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BLENDED FAMILIES

Question: I am a 45 year old divorced woman with two children aged nine and fourteen. I have been dating a lovely man for the past year and he also has two children that are about the same age as mine. In a lot of ways it makes sense to move in together but we are both hesitant as we wonder how well it will work out with the kids. Could you give us some basic guidelines as to how to find our way through this?

Answer: Your hesitation is admirable. ‘The blended family’ is a relatively new experiment (ours being the first generation to run it en masse) and many couples run the risk without adequately considering the ingredients in the mix. ‘Blended’ is a misplaced modifier in that it suggests an easy pudding rather than the lump-filled batter that often awaits the well meaning but poorly prepared parents. You’ll need to think carefully about the complexities that you will have to manage once everything is thrown into the mix.

A 2005 research project on families found that in general, step-children have higher cortisol levels than children who are raised by their biological parents. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but it is critical to consider what challenges the children involved will face once the blending begins. The most important determinant in the mix is the maturity of the parents involved. We know, for instance that, following a divorce, the children who experience the least disruption to their lives are the children whose parents manage the situation most maturely. The same caviat applies here. You’ll need to consider not only your own maturity but the maturity of your ex-partners.

When people say it ‘makes sense’ to move in together, they are often referring to the time and the money they believe they will save by cohabitating. There are more important factors to consider. Here are a few thoughts:

1.   Right off the top, you haven’t known each other long enough to make a commitment of this magnitude. The bloom is not yet off the rose. We can all do just fine when things are going well. You’ll want to assess how the relationship is tested in times of trouble. That takes at least a few years.

2.   What will the residential arrangements be and how will they affect the space, school and friends of each child? I am presuming that your children get along well now but what adaptations will they need to make and how well have they adapted to change in the past?

3.   How will the finances work? Will the residence be jointly owned? Who will pay for what? Have you discussed some version of a pre- nuptial agreement? Don’t get all romantic around this and presume that you can trust each other and figure this out as you go along. That is just plain silly in the world we live in today. Put it in writing.

4.       Are your parenting styles similar? If not, how extreme are the differences? Significant differences will undoubtedly create tension even if your agreement is to parent only your own children. Think about what tensions might develop and how you would manage them.

5.       Will your ex-partners be on board with your decision? If not, how will you address this? They are an important part of the mix and their concerns will need to be considered and explored.

As mentioned above, the central determining factor in how smooth the ‘blend’ will be is the maturity of the adults involved. Children generally take their lead from those in charge. Don’t rush the process. The more maturely you can address the challenges, the more successful the experiment will be.

Margaret Anne Speak, M.A., C.C.P.A, works with couples, individuals and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.