Holidays can be especially stressful for blended families that have broken up, with the children being the most at-risk for having their needs overlooked. After the break-up of a blended family, the children are the most vulnerable and often the least considered. This often makes them feel powerless, too, because after all, the kids did not decide when their biological parents split, nor do they decide when to enter a blended family.
Blended families are highly vulnerable to break up. Though there are many success stories out there as well, sadly, two-thirds of American stepfamilies fail, according to the US Stepfamily Foundation, compared with a third of first marriages.
The holidays are difficult for children who don’t have an intact family, but who have been part of one in the past. Factors that make families and children more resilient in the aftermath of a blended family break-up include the following:
- Try to maintain relationships: Although there are no rules, guidelines or formal commitments, if stepparents can maintain communication and relationships with step children whom they have grown close to, this helps significantly. Children do not follow the same guidelines or definitions as adults. Once they become close to an adult, it does not matter to them if the person is a biological, step or an ex-step parent. They want that person in their lives and they will not understand if that relationship is abruptly ended.
- Keep children out of the middle. Children should not be forced to visit with divorced step parents if they do not want to. Kids should not be asked by stepparents about past and present adults and other family members in their lives (i.e. new parents, stepparents, biological parents). Adults need to set boundaries for the benefit of the children who may be closest to all adults involved and who feel powerless over break-ups. Children need to be reminded often that none of this is their fault.
- Be aware of your motives and feelings: Stepparents who choose to maintain close relationships to former stepchildren need to be aware of their feelings and motives. When motives are pure, they should not be concerned about being judged by outsiders who misunderstand their ongoing connection to their stepchildren. Biological parents need to provide necessary support to allow for these stepparent/stepchild relationships that they initially created.
- Try to make a place and time for each important person in your child’s life: Holidays can be more complicated the more family members that are involved for each child. Parents should determine who the child feels connected to and try to make a place for that person in the child’s holiday or at a time close to the holiday. Stepparents may have moved on, but their stepchildren may still be looking to them. If stepparents can include some time and space for a routine connection, including during the holidays, that will go a long way in child’s life after suffering the breakup of their blended family.
About Dr. Kate Roberts
Kate Roberts, Ph.D., is a Boston-area licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who has coached parents and families for more than 25 years. She offers parents practical strategies in her bi-weekly parenting column; Dr. Kate’s Parent Rap in the Salem News and in her Savvy Parenting blog for Psychology Today. Dr. Roberts has worked as a consulting psychologist to school districts throughout New England and works with parents and children through Massachusetts General Hospital. You can check out Dr. Kate's website at www.drkateroberts.com and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.