By: Trevise Higgins
Families are important, complex, and layered. Add to this mix, the element of new people (i.e. people who likely have no other connection, outside of a new partnership or relationship of someone they are actually related to) and the complexity factor can skyrocket.
Who are these people, and what term is used to describe their relation? I speak of the blended family. Once only thought of as a product of divorce and remarriage, this term now spans the many different attributes and compositions of persons who have come together under one roof as a "familial unit". As described above, the Blended family are not necessarily related in the biological sense or bonded by matrimony. The blended family can be the product of divorce, or having been widowed, followed by a subsequent marriage or cohabitation. These families can be same sex relationships with children from previous relationships, or polyamory relationships where the historical parental hierarchy is not at play. The term is broad because the families which fall under this umbrella category span the gamut. The common denominator being a family unit formed that does not require biological connection for belonging or siblinghood.
These families are unique in that they are almost forced into a kinship that may not have existed a few years prior. Family implies a sense of familiarity. Something that is not automatically activated simply by the decision to come together. This begs the question: How does one become a family they weren’t born into?
DISCOVERY, EDUCATION, AND UNITY
Getting to know you…Getting to know -oh, about you?
The beginning of this process has to do with learning about one another. It sounds very obvious and almost unnecessary but the key factor here is when you bring two groups of people together to live in one household as, quote/ unquote, family the thing that is often missing is that natural sense of familiarity. Discovery then makes sense as a primary goal and truly building a strong Foundation that includes knowing one another. Therefore tasks and activities designed to foster the process of getting to know one another move from being unnecessary or too simplistic to absolutely essential. How does one get to know others really well?
How can an exercise truly mimic a process that is largely organic, natural and evolving? In truth the process will probably not mimic what happens in families of origin. but it is still necessary to get to know them to learn to be open to all of the things that are important to family relationships. The process starts simple such as; favorite things, colors, foods, likes/ dislikes , values and can move on to more complex characteristics and attributes the knowing of each other deepens. This process for sure will take trial and error and patience. It is this knowledge that forms the foundation for family rules and norms.
Rules, Rules, Rules….What ARE OUR Rules?
Next in the process is to provide some education that helps to manage the expectations of the person involved. This is not an easy process and it is really helpful that the blended family to be is aware that there will be some struggles that it will require work and dedication and patience with themselves and each other to ensure that they do not feel discouraged or at least not defeated by any discouragement that they may feel or face when they encounter struggles and challenges. again the fact is it will be a process, it will entail challenge and some disappointment that is completely normal. to help assist with educating pre-blended families typically resources are provided in the forms of books and articles and even videos within a session with a counselor can be enlisted to really just set expectations and Foster hope that this is a process that is not unique to them it is not a sign of dysfunction it is not a sign of bad decision making in terms of combining these groups of people but with effort patience dedication commitment they can become a cohesive blended family.
We are Family….
If there are children that will be cared for, decisions need to be made regarding how they will be raised. This entails having the adults unite on areas like: family roles, parenting styles and strategies and how conflict resolution will be handled. Other areas for collaboration and cohesion apart from children are financial management: responsibility/accountability, physical location of residence, as well as any cultural or significant views on relationships that have not been specifically brought to the surface. This is the time to be transparent and flexible as it is the groundwork for which the result of the Blended family framework will stand.
Finally, getting help with these dynamics is a great way to alleviate the normal pressure of coming together in this way. Family therapists are your first line of offense for support and resources. Being proactive is a wonderful way to commit to doing the work of successfully blending unrelated people into a beautiful mosaic, your new family.
Gonzales, J. PreFamily Counseling: Working with Blended Families, 2009, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. Taylor Francis Group LLC