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According to the U.S. Census, over 50 percent of U.S. families are remarried or re-coupled at any given time. At least 1,300 new blended families form every day! Fifty percent (half) of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner. Many marriage and family sociologists believe over 64 percent of families are blended families at some point. What does it all mean? That blended families are the new normal!
We all bemoan the high divorce rate in society, but it is not all gloom and doom for kids. I am a child of divorce. I am divorced myself, and I facilitate co-parenting education groups for parents in conflict over separation, divorce or custody issues. Resiliency, creativity and tolerance can emerge from blending families after separation, divorce or death. While I would not wish the pain of divorce on anyone — least of all children — there are some positive things blended family members learn that can benefit all of us.
Parents and children of blended families may struggle through conflict, but they eventually learn you can live through, survive and thrive after a time of tremendous pain. Young children may not have enough experience to discern that “this too shall pass.” Children can be prompted and reminded to consider the reality that they don’t feel bad forever. Feelings are not permanent conditions. Older children have better experience at taking the long view of circumstances. Older children know that summer comes after the school year and that eventually the blended family situation will not feel new and strange.
Helpful online resources for blending families:
Even kids on play dates learn this. Parents often hear after a play date, “Suzi’s mom doesn’t do it that way.” The empowered parent often responds, “You don’t live with Suzi’s mom.” Nevertheless, the observation points out a wonderful truth. Not everyone does things the same way. Learning to live with different people and different styles of conducting day to day life is a positive skill which can help kids of blended families for years to come in their interpersonal and professional lives.
Children of divorce have had their trust in others injured. It takes time to grieve, heal and risk trusting again. In the meantime, children can become quite adept at caring for themselves. Children of single parents and children in blended families may cook, wash clothes or work a part-time job for school clothes, school sports fees or to help make ends meet. Children of divorce may have had to take on the parenting role with younger siblings because parents are working. There may be positive side effects. Self-reliance in balance can be a very positive skill for academic success, college life and finding a job.
Blended families are often under financial strain. Parents and children learn how to meet family needs in creative ways. Family outings may be a walk in the park or a DVD with popcorn rather than a trip to the mall or theater. (While it may also be true for most families recovering from the economic recession, it is particularly true of blended families.) Blended families tend to eat in more, cook together more or share the load of chores, simply because they must.
Children in blended families may also learn to rely on mentors to help fill in the parenting role. Given our fast-paced lifestyle, all children can benefit from interaction with mentors. Children of divorce with trust issues who may not readily open up to stepparents or parents who have recently divorced and/or remarried. Children may choose to reach out to positive role models such as teachers, coaches, parents of friends, church members or scout leaders. The process of reaching out helps children take emotional risks and grow their own support networks. In a society with less interpersonal conversation, learning to expand support systems can be a positive, lifelong skill.
Blending a family is a process. David L. Brashear, BCSW and family therapist, says it takes approximately five years to blend a stepfamily. Like all of family life, there are ups and downs. Blending a family is a worthwhile process that can launch resilient and skillful children.
Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a parenting journalist and sociologist. She facilitates co-parenting education classes. Laura and her husband have blended a family with two daughters.