In my book, Blended But Not Broken, I use the buttons of a blender to talk about what it feels like when going through the process of blending your stepfamily. It can feel like you are in a blender; being grated on and chopped and pureed. The ultimate goal is to get to the “Blend Button” and camp there. I explained blending as a mixing and mingling of the family so as to produce the desired result of unity or a feeling of oneness. That doesn’t mean you agree on everything, I don’t know of any family that does that, but it’s a feeling of harmony, cooperation and wholeness. A feeling of belonging to the new family. This is not the process of blending but it is the feeling you get when you finally feel like a blended family. Now we know that stepfamilies are actually made up of smaller family units that share bloodlines. So we have families within the new family. Stepfamilies are really two families coming together to make one new family.
So how do we get to feel like we have blended? It is a process that takes differing amounts of time for each family due to it’s unique set of circumstances and how badly the members want to blend. Some members might resist the blending thus making it harder for those who do. My son resisted blending with my husband for years so their process took longer than it would have if both had 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 can be a common obstacle.
4 STAGES OF STEPFAMILY DEVELOPMENT
All stepfamilies will go through these stages. Some families go through them more quickly, some more slowly. Sadly, the majority of stepfamilies never make it through all of them. It’s a process that takes time and families will go in and out of the different stages.
1) Dream Stage: Most people bring their fantasies, wishes, and unspoken expectations into their new relationships. They may have heard the problems other stepfamilies have faced but believe their new family will not face them because they are so in love.
2) Realization Stage: The reality of blending a family begins to be felt; 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 may be where you begin to feel like your sinking as you realize that those problems you only heard about are beginning to surface in your family.
Fantasies of an instant family are relinquished and the stepparent begins to know the strangers he or she has joined. Biological parents begin to understand more clearly that they are the only ones truly connected to both their children and spouse. Can become a tug of war of loyalties for the biological parent, as he/she wants everyone to like each other.
3) Rally Stage: Differences are much more openly expressed. This may be a chaotic, embattled time; Stepparents may begin speaking up with more energy about their needs for inclusion and for change.
Children may express dislike for stepparent and declare, “They are not my parent and I don’t have to do what they say.” So now, “Let the battle begin. It’s also a time where negotiations are made and action is taken concerning how the family will function. Actions in this stage change the family 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 healthier.
4) Acceptance Stage: 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 stepparent role now brings satisfaction and nourishment. You are accepting each other more readily.
Some families complete the entire cycle in about 4 years. Most families take about 7 years. Many of the families end in divorce, others remain stuck, and a small number eventually move on successfully.
Because my husband and I didn’t have any tools or real support, our blending stage took longer than the norm. It really is a miracle that we made it. With God, all things are possible!
Moving through the stages does not happen neatly and precisely. There are many factors involved as to how quickly a family will blend. How badly do the family members want to blend, are they willing to do the work to make it work, do they have an attitude of gratitude or are they rebellious and angry. Often, a stuck family, a family not moving through the stages, may never have talked to someone who understands their experiences. Having support from others who understand what you are going through is huge. Just knowing someone else has gone through this, helps.
Speed and ease of movement through the Stages of Stepfamily Development are often closely related to the amount of support you get and the timing of that support, especially in the first few years. Don’t wait to get help until one of you decides “I don’t want to do this anymore”.
Support is simply the presence of someone who provides validation and understanding for the intense and often-painful feelings involved in early stepfamily living. Someone giving you support will be actively interested in you and concerned for the success of your family. And they can offer tools for helping you to move through the stages.
So having support is very important whether it’s from a support group, a blended family class or a step family coach. Please contact me should you need a coach to help you and your family move forward.