The Dynamics of the Blended Family
Would you be surprised to learn that for the first time in history, step families are more common than non-step families? Life in a step family, which modern terminology refers to as a blended family, isn’t always smooth sailing and, in fact, can be quite challenging.
Because blended families come with their own unique dynamics, it is implausible to assume that step families will always behave like intact families. Many parents enter a blended situation with misguided expectations. They think their desire to love and nurture their stepchildren will be grounds for full-fledged acceptance and reciprocated affection and that possibly their stepchildren will even regard them like they do a natural parent. In reality, however, the circumstances take on some serious complexity and conditions are rarely so cut and dried. In natural families, children are an extension of the parents. Because of this, natural parents are usually jointly motivated to devote hefty amounts of time, energy, and money into their progeny. Step parenting, however, is not that predictable and often drifts into uncharted territory for both parent and child. It takes awareness on the part of the step parents to come to the realization that the dynamics of their new blend won’t be the same as a natural family. With this recognition, the blended family has a better chance of tracking a more positive course.
Sex and Biology
In a natural family, a man and a woman come together to have a child. Most of the time, both parents have the interest of the child at heart. They combine their energies to tend to and nurture the child. In step families, however, sexual energies of the couple and biological energies of parent/child relationship can cause family members to move emotionally in opposing directions. This polarization can be the beginning of divisive influences that affect every member of the family. Oftentimes, this damaging rift opens the way for jealousy and resentment to develop and flourish.
The Question of Loyalty
Another major issue that comes up in step families is the question and conflict that arises surrounding the issue of loyalty. Often a child, upon becoming endeared to his step parent, starts to act out in negative ways. The scenario in the mind of a child living in a blended family often plays out in predictable ways: If I love my step mom/dad, then that means I don’t love my real mom/dad.
Other loyalty issues are not child specific. Perhaps a mother is torn between leaving her natural child with a babysitter while going out for a romantic dinner with her spouse. Or a father is conflicted when his visiting natural child wants to spend time with him and not the stepmother. Natural families are rarely up against these types of loyalty problems and the key in step families is to recognize them and talk about them with a professional, if necessary.
Although there are some classic negatives that come with blended families, it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. There are many step families that are functioning and happy. Education and awareness are the keys to understanding what happens when families blend.