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How to Help the Child of Divorce When Families Blend

Child Development / Issues Kids Deal With //

In a previous post  I presented what children of divorce need and don’t need when being raised in a two-parent home. Most people call these two-parent homes stepfamilies or blended families. I’d like for you to consider a different terminology and that being “blending families”.

Blending two completely different families takes time– and much effort on the part of the parents and children in the new family. And remember, there are two additional “other” parents outside of the family trying to blend. Quite often, those of us in children’s ministry forget about these parents and the effect they can have (good or bad) on the effort to blend the new family.

While you might not have contact with them, remember that the children may still have ongoing contact with these other people. These other people will still be an influence on the children. Sometimes it might not be a good influence and you may be left to deal with the consequences of explaining Christian principles as you read stories from the Bible and present your carefully prepared lesson.

It might help you in your understanding and patience with the children if you think of the term “blending” versus step or blended family. Basically you are still ministering to the child of divorce except this child is now thrown into another family dynamic or possibly two completely different families.

A true picture of a blending family

One time I was interviewing five children from a blending family. It was dizzying to listen to them. I’d ask a question and there would be five different answers with each child trying to out talk the other child. Afterwards the videographer said, “There was mass confusion in that interview! Did you understand anything they said?”

(Names have of children have been changed)

  • Joey and Isabella visit their mom on the 1st and 3rd weekends and every other Wednesday afternoon
  • Anna and Collin visit their dad 2nd and 4th weekend and every other Thursday on the weeks opposite of when Joey and Isabella go midweek.
  • Isabella worries that Anna is going to “touch” her stuff
  • Collin worries that Joey is going to ride his bike even though he has told him not to
  • Joey gets very angry when he comes back and Collin has sat on his bed. He said he can always tell when Collin has been on his bed
  • Anna has told the younger Isabella she cannot wear her makeup, but Isabella doesn’t listen and sneaks into the makeup
  • They shouted out angry tirade about the foods they liked but the other kids didn’t like and how they never got to eat what they liked
  • They all loved their natural parent but a couple of kids weren’t really sure they loved the “step”
  • All 4 kids worry about their half brother, Christopher, while they are gone
  • Joey and Isabella also had to deal with another stepparent since their mom had remarried
  • The kids got upset just telling us how some of them get to go someplace and the others don’t or while they are visiting the other parent, the kids that are left behind get special privileges and they don’t

Can you understand how this family is still “blending”? It will take years for each child to acclimate successfully into this family. Personally I have no clue how these two adults were managing this menagerie.

What you can do

  • Help parents to understand while they are “in love”, the children are not
  • Explain that it will take years to successfully bring two families together, some experts say it takes up to seven years for families to blend
  • Relate to parents that sometimes the kids only seem to be excited about the new marriage
    1. That is because they may look at the new stepparent as someone who will give them the things he or she wants
    2. The children didn’t get the new clothes or the new bicycle and they are upset because they are sure the new parent has an endless stream of cash
    3. The “honeymoon” period with the kids is over and the kids don’t like it
  • Help parents realize that “touching my things” is a big issue to kids. I can’t count the number of times kids have shared this with me
  • Tell the parents to not make their children “share” everything. Kids need their own things and let’s face it as adults we don’t share our things
  • Encourage parents to let each child be their own person
  • Tell parents to work on creating rituals with each child
  • Help the parents create a safe home and encourage them to tell the children that they, the parents, are the safe keepers of this home

Realize some family populations swell during the summer months as kids arrive to visit their parent. Not every child from a single parent home has another parent to visit. If you have a blending family where a couple of children are always in the home while the other parent’s children come from out of town for the summer, this too will create some family dynamic problems.

Realize some of these families are under tremendous stress. This is particularly true of the newly married couple especially if both spouses bring children into the mixture.

Take a picture of the child and hold on to it for next summer. Review the pictures at the beginning of each summer so you can remember these children. They need to know they mattered enough for you to remember them.

Summer months create a perfect time to reach out to these children in your classes. Realize that as they visit they want to be a part of your church family. Accept them readily and work to acclimate them to your church family and culture. Share with them about the love of God. Pass this article onto the parents to help them understand some of the family dynamics they are facing.

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About the Author

Linda has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids, dc4k.org), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She currently serves as the DC4K Ambassador and Professional blogger at http://blog.dc4k.org.