Blended families are common today because of a high divorce rate. This is a relatively new phenomenon that leaves parents, children and new partners with their children in the dark about how to handle the complex roles and relationships. How do we relate to our new partners children? Who should be involved with the discipline of the children? How do we as children relate to our parent’s new partners and their children? The confusion in the minds of parents, partners as well as children is unconcealed. Children feel that they are not allowed to bond with the parent’s new partner, because if they had to love or bond with this person, they might feel disloyal to the parent who has replaced their biological parent. This feeling is exaggerated by unresolved conflict between the split biological parents. Children love both their parents despite their split. The back and forth movement from one home to the other between there, now two, families is another issue that makes life less settled for these children. How do we handle all of this?
When blended families became more common, a lot of confusion surfaced in the minds of professionals who had to advise parents and children about practical problems related to these circumstances. The most common advice that surfaced was that each biological parent take responsibility for the discipline and relationship of their own biological children and that the new partner take a passive role by staying in the background. Yet, because of their ongoing physiological and psychological development and maturation process, children need the influence of parents as they relate as a couple in the family they are a part of. In the case of blended families this means that they belong to two sets of parents and two families.
In my practice I have found that most people in a blended family situation feel even more split than ever with the attitude of only biological parents being involved with relationships and discipline of their own children. Instead of feeling a sense of belonging to two families, the children experience two broken families. They feel the original split keeps on splitting then further and they start to resent either their biological parents or the partners of their parents or both. This resentment turns into depression or anger and misbehavior. The children frustration is about never having any opportunity to experience the completeness of a whole family. Not only is their original family split but the new families that came from this split, continues to split because of the impossibility of forming new emotional relationships that is common to a family unit. The unease of new partners to be part of the biological family because of the idea of not being allowed to participate with family relationships causes a lot of disturbance in the new adult bond as well as in the emotional and social development of the children. When there are no meaningful attachments or influence from the people who matter most to the children in terms of what they need from a family unit, their emotional development suffers.
This brings us to the question of how serious the nature is of a parent’s choice of a new life partner. They absolutely have to keep in mind that this new partner will have an influence on their children whether they thought so or not. This new person is a role model to their children by mere fact that this person is their partner, whether they know this or not.
Children need to experience parents as role models in the development of their personal sexual identity as well as their future relationships in partnerships. They cannot be cut off from the bond between whoever serve as their parents. When the parents split, the new couple serves as that role-model in the psyche of the child. In the case of blended families, the children have two sets of role-models, both equally important. The two sets of role-models, according to my view, are good for children to experience, as long as they allow each other to exist for the sake of the children. Children sense that their split parent allows their attachments in the new families and this makes them feel more whole and united. There is little harm is connecting with more role-models as long as the sets of role-models do not interfere with each others ideas even when they differ or are at odds. The children learn through their experiences with these sets of role-models. The more role-models and the more people they can love and are allowed to love them, the more children learn about life, others and themselves.
Children grow through experiencing the unavoidable challenges in life. Adults cannot protect their children form the challenges of our time. Our children have to cope with our ex-partners personalities and worldviews. Just because you did not get on with your ex, does not mean that you are allowed to remove your children from their company. Just because you judge your ex, does not mean that you have the right to impose your judgment of them on your children. It is natural for a divorced couple to be at odds with their previous spouse about their worldviews and attitudes, but they have no right to impose their own ideas as the only right ideas, on the children. If they do, it tears the children apart even more because children love both their parents no matter what. Children have the right to love their separated parents with their new partners. This love should never be interfered with, unless the child or children are in danger. When these children are physically and emotionally in danger, parents need to make sure their children are not exposed to this danger.
It is time for divorced parents to be clear with their children about their right to be loved and to love. It is time for divorced parents to stop projecting their unresolved resentment and conflict onto their children by dividing their children’s sense of belonging. You divorced you partners, not your children. You have no right to stop them form experiencing their other parent. You have no right to prevent your children to attach to your new partner as a valid parental figure in their life. Children need to connect with your new spouse or partner as the father- of mother-figure by mere fact that this partner is part of their new formed family. Children need to connect with your ex’s new spouse or partner as a father or mother figure without your interference. Without this relationship, children are deprived of a sense of family. The new partners have a responsibility towards the family as a whole and need to cultivate an active participation in all relationships with a delicate and sensitive awareness of their significance as the second parent. This is a huge responsibility and should not be ignored or denied. Children notice with intense sensitivity how this new partnership operates and this is what influences them profoundly in their ability to unfold in healthy adults who can form healthy relationships in the future.
Focus on your own relationship with your children and do the very best you can. What your ex partner do or do not do is none of your business and is his or her responsibility.
Rethink your life, don’t do what is easy, do what is best.