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Blended families: How kids can adjust to changes

AFTER her parents’ divorce five years ago, Kaz (not her real name), lived with her mother and two younger siblings, and every school holiday, the three would travel to visit her father in Livingstone where he relocated after the separation.
Both Kaz’s parents had remained single until last year when her mother decided to remarry; her second husband had a daughter who was two years younger than Kaz.
Kaz was excited at the prospect of having a sister and a friend closer to her age, one she could chat and bond with especially that her two siblings were only ten and eight years old; she did not have much in common with them. Kaz would also have a study buddy and someone to share household chores and child minding duties with.
Kaz is now part of what is referred to a blended family, a phenomenon that is very much on the rise globally. According to Pew Research Centre, this is because 40 percent of new marriages include at least one person who was previously married, while, 20 percent feature two people who were both married before or have children from previous relationships.
Through such marriages, children are thrust into a world of ‘steps’ – stepmothers, stepfathers, step-siblings, step-grandparents, and the list goes on.
For some, the transition is smooth, from their interactions, an outsider would not know that it was a blended family, while for others it is the complete opposite, it is like a war zone. Bringing two families from different backgrounds to suddenly live together and bond as one happy family can be quite a challenge.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry asserts that it can take one to two years for a blended family to adjust to the changes, however, if parents take the initiative to immediately reduce and address potential problems, this can help smoothen the adjustment period.
The environment in a blended family is not only new for the children but for parents as well; it is a learning curve that calls for adjustments from both parties. However, in some cases, one parent might not be willing to make the adjustments or it could be the children who are uncooperative. Whatever the case, it is always advisable to handle the situation with care, otherwise, it could be a recipe for unpleasantness and hostility.
Although there is no what-to-do manual when dealing with a blended family as every situation and family is unique, it is critical to have ground rules and the need for mutual respect towards each other within a home from the beginning. Parents need to be in control at all times and ensure that they are always on the same page with regard to discipline, finances and all other aspects of dealing with the children. When there is any sign of disagreements between parents, children are quick to take advantage of such weaknesses; different opinions between parents should always be expressed in private, never in front of the children. Similarly, from the onset, children should be made aware of the new arrangement, where in the past, they only dealt with one parent, and they now have two parents who have the responsibility of making decisions collectively in the home.
Being part of a blended family is like taking a leap of faith due to unique characteristics that are not common in a conventional family. For others, a blended family has provided stability, love, family and financial support that could have been lacking before, while for others, the experience has been the total opposite of bliss. Whatever the case, knowing what to expect in a blended family can help members address any potential problems before they happen or get out of hand. It is not always rosy and plain sailing being in a blended family but there are always options to finding the best solutions that are in the interest of all family members.
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Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.
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