The Relationship Expert
Licensed Psychologist in Arroyo Grande & Los Osos
Blended Family Counseling
In blended family counseling, I help families, both before and after their remarriage, establish healthy and caring relationships with new members of the family.
Parents of blended families come to counseling to work on difficult issues like:
- Visitation for ex-husbands and ex-wives. How do you make it work?
- Children getting along with stepchildren. Do you let it happen naturally?
- Bringing together two families with different sets of unspoken rules. How do you do it without being completely blindsided again and again?
- House rules that become gridlocked. How do parents come to a compromise?
- Equal consideration for children and stepchildren. For instance, what do you do if your child gets to watch TV past 9 P.M. and your stepchild does not?
Parents will give very different responses to these issues. For instance, when it comes to correcting behavior, should stepparents be empowered to discipline their stepchildren? Some say yes. Others have strong reasons for saying no. Our counseling sessions are a safe place where you can find the answers that agree with your values.
Visitation and Hierarchy
Let’s take a moment to dig a little deeper and talk about two issues that seem to hit nearly all blended families especially hard.
Parents in blended families have to deal with the aftermath of their children and stepchildren changing households every few days. The separate homes have different rules, expectations, and dynamics which can play havoc with efforts to provide a stable home environment for children.
Many times a marriage ends in divorce because of a lack of trust. Now, a parent must send their children to the home of that very person they have trouble trusting. The situation brings about an onslaught of questions. Will your ex-spouse uphold your agreements and schedules? Will they get your child to an appointment on time? What about discipline? You’ve placed a restriction on your child and find that your ex-husband or ex-wife won’t respect your decision. How do you raise your child when you don’t feel supported by your ex-spouse? You naturally want to be liked by your child, but perhaps you feel like you are perpetually cast in the role of the “bad guy” parent.
These are difficult uncertainties to live through. And there is no one-size-fits-all answer because you are unique. So are your children, stepchildren, spouse, and ex-spouse. However, in therapy, you are not left to deal with the aftershocks that come with visitation alone. You will be able to discover what works best for your family.
- Top Tier: Parents, stepparents, or other adults
- Second Tier: Children and stepchildren
- Third Tier: Household pets
When two different families come together, the blended family hierarchy is going to be tested. Children and stepchildren question this hierarchy with their words and behavior. “Do I have to do what my stepparent says? After all, they’re not really my parent. If I cop an attitude, what will happen?”
Parents and Stepparents on the Same Team
It is vital that the biological parent leads the way in requiring that the family respects the new stepparent. The single most important way a mother or father does this is by modeling the behavior they want to see acted out by their children. Otherwise, if for example, a wife is perceived as being disrespectful to her husband, her child thinks, “I’m not going to respect my stepdad. Mom doesn’t even respect him.” (Studies show that children, like adults, are far more likely to imitate and implement behavior they observe than commands they receive.)
This also means that if your family has made the decision that stepparents are empowered to discipline children, you have to go “all-in.” If, for instance, a stepmother disciplines a father’s child, the father must back her up. If he disagrees, he should express that disagreement privately, separate from the child. During the private discussion, the father and stepmother can discuss how they would like to do things differently in the future. Unless an action is harming the child, parents need to back up parents.
In order for your family to come together despite the challenges you face, your children and stepchildren desperately need the two of you to be on the same team. In therapy, you’ll begin to see that challenges also provide you with an opportunity to draw closer together. Ultimately, you’ll discover what is truly important to the both of you, and begin building steps to make those things happen.
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“Dr. Lisa makes you feel calm, relaxed and comfortable in being able to open up about difficult issues…She taught us things about ourselves that we had not understood after 35 years of being together.” Read more…