by Jennifer Bright Reich
18 percent. According to the US Census Bureau, that’s the percentage of children with two parents living in a blended family.
If “typical” families feel stressed on a daily basis then blending of two families can be stress X exponential factors!
“People expect re-marriage and combining families to be a honeymoon and go really well and often they are surprised when it doesn’t,” says Ava Parnass, MSN, CS, a child psychotherapist. “Blending a family can take five years.”
In a blended family, you have many different, complicated relationships to manage: the couples’ relationship with each other, the children’s relationship with their new step-parents, and the children’s relationships with their biological parents. And then imagine adding a new stress of infertility.
“Each person in the family plays a role, and the roles in the new blended family might be new and different than the roles they played before,” says Lateefah Wielenga, PhD, a couples communication specialist and author of The Honey Jar: Tips and tools for couples seeking ways for honest, authentic communication, in Long Beach, CA. And then, if the new couple wants a child of their own, to create something together, that causes even more challenges.
With so many stressors at once: blending a family, trying to have a new baby, and then coping with infertility, how can a couple cope?
• Consider family therapy. “A skilled therapist can help everyone in the family to sort out their roles and to communicate their feelings,” says Dr. Wielenga.
• Align with your partner. The husband and wife have to be on the same page, Dr. Wielenga adds. Take time alone as a couple to communicate your feelings and fears. Come together on your plan to approach things in your family, such as discipline, household duties, and finances, and then present a united front to your children.
• Work on the heightened emotions of children. Take time to talk with your children about their feelings. You might assure them that, “Even though Mom/Dad has remarried, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means that we love each other too. We are trying to have a baby together, but I still love you the same way.”
• It’s important to have dinner together orwalk and talk together or play as often as possible, says Parnass. This is a terrific time to connect, share your feelings, and have fun.
• Watch for clues about how children feel, says Parnass. Kids aren’t likely to just come out and say, “I worry that you don’t love me anymore.” Those feelings come out in behaviors, such as angry outbursts or unexpected tears. When you see those behaviors, you have to step back and try to figure out what they’re related to. Then you can address the behavior—and the feelings behind it.
• Put yourself in the child’s point of view, Parnass adds. When parents are anxious or stressed, kids become anxious or stressed. Often kids think that when anything happens, they are to blame. So if Mom cries because the fertility treatment didn’t work, the child will assume that she did something wrong. It’s important to reassure your child that she isn’t to blame.
• Consider playing a feelings game once a week. With a game, you can help kids to understand that everyone can learn to express their feelings in a healthy way and be heard. A feelings map is a great tool for this.
Children often do not know how they feel; we need accept that fact and to teach them. With a feelings map you can prompt each child with choices on the map that match their life. Also promise that telling the truth won’t get them in trouble, and mean it! (You can find resources and feeling maps at http://listentomeplease.com/books.)
With communication and commitment to understanding one another, a blended family can navigate the challenges of infertility.
About the author: Jennifer Bright Reich is a mom of two sons, cofounder of www.mommymdguides.com, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.