Did you know this?:
Forty percent of all new marriages in the U.S. are remarriages for one or both of the partners, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report. In addition, a little more than 40% of the U.S. population has at least one step relative: three in 10 have a step-or half-sibling; 18% have a living stepparent and 13% have at least one stepchild, a 2011 Pew report found.
Forming a stable, bonded stepfamily isn’t as easy as The Brady Bunch made it appear. Elizabeth Bernstein says it may take as many as ten years before two families are blended comfortably:
One whole year alone goes to cycling through birthdays and holidays, learning about established rituals and creating new ones.
The challenges blending two families are many: a complex hierarchy between stepchildren, thorny relations with ex-spouses, children who are still grieving their parents’ divorce or the death of one parent and feel threatened by the new marriage. But the biggest challenge, the experts say, is how to parent children that aren’t your own.
Bernstein takes us through the four stages of stepfamiles. First is the “fantasy stage,” where a dating couple and their children are excited (and hopefully, happy) about a new future together. Then comes the second phase — the “disillusionment stage” — when any hopes children may have for their parents getting back together are squashed. It’s also a time when kids resent the parenting they receive from their mom’s or dad’s new spouse, causing disruption in the household from angry, acting-out behaviors. Next, the “restructuring stage” is when new rules and habits are accepted and compromise occurs. Finally, the “rewards stage”:
Some differences may remain. But members understand their relationships to each other and have created new family bonds.
Bernstein says experts agree that the key to successful parenting in blended stepfamilies is simple:
Each spouse needs to parent his or her own children. Dads cannot subcontract out the parenting of their children to their new wife. And stepparents must always take the nurturing, “good cop” role with their stepchildren.
Is blending two families with children into one really that easy?
(Back pat: Sarah Kohl, M.D.)