What Are Unique Challenges Faced With Blended Families in Therapy?


    What Are Unique Challenges Faced With Blended Families in Therapy?

    Blended families bring a unique set of challenges to the therapy room, as illustrated by a Licensed Professional Counselor who grappled with the intricacies of stepchild discipline. Alongside expert insights, we've gathered additional personal experiences and strategies that highlight the complexities faced in such family dynamics. From establishing clear roles and boundaries to integrating family traditions, here's a closer look at the multifaceted challenges and solutions encountered in blended family therapy.

    • Navigating Stepchild Discipline
    • Clarifying Roles and Boundaries
    • Scheduling Around Custody Agreements
    • Merging Diverse Family Values
    • Addressing Sibling Rivalry
    • Blending Diverse Parenting Styles
    • Integrating Family Traditions

    Navigating Stepchild Discipline

    The most common challenge for blended families to navigate is deciding how much the step-parent should get involved with the disciplining of their stepchildren. The answer to this varies with the situation, but the factor that remains is that it takes far longer to connect with stepchildren than people think it should. I had been working with children and teens for many years when I acquired stepchildren, and I thought that I would have them eating out of my hand, so to speak, in six months! I was deluded. It often takes up to four years to really blend together, depending on the character and history of trauma that the kids bring to the new marriage. So, with this said, I would proceed with some caution in the area of disciplining your stepchildren and let the biological parent take this role as often as possible.

    Gary Daily
    Gary DailyLicensed Professional Counselor, Stronger Oregon

    Clarifying Roles and Boundaries

    A common issue I see within blended families is ambiguity about roles and boundaries. For example, a step-parent may not want to do any parenting but find themselves drifting into a parenting role because they want to help their partner, or they want to enforce certain rules in their home. The step-kids typically won't respond well to that, especially if that wasn't an explicit plan, and the step-parent may feel like they're being thrust into a role they never wanted.

    Families also get into trouble when it comes to exes. If you share children with an ex, then you will need to have a co-parenting relationship, which is often fraught. The new partner may feel threatened if they perceive the ex as having undue influence in their home or in their relationship. The ex may feel uncomfortable with the role the new partner is playing in their children's lives.

    The solution to all of these problems is to create absolute clarity within the family system about roles and boundaries. Will step-parents do any parenting? What are the rules in the home, and whose job is it to enforce them? What is communication with ex-partners going to look like? How are you going to handle pickups and drop-offs? What about holidays?

    When you have agreed on a clear plan, everyone knows what to expect. This helps the kids adjust, and it helps the adults feel secure in their roles.

    Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LP, LMFT
    Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LP, LMFTFounder of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, Growing Self Counseling & Coaching

    Scheduling Around Custody Agreements

    When blended families encounter the realm of therapy, aligning shared custody agreements with therapeutic sessions presents a unique obstacle. Therapists must consider the varied schedules that shared custody creates, which can affect both the consistency and timing of therapy sessions. Tailoring therapy to suit these conditions sometimes requires a level of flexibility that can challenge the therapeutic framework.

    Professionals need to work closely with all guardians to ensure that therapy supports the child’s needs within the constraints of custody arrangements. It is crucial to collaborate with the therapist to find a schedule that works for everyone involved.

    Merging Diverse Family Values

    In a therapeutic setting, the merging of different family value systems can significantly complicate the process. Each family has its own set of beliefs, customs, and ways of life, which may clash when brought together. Therapists must navigate these differences with sensitivity and skill to create a common ground.

    The task involves guiding family members to respect and understand each other’s values while working towards cohesive family dynamics. Start a conversation with your family about the importance of mutual respect and openness to different value systems.

    Addressing Sibling Rivalry

    The dynamics of sibling rivalry can be magnified in blended families, especially when non-biological relationships are involved. Therapy must address the unique tensions that arise when children are competing for attention and resources in a newly formed familial structure. Therapists often need to facilitate discussions that help siblings express their feelings in a constructive manner and develop stronger bonds.

    Building a nurturing environment where children feel equally valued despite biological differences is a delicate balance to strike. Encourage siblings to share their thoughts and listen to each other to foster understanding and unity.

    Blending Diverse Parenting Styles

    Acknowledging and blending diverse parenting styles becomes a prominent theme in therapy for blended families. Each parent brings their own approach to discipline, affection, and communication, which can lead to confusion and conflict. In therapy, there's a need to establish common parenting techniques that honor each parent's individuality while maintaining consistent rules and expectations for the children.

    This balancing act requires open-mindedness and compromise from all family members. Engage in open discussions with your partner to align your parenting methods for the benefit of your children.

    Integrating Family Traditions

    Blended families often experience the challenge of integrating varying family traditions into one cohesive unit, which can be particularly complex around holidays and special events. Therapists must assist family members in honoring their pasts while creating new, inclusive traditions that are meaningful to everyone. The process requires patience, creativity, and a willingness to celebrate differences while forging a shared family identity.

    Therapy can provide the space to navigate these intricate dynamics and promote a sense of belonging for all. Take the step to combine your family traditions in ways that everyone can enjoy and cherish.