Needs of Children in Blended Families
In his book Family First, Dr. Phil devotes an entire chapter to special strategies for divorced and blended families. He explains that most of the hurdles faced by parents in a nontraditional structure are the same as those faced by parents in a traditional structure: "Kids are kids, and you shouldn't assume that because your soloing the parenting process or parenting with a partner who's just come onboard, the tools of parenting and family life are somehow different." However, he says there are extra challenges to contend with, and those extra challenges require extra tools.
Here's a brief look at what Dr. Phil says are the most profound needs of children in nontraditional families:
- Acceptance: This will be your child's greatest need because his or her self-concept is likely in a fragile and formative stage, especially if he or she is at a young age. Children will try to gain approval and "membership" since their sense of beloningness to your family has been shattered.
- Assurance of Safety: You'll need to go beyond normal efforts to assure your children that though their family has fragmented, the protection it always provided remains solid. Actions speak louder than words, so they key is maintaining a normal pace, boundaries and routines in your home.
- Freedom from Guilt or Blame for the Divorce: Children often shoulder the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. This feeling arises from the accusations that erupt through the divorce and stems from the fact that children are the central glue that holds families together. Be conscious of this and assure your children they're blameless.
- Need for Structure: With the loss of a family leader from the home (either a mother or father) children will check and test for structure. Give it to them in spades. This is the worst time to break patterns. Children need to see that the world keeps spinning around, and they're still an integral part of what's going on.
- Need for a Stable Parent Who Has the Strength to Conduct Business: You should do everything possible to assure your children of your strength — your capacity to take care of them. In doing so, you make it possible for them to relax again. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.
- Need to Let Kids be Kids: Your children should not be given the job of healing your pain. There are two primary rules you must follow, especially in crisis and during times of instability in your family:
1. Don't burden your children with situations they cannot control. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own abilities.
2. Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children aren't equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various childhood development stages they go through.
For a more complete understanding of the needs of how to navigate and nurture your nontraditional family, see Chapter 2 in Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family.