Jo Ball

Article Summary:

An article discussing the stages of progression for the blended family.

Stages of the Blended Family

It is helpful for blended families to see themselves as a team. To aid this I've developed The Stepfamily Development Model. The model breaks down into four parts: getting going, growing, flowing and glowing.

Understanding each of these areas alone will really help blend a family, ease the stress and find greater happiness within the family.

Let's explore each of these areas.

Getting Going
This is the stage that two people fall in love. They want to spend as much time as possible together. They only see the good things about each other. The fact that children are involved hardly matters at this point as love conquers all! And this is a second chance and it's going to be wonderful - a lovely partner and one big happy family.

In the background of this Getting Going stage the practicality is that the children will need a lot of guidance and direction from their parent. They will also need reassurance too so as to avoid feeling shut out. The new partner will also need lots of support and guidance on how to interact with the young people of the house.

This whole stage is littered with dreams and uncertainty with hardly anyone knowing what to do or how to act.

At this stage it's ideal to plan, look ahead, discuss the future and all the what ifs and buts. Think about the reality of living together. Who will discipline who, what are acceptable standards amongst the children, etc.

At the Getting Going stage parents and their the new partner must be prepared to answer lots of questions: about relationships with the new people, about the other parent and how things are going to be now at home. You'll need to answer questions around what they should call the new adult in the house. The children may well test the tolerance of the new adult and any new processes/systems may well be ignored.

Every adult I speak too in a stepfamily who is having difficulties tells me they wished they'd come to me sooner when they were planning blending families. They realise that discussing key things early would make life a lot easier later. As the old saying goes, failing to plan is just planning to fail.

Growing
The realities are beginning to really hit home. You've moved in together and are realising that you don't agree with the way your partner disciplines their own children and even worse the way they discipline yours. You don't see your children as much because your ex is resentful or your new partner is not getting along with them. There are arguments amongst the children and you and your partner are feeling the tension in your own relationship and in the relationship with the children.

Decisions can be hard to make within the family, as there are so many different needs to take into account. Each member of the family will attempt to establish themselves in relation to other new family members. At this stage the adults are likely to receive challenges from the children. There are still plenty of uncertainties but family members are becoming clearer and more confident.

This confidence can bring headaches. You may well find that siblings gang up and cliques and divisions form. From older children there may be power struggles. The adults in the family need to really keep in mind what they want to achieve and avoid becoming caught up in/distracted by emotional issues. A good approach for adults here is to ask lots of questions to understand how people are thinking and feeling.

It's during this stage that many families get stuck. There is lots of learning, lots of realization coming all at the same time and adults can, understandably, get overwhelmed with what to do with all this information. The thing is if something isn't done with the information then rifts, arguments, irritations and conflict grow. This is where stepfamily life can be at its most stressful; leaving you feeling drained and very unhappy, at the worst families break up ... again.

If in this position, parents and/or partners can really reap rewards form seeking support and guidance through this difficult time. One way to is to get yourself a good Coach. Flexible and empowering, impartial and non-judgmental, having your own personal family coach is a really valuable way to get help.

Flowing
You've learnt how to communicate effectively. You appreciate that everyone is different and although you might not agree you can accept. You are in a settled routine and understand everyone's needs and how to fulfil them.

This is the phase where family members begin to be able to make agreements and cooperate. Adults now find it easier work with the children. Everyone is now clear on their place in the family and feel accepted within that. Now adults move much more into consulting the whole family when making family decisions with an aim to gain everyone's agreement. There is now a strong sense of being part of a family unit and everyone feels commitment to that group. As a family you talk issues over and hold in mind what would work better for everyone. There is general respect for adults and children alike and older children might share some of the leadership.

Glowing
You celebrate your differences. The children are well balanced and effectively balance their two homes. Everyone respects and appreciates each other.

The family members now have a clear vision and everyone knows clearly why they are doing what they are doing. The family has a shared vision and everyone interacts with little intervention from the adults. There is a real feel for working together and doing the best for the family and everyone makes most of their decisions based on their family values.

Sure, disagreements occur but now they are resolved positively and the family makes necessary changes. The family is able to work together, and individuals can sort out issues and challenges with relative ease. Family members look after each other. The family needs little direction from the adults and needs little instruction on how to behave and interact with each other. Family members might ask for help from the adults with personal and interpersonal development.

One strong, happy family!

It is natural for families to continue to cycle back to growing through the process to glowing regularly as the children grow and life evolves. The difference is next time the growing stage is a lot easier because you already have strong relationships, a deeper understanding and respect for each other and new tools and techniques to deal with what comes your way.

What stage of the cycle is your family?

Jo Ball, LCA, Dip, is a stepfamily coach and founder of The Stepfamily Coach that offers support and advice to divorced or separated parents and their new families. She's worked with many families helping them to move beyond the stress and strain of blending a family so they achieve happiness and harmony at home.

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