Nowadays, we pretty much have a term for everything and that also includes our family dynamics. Take for instance, our typical American family made up of father, mother, and children, which according to the American Academy of Pediatrics is a ‘patriarchal’ society where men have always been the authority figures. But what happens when this traditional nucleus is no longer the norm. Today, however, there are challenges to this traditional gender-based structure since we have an increase in single and/or divorced parents, forming new family dynamics. We’re seeing more and more blended families, which is defined as a family made of two parents and their children from previous marriages. The term ‘step family’ is interchangeable with ‘blended family’ and is more commonly used worldwide to describe a family where at least one partner is a stepparent.
Now, when a person brings children from a previous relationship into a new partnership it’s not uncommon for them to think the new blended family will operate in the same way a typical nuclear family does where both biological parents are present. When this frame of mind is not shifted, problems may arise within the new family nucleus.
Some of the influences that affect family dynamics and in turn the new blended family:
When families blend to create stepfamilies, things rarely progress smoothly. Some children may resist changes, while parents can become frustrated when the new family doesn’t function like their previous family. The move from divorce to singlehood to stepfamily certainly requires time and patience, but like most life transitions also benefits from some awareness and skill. Changes to family structure require adjustment time for everyone involved. If the initial (common) problems from this union don’t get resolved, seeking professional help is advisable.
Family therapy is often an effective way for a blended family to work through the issues that each member brings to the new family. Members of a household can expect to attend most sessions as a group, though the therapist may also schedule separate, supplemental sessions with each child and with one or both parents. Some therapists like Jennifer Nahrebeski opt for sessions that may include talk therapy, play therapy, sand therapy, therapeutic games, and so forth. There are many approaches to family counseling, though most are linked to family systems therapy, which views the family as a system and each member’s role as being directly informed by the functioning of the family system. That’s why Jennifer addresses parent/child relationships, providing sessions to increase positive interactions in the home, as well as co-parenting concerns and/or discipline styles.
Family therapy can help address these issues, and a therapy session also provides a platform for each member to voice his or her feelings in a respectful way. Children can express their fears and concerns and, through therapy, come to a better understanding about their place within the new family unit and may be reassured about their parent’s continued love and affection for them. Parents might also learn ways to maintain a healthy relationship with their children while building a new and loving bond with their spouse and stepchildren.