Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 25, 2007. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Plan before wedding to blend new families
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- With almost half of all marriages today being remarriages, a bride and a groom often go home to a newly created family rather than set out to start their own.
Joe Wilmoth, assistant professor of human development and family studies in Mississippi State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said stepfamilies face incredibly diverse challenges.
“Every individual has his or her own temperament, personality, expectations and history that must be mixed together with any number of other unique individuals with their own strengths and challenges,” Wilmoth said.
The “shape” of the new family depends on things such as the number of children in the family, how old the children are, how many each parent has and whether they are boys or girls.
He said early adolescent children tend to have the most difficult time adjusting to the remarriage of a parent. Younger children, especially boys, often will eventually adapt and may benefit from having a caring, involved stepfather. Older adolescents and young adults often can see the benefits of a parent's remarriage.
But transitions take time.
“It usually takes at least a couple of years before a stepfamily has a sense of comfort with their functioning together as a family,” Wilmoth said. “However, it may take seven years or longer before there is that real sense of family.”
To ease the transition, give time between relationships for those involved to deal with issues such as anger, guilt and rejection. Resolve money issues from a previous marriage. Work to make the relationship with the former spouse as cooperative as possible, and begin a pattern of communicating that continues even after the remarriage.
Wilmoth said children, parents and step-parents usually have very different expectations for the new relationship.
“Children often have loyalty and trust issues,” Wilmoth said. “Many step-parents have unrealistic expectations about a parent-child relationship with the step-children. Affection may develop slowly, if at all, and step-parents may not be effective disciplinarians, especially at first.”
Wilmoth urged the new parents to clarify family expectations about relationships and to involve the children in setting goals, planning activities, solving problems and establishing new family rituals.
“Don't get in too big of a hurry. As much as possible, resolve issues from previous relationships before beginning a new relationship,” Wilmoth said. “Many families benefit from counseling and ongoing support systems that help pinpoint destructive patterns and can help establish new, healthy patterns of relating.”
Karen Benson, MSU Extension Service child and family development southeast district area agent, said including the children in the wedding ceremony can help blend the families.
“Marriage, particularly a remarriage, is the joining of two families,” Benson said. “Some couples give rings to their children or sign a decorative family license. The new family could light the unity candle together or have a family prayer in the wedding ceremony.”