Divorce advice for the blended family: How to deal with the custody issues after a divorce

If someone told me that there are more “blended families” in America than there are traditional families, I would not disbelieve it. While the divorce rates are a lot lower than the proverbial 50% that pundits will have us believe, a huge percentage of marriages do end in divorce and of that number, a huge percentage remarry, creating blended families. (Not to mention economic reasons that have caused many adult kids to move back home; so there are the blended families that also include grandparents as well.)
The problem is, that while the adults are happy as clams after a divorce, (because they have found new love, after a divorce), and are busy staring deeply into the love-sick eyes of their significant other, the kids may be rolling their own eyes behind their parents backs and if not outright miserable as heck, may be actively plotting the downfall of this new, ostensibly “happy” home. Or maybe the children are not so devious but they are, nonetheless, feeling isolated and left out. There are huge “trust” and “guilt” issues to circumnavigate as the children of divorce tend to feel that adults “cannot be trusted” to keep things stable in the family.
Before things get really hairy in your blended family (step family for old timers), you need to ask yourself: what can you do to help your children make this post-divorce transition to this new blended situation? I say this, fully recognizing that for many blended families, the transition is quite smooth; everybody is perfectly happy as clams and don’t require intervention. This post is really for the others: those who are having a tough time coming to terms with the demise of the first family, and having to put up with this new, uncharted situation that the new family presents.
I was listening to a podcast called Blended Families with Emily Bouchard on Family Matters Radio. It was very informative. You should listen to it. It gives a lot of great tips for parents and step parents in this blended situation.
There are definitely unique challenges facing the post-divorce blended family and one of the main challenges, I think, is helping each member of the new family to feel relevant. Another huge issue is communication. It is so important to have open, honest communication; to be able to listen to each member of the family (including the former spouse) and to speak honestly about issues so that clear expectations are laid out. There are that many more people who need to be consulted with and signals can get crossed and toes can get stepped on so good communication is vital.
Another problem, as pointed out by the Bouchard podcast, is inconsistency. It is very important for parents to be “consistent” with all members of the new clan so that there isn’t a disconnect between one prong of the clan vs. the other prong. In other words, you don’t want the children feeling that the step kids are being treated better than the they are, or vice versa; nor do you want the kids to feel that they don’t matter or don’t fit in with the new family structure. This can create major headaches as there is bound to be some kind of rebellion and push back.
Blended families call for a lot of flexibility. Individuals within the family, parents in particular, need to be open to change tactics and strategies to help the new family to function as a healthy, cohesive unit. Parents are put the task of maintaining a climate of consistency so that the children know what is expected of them at all times, or most of the time, and that the rules are not changed mid stream. But there is a definite need for flexibility. Rules can’t be carved in stone either.
The other thing with blended families is the fact that because there are likely now four parents as opposed to two, the challenge of co-parenting is amplified. Egos, resentment and distrust can cause both camps to work against each other and create a tug of war that is not in the children’s best interest. Parents want to “be on the same page” so that there aren’t different rules and expectations depending on which home the child happens to be in at the moment. That calls for good communication, tolerance and forgiveness, and a lot of “letting go.”
It is not an easy thing to circumnavigate, but blended families can work and there are a lot of divorce resourcesfor parents in this situation. You can start by listening to the Bouchard tape here.
And good luck with that. Notwithstanding the high divorce rate for second marriages and blended families, it can be done if everyone in the family is invested in the success of this new family.
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