takes a while for the children to grieve the loss of the old family unit and for everyone to get used to new ways of doing things.
What to do:
The Arthurs made new family traditions. “The kids felt involved because they were there at the inception of these traditions and took part in forming them,” Songeziwe explains.
Flicky Gildenhuys, a therapist and the author of Blended Families, says this is a good approach. “A new blended family has no shared history but see this as an opportunity to develop new, unique traditions and memories.”
It’s also crucial to make time to get to know one another. “The new parent needs to show each stepchild they’re interested in getting to know them. Find out what’s important to them and what their hopes and dreams are,” Greene suggests.
2 KIDS VYING FOR ATTENTION
Competing for a parent or stepparent’s attention, feeling jealous of their new step-siblings or even actively disliking them are common issues. Songeziwe faced resistance from her stepchildren at first and Matthew made it clear he feared they’d forget about their mother. They took on these challenges by keeping a photo of Thomas’ first wife in their home and even named their baby girl after her.
What to do:
“The first priority is the children,” Khoza says. “They need to be reassured of their positions in the family and in their parents’ lives. “They need to understand that even though there are new members in the family, it takes nothing away from them.”
The more time you spend with the kids, the less sibling rivalry there’ll be. “Ensure your child has regular time alone with you,” Gildenhuys says. “Your partner should ideally also spend quality time alone with your child.”
3 SPOUSAL STRAIN
Given all the challenges a blended family can bring, it’s not surprising the couple’s bond will also take strain. “Children can make or break a relationship and parents can find blending a family hard work,” Greene admits.
What to do:
Make sure you have quality time together as a couple. “You need this to allow your relationship to grow,” Greene says. “Also, all parents should aim to have some time entirely to themselves.”
One possible advantage of a blended family is you might just find time for each other when the kids are with their other parent.
4 DIFFERENT PARENTING STYLES
This will come into particularly sharp focus when kids need to be disciplined. One partner may be more lenient than the other and the non-biological parent may be faced with the “You’re-not-my-parent!” dilemma.
What to do:
The golden rule is parents should present a united front because a sad, crying child can easily divide and rule, says Lindie Pankiv Greene. “It’s essential parents agree on how they’re going to discipline all the kids. Family meetings where discipline is discussed and rules are agreed on, particularly with teenagers, are a good way to handle it.”
When you’re faced with the “you’re-not-my parent” comment, you can explain that although you’re not their biological parent, you are one of the adults in charge and should be respected as such.
*Not their real names