Step Families & Divorce
No one gets married thinking their union will end in divorce, but statistics show that one in two first marriages will split at some point, and at least sixty percent of second marriages fail. Although divorce rates for certain segments of the population have decreased in the last several years, the proliferation of online divorce document services in states that allow no-fault divorce have made divorce easier to accomplish than ever before. Studies also document that in the United States; more than 30 million children less than 14 years of age are living with one biological parent, and in many cases, that biological parent’s current partner. The situation that is created is usually called a step family.
Not all step families are not automatically doomed to failure of course, but the challenges created by step situations can be confusing and hard to navigate at the very least.
When a biological parent who has primary custody of the children starts a new relationship, problems often arise. Even if the children truly like the new partner, they can be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt because they think their affection for the new parent in their life is a betrayal of their true parent. They may become withdrawn or act out, unable to deal with the internal conflict. Many different behavior problems get started this way.
With behavior problems comes discipline, and discipline can also create strife for step families. If the non-biological parent attempts to discipline the children, the kids may resent it and play the “You’re not my real parent!” card. Even worse, the biological parent may rush to the defense of the children, which alienates their current partner and creating more confusion for everyone involved.
There are many different types of step family configurations, and each one can pose its own specific challenge. Due to the sensitivities and emotions involved, most people attempting to blend families would do well to seek the guidance of a trained family counselor. A professional counselor can help families understand their emotions and work on positive actions to help strengthen relationships. A clear definition of roles and responsibilities is a good place to start. For the children, understanding that feeling affection for their custodial parent’s new partner does not mean they are betraying their biological parent can give them a great sense of relief. For the non-custodial parent, a counselor can help them understand that structure and discipline are important for the children even if their visits are limited in both time and frequency.
Perhaps the best way to help children adjust to living in a step family is to explain that while things may not be the way they used to be, living with a step family means there are now even more people who will love and care about them. With the right combination of love and awareness, even step families can thrive after a divorce