Blended Families - Building Bridges as the Landscape Changes (New families)
Updated: Aug 3
This is a pretty personal blog for me. I am part of a blended family system. My partner has two kids and we are all navigating an unchartered territory. It has ups and downs and is often an emotional rollercoaster at the moment.
I however live in hope, I have tools, but at home, I am not a therapist, and I quickly learnt and continue to learn I too am human. At home, in this world, I am a partner, a lover, friend, and the woman in the life of a dad, two kids have known their entire life. I am a stranger, hopefully mostly present, and mostly kind. I am the woman who comes to the home, with my own thoughts, values, ways of being and seeing the world, but it is the home they have lived most of their lives, with my partner now and my partner and his ex for a long time before.
I imagine that this is hard for everyone, I know its been difficult for me, and my partner. I have seen us both grapple, struggle, take steps forward and steps back. I am grateful I still have my own place. I am aware of treading lightly, of going slowly, of exhaling, taking a moment to catch my breath, letting him catch his, and being present as the kids process and adapt to changes. I am aware of this, but my actions and expressions perhaps do not always reflect this. I am humbled in the realisation that I am a work in progress here. A place where I need to be curious and gentle as I enquire into my own being about what shows up for me.
This is an ongoing journey and reflection is so important in this, and I take time to do this.
A therapist friend and I shared space with each other today, exploring gently what's needed here and what's needed in all blended families - all the time... I share some of these ideas with you for you to ponder, and cautiously, consciously get curious about...
There are various needs here, like in all families. The difference is that this family is new, even when its old, its new - the holding each other under the skin isn't there - it can be if you know the kids from when they are little, but for many families its not there. The couple is building their relationship, their closeness and their way in the midst of a world that is already there.
Everyone will be triggered and the person who holds both worlds will often feel torn - the adult who belongs to both systems (the couple system and the kid system) may find themselves defending and being in conflict as a way of being
The adult who enters the family, often enters with an open heart, a willingness to see and be seen and embrace, and if often met with anger, resentment, passive-aggression - not an unusual experience, grief, guilt etc is real...
Biological parents will share that they may not always like their kids, divorced parents often won't, and a "step-parent" has no space to share this - the pressure to be always friendly is hard for anyone. Biological parents will tell you that they love their kids but are so happy when they leave, divorced parents will hold on tight and kids may not let go, "step-parents" will be relieved when this normal, natural, healthy process happens
The kids may feel torn loyalties, they may like the new person, but feel guilty about it too. They may demand and fight for their presence and place, in appropriate and non-appropriate ways, a place that is there's, while also sometimes fighting for a role that is not there's - and shouldn't be, but one they take on when parents divorce.
The system will scream for a breath, a break, joy, laughter and fun
There will be responsibilities
The ex will always be around
Some ideas on what to do:
The system needs time to adjust as new ways are created. Give yourself, your partner and the kids some time, while being gentle with yourself and your partner
The first family have known each other for years and know how to get things and share with each other, your partner and you are still learning and co-creating your way, stay in that process, and be curious to learn about each other and help the new system find the new way. The configuration, the priorities, the orders of love, will need to shift and adjust. The Divorce is real, and in this day and age, is acceptable, it has consequences.
Underneath a reaction is a need, try and see what the need is and see how to meet the need, start by acknowledging there must be a need
Be curious about your own fears/blocks/anxieties/reactions to your partner as they express needs and also to your fears etc in building bridges. Also be curious about the resources you both have to help you through it.
Remember that with kids, there can be rules on how adults are spoken to, or treated, those can and must be communicated even in the moment, and at the same time you can take a moment to understand what the need is you don't have to give into the demand that the kids might make, or the pushing of boundaries, but understand what the struggle is, understand the need.
Young children, teenagers and young adults will require different things in the integration and in the shifting landscape, and that is really ok, this is not a war, a battle to be won, but bridges to be built in different ways. The kids will grieve, they will be jealous, they may ask you to not call your partner something etc, they will feel insecure, its important to help them through this, understand their need for safety and help them feel safe, while staying in the adult role, connected to your partner. It is not an either/or, it is a both/and, and helping the kids adjust to a changing reality while keeping them secure. They are connected to two systems, which live in different homes, with different ways of being, especially when a new person is present. Help them know that its ok, and that things change but they have their place. You all do.
Work together with your partner to meet the needs, or where necessary put boundaries in. Your partner is not your enemy, in fact they probably your strongest ally, they want everyone to be happy, to be fulfilled and to have their place, they want harmony. Harmony takes work, awareness, gentleness and curiosity. Think about what harmony would look like in the family system - in this new family system
Responsibilities (also seen as an ability to respond) do not have to be burdens or obligations, they can be met with an ability to respond in clarity and based on the underlying need through the building of bridges and understanding, and there is space for freedom in that too - as they do change in a new configuration, an expanded system - a growing and emerging family. Your partner and you, as well as the ex in their own capacity have have a shared responsibility to assist the kids to adapt and adjust to the new system, in a way that is healthy, nurturing and accepting that things have changed. The ex may or may not rise to this challenge.
Remind yourself that the "step-parent" - your partner - also has the best interest of everyone at heart, you are not alone, and trust them enough to also let them in. Do this gently, slowly and in time, talk and play together as you do this - remember you are lovers, friends and confidantes, not just two people navigating a new terrain.
Ask yourself and your partner, is there another way, what is the win-win-win here.
Ask yourself and your partner, how do we build a bridge here - how do we create connection so we can all co-exist and be the best versions of ourselves as adults and help the kids develop into the best versions of themselves
Explore with your partner and see how to build a bridge as a couple with the ex, they need to see you as a unit, while also seeing that the kids are welcome - and build a bridge between your partner and you around it - you are not in conflict here, you do not have to be - and if your partner reacts, try and understand the needs and try and work together to meet those. The ex will have their own work to do.
Remember that the biological parent in each home is the attachment figure for the kids and the adults are the attachment figures for each other - so the partners come together to lean into each other and figure out what's needed and then the biological parent is there for the kids. This does not have to be a matter of conflict, it just has to be in communication, believing and knowing in your heart, word and deeds that your partner has your back and will lean into you and you into them. Together you can co-create the space where you both feel safe to express your needs, have them heard and responded to as well as understand and meet the needs of the kids.
Remember that your relationship goes beyond the blended family, you are two adults, needing to romance, and "court" each other - so give yourself and your partner the space to show up in this way, and create that in real as well as psychological ways.
Strive for non-reaction - to not have a reaction with things that happen around you - its hard but its important for your well-being, the connection and relationship, think and play the long-game, you can thrive within things you cannot change, and things change in time too. Disconnect in order to connect.
Blended families are about continuously creating bridges and connections in many different dyads, triads and as whole, both in the home as well as with the other biological parent.
With tenderness, building understanding and trust between you through creating a bridge between you, these relationships can settle and even build, with everyone feeling comfortable in their place and with the others in their place too. Yes things can and will and probably need to change, when there is a new partner, but the change doesn't have to be bad, but it needs to be held and the partners need to hold each other and then hold the children. Take the time to meet your partner as a man/woman, have some fun, build your bridge and begin the journey of integration together, knowing that at any stage, depending on the ages, bridges may need to be built.
Please seek support from a therapist to assist you and your family as you need.