Blending your stepfamily can feel like you are literally in a blender: being blended, chopped and pureed. However, the goal is feeling a sense of unity, harmony and familial cooperation (I mean, let’s face it, no family – even non-blended families are perfectly peaceful). Blending is a mixing and mingling of the family, so as to produce the desired result of unity or of feeling of “oneness”. That doesn’t mean that you’ll agree on everything, but it is a feeling of harmony and wholeness – a feeling of belonging to the new family.
Now, we know that stepfamilies are made up of smaller family units that share bloodlines. They are actually two families (sometimes more) coming together to make one single family.
It is a process that ALL blended families go through, though each family takes its own unique amount of time and effort due to its unique set of circumstances, and how badly the family members want to blend. Some family members might resist the blending, thus making it harder for those who do want to blend.
My son resisted blending with my husband for years, so their process took much longer than it would have, had they both been willing to let it happen. My son was dealing with loyalty issues with his birth-dad and did not want his dad to feel replaced. This is a common obstacle.
I have discovered that there are four stages of stepfamily development. Remember, ALL families go through these stages, but some go through them faster or slower than others. Sadly, many stepfamilies never make it through all of them.
1) The dream stage
Most people bring their fantasies, wishes, and unspoken expectations into their new relationships. They may have heard of the problems that other stepfamilies have faced, but believe that their new family will not face them because they are so in love.
2) The realization stage
This is where the reality of blending the family begins to be felt. The stepparent has an “outsider” position, while the biological parent and child remain intensely connected. There’s often an uneasy feeling that something is wrong, and the stepparent may believe, “It must be me.” This is often when you feel like you’re sinking, as you realize that those problems that you had heard about are beginning to surface in your family. Fantasies of a perfect family are relinquished, and the stepparent begins to know the strangers he or she has joined. Meanwhile, biological parents begin to understand more clearly that they are the only ones truly connected to both their children and spouse. This can become a tug-of-war of loyalties to the biological parent as he or she wants everyone to like each other.
3) The rally stage
This is where the hard work happens. Difference are much more openly expressed, which may result in a chaotic, embattled time. Stepparents may begin speaking up with more energy about their own needs for inclusion and for changes needed to be made in the family. Children may express dislike for the stepparent and declare, “They’re not my parent, and I don’t want to do what they say!” So now, let the battle begin. It’s also a time when negotiations are made and action is taken concerning how the family will function. Actions in this stage change the family’s structure as new boundaries are drawn. The family will move in and out of this stage the most as new things come up, but as they work through the issues, they will become more healthy.
4) The acceptance stage
Here, there is less attention to step-issues and this is often the “Honeymoon Stage”. It is only now that a clearly defined stepparent role begins to emerge. The stepfamily now has solid and reliable relationships, although some children may be more inside the family than others, there is clarity about and acceptance of this fact. The step parent role now brings satisfaction and nourishment.
History shows that it takes most families four to seven years to complete all four stages and it is rarely, if ever, simple. But it’s incredibly rewarding when you actively pursue the end result – a caring, loving, harmony-filled blended family.