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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Blended Families, cont.

This week I’ll be concluding Anna’s assessment on blended families. To read more about her scenario, go here. We had a great discussion in the comments section, so be sure to check that out as well. And like last week, I invite your questions in the comment section again.

So, now for the rest of Anna’s questions about large blended families.

6) Will the fact that they were all cousins before they became stepsiblings change things?

I guess this depends on how much they interacted before. But my professional gut opinion is to say that no…this won’t matter that much. They are still just children who are being combined into one family, regardless of previous relational status. So I’m not sure I’d make this a big deal.

7) And can you tell me about large family logistics in general?

Mike or Carol or both will have to have a job that pays, MONEY will be a huge factor. Sharing rooms, hand-me-down clothes, not able to go out for cheerleading because parents can’t afford the uniforms, lots of mouths to feed….you see where I’m going.

And it’s not like this family will go anywhere in regular vehicles, either. They will have to get a 15-passenger van (and insurance to drive it, which is phenomenally high) just to get them all to school or church. And don’t forget friends, and significant others that will come around as the kids get older. You’ll have to think about bedroom space, as I’m sure many will have to share. Privacy will have to be supreme and upheld if this is the case.

And due to them having so many children, likely they will need to move into a new house. This is actually preferred than having one set of children move into the domain of another, and all of sudden the other family has to share their toys and things. It would be better to move into a new house where neither group has any sort of influence. It’s all new to everyone….an equal playing field, so to speak.

8) Will there be cliques and alliances or just individual jealousies and annoyances?

Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. To all of it. The main thing to remember is that each sub-family will be it’s own group, especially initially. They will likely gravitate towards each other, as you can well imagine. There is comfort in the familiar. Siblings who formerly didn’t get along might suddenly form an alliance with each other against the other sibling group. This is simply a case of aligning with the lesser evil.

And as with any family, each of the children will have their own individual differences that will lead to petty jealousies. Maybe Mike allowed his kids to always stay up later than Carol allowed hers. So of course Carol’s kids will be jealous of the bedtime freedoms Mike’s kids have. This is a very simplistic example, but one that would surely cause problems in the blended family and have to be addressed.

The children will most likely be jealous of either the children who are in their same grade, as the competition between them will be fiercest (for highest grades, better at sports, etc) or with children younger than them, as younger children typically take up more parental time. Older kids can be objects of jealousy as they get more privileges, but it probably wouldn’t exceed inter-grade level jealousies.

9) How will the fact that they're all similar in age (fifteen kids over a 10-12 year age range) affect things?

This question was answered some in the last paragraph above. Just as there are some great positive features of having the children all fairly young when the remarriage occurs, there are drawbacks. Children who are further apart in years aren’t as close as those who are near each other in ages. It’s just logistically not as likely. They wouldn’t go to the same school, have the same teachers, have the same friends at church, etc, so there would be a natural gap there.

With the same age group come different inherent difficulties. What about two brothers falling for the same girl in their class? This wouldn’t even be an issue if one brother were two years or even one year older. And what if one child in the same age range as several others happened to have special education needs? How would his like-aged siblings who didn’t have a learning disability treat that child?

10) I want to incorporate some authentic family tension into my story. Any hints you could give me as to what that would look like?

I think I’ve given you lots of ideas of ways tension can creep into this type of family. One type of tension you won’t be able to escape is that between Mike and Carol. Each of them would still be in love with their deceased spouse when they get married (that’s assuming that they were in happy marriages), and there would be the tension of whether to sleep in the same beds and be roommates or lovers and how did they want to present their relationship in front of the children? What are the expectations of each other?

A HUGE area for tension is discipline. Who is going to do it? How will it be done? Both parents need to be on the same page about this, and so often they aren’t. I’ve listened to couples complain that they didn’t want the new spouse disciplining their child. And of course children don’t want to disciplined by anyone other than their own parent, so they wouldn’t take kindly to the new parent trying to tell them what to do or spank them or whatever. (BTW, it is preferred for the biological parents to do most of the disciplining for their own children whenever possible…but when pitted against the new spouse by a conniving child, the new spouse would need to know the “rules” and support the bio parent. I hope this made sense.) ☺

I mentioned this last week, but if Mike and Carol don’t move into a new place (which might be necessary to accommodate all these kids!), then there will for sure be tension as one sub-group of siblings moves into the domain of the other sub-group. Watch out…serious catfights and boxing matches going on. The one group is invading the other group’s nest where they rule the roost.

House rules would need to be gone over at length…with all the children either in attendance or privy to the outcome. Bedtimes might need to be changed. Chores rearranged. The list could go on. But both parents need to have a say, and if possible, listen to the childrens' opinions.

Now, for some positive helps for poor Mike and Carol, who have a long road to haul. If you decide to incorporate them going to a therapist, this is likely some of the things that might come up.

I would always suggest to each parent that they spend time with each of their biological children every day, even if its only a few minutes a day. As traumatized at the adults might be at the loss of their life partner, the children are just as traumatized...but with less cognitive ability to be able to express it. So spending time with them--even though their days are bound to be even crazier once they combine families--will be highly important. Letting the child know they are still a crucial part to their remaining parent's live.

I mentioned last week about having a ritual where the children get to watch home videos or look at picture albums. it would be a good idea for each sub-group to look at the videos and pictures of the other sub-group, to gain an understanding about where each other came from. And there can be some bonding that goes on over the mutual grief each family has experienced. Pictures of the remaining parent with the deceased parent don't need to be covered up or not displayed. the children need to see these pictures prominently displayed (just not like a shrine).

It's a great idea to come up with other family rituals...and if you can have them incorporate a little from both families, even better. Say Mike's children always got to open all their gifts on Christmas Eve and Carol's always waited until Christmas morning. A great family ritual compromise would be to open or two gifts on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas...or half-and-half, even. Compromise would be key to trying to re-think family traditions. each family has their own quirks, and now you've got two sets of quirks to deal with. The parents would need to be sensitive about this. There is no wrong or right way to do a holiday or birthday, but children sometimes seem to think so. Creating NEW rituals will circumvent this type of problem.

One more thing. I did a little research online about blended families so I could give some accurate statistics last week. I ran across one of the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand web pages on blended families I'd ever seen, and wanted to share it with you. Click here to go to the site.

Okay...that's all. Finally. Anna...hope this helped. Lots of info, I know! Please drop me any questions in the comments or email me if you want further info.

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awidge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
awidge said...

Jeannie (sorry about the last post, computer issues), this is great. I have been focusing mostly on the developement of the children, but thank you for directing my attention back to the parents as well. After all, a lot of the kids actions and reactions will rely on the behavior of the parents. You've give me a lot to think about, and the much-needed motivation to address some important issues. Thanks also for the link--the rules and statistics will be helpful.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

great, anna! good luck with your writing!

Tara McClendon said...

The picture with the dad spanking the kid cracked me up! I can imagine the flailing feet and the screams. (Maybe I should set up an appointment with you. LOL.)

Katie Ganshert said...

Makes me want to watch The Brady Bunch. Are reruns of that show on anymore?

Jessica Nelson said...

Not sure why this didn't show up in my dashboard on Tuesday... LOL
But here I am!
Great post. Makes me SO glad I'm not in one of those. Lots of work but hopefully the book ends happy. :-)The discipline thing really resonated with me. My stepdad and mom were on the same page about that particular issue, however, I have memories on other things where he'd be told not to tell us something because she was the mother....It wasn't traumatic for me or anything, but I remember the disharmony of it. They're not married anymore either, even though we keep in touch. Interesting stuff. :-)

Lillian Robinson said...

This is a very interesting subject for a blog. I look forward to reading more. I'm going to go check out your other blog now.

Thank you for visiting and following my 'becoming and author' blog.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.