Written By: Nick Bloodworth MFTA, MA Psychology
Step families, also known as “blended families” are becoming more common. Step families are created by some form of loss. Those losses include death, divorce, or ending a relationship. Many of us may not think of it that way but a loss of some kind must happen for a step-family to come together. Step-couples have many hopes for a second chance and do not anticipate the loss and grief dynamics that may eventually surface during a blended family formation. Just because someone has remarried does not mean that he or she is “over” the previous marriage. We can grieve a relationship. The combination of the couple experiencing happiness while also experiencing the lingering grief from the previous marriage can create confusion and chaos. Children often surprise adults by their reactions before and after the marriage ceremony. Physically merging 2 families can create hope for children, but at the same time, it may instigate grief and loss.
Kids grieve differently than adults, which can add another layer of confusion for the blended family formation. Kids may express anger, sadness, or acting out behaviors which can be confusing when they may have previously expressed excitement or happiness about the blended family. When it comes to development, kids and teens may not understand their thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors in response to a remarriage. Grief symptoms will look differently in children depending on their age and their emotional maturity. Some are able to express verbally and clearly what they experience and some are not able to. Adult children may be surprised by grief reactions to a remarriage after death or divorce of their parents.
Step families are like any family. They celebrate holidays, graduations, weddings, the birth of children, the birth of grandchildren, and sports games for their children, birthdays, etc. Unfortunately, these same events can remind individuals, adult or children, of a death or divorce. Parts of the past can flare up in the untimeliest fashion. Counseling can help give families a road map and teach them the stepping stones of grief and loss. Changes are another form of loss and step families go through an incredible change. Change happens the fastest during the formation of the blended family, but that doesn’t mean step families of many years can’t experience painful or important life changes. The path of grief and loss are: shock or denial, sadness, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and forgiveness. Counseling can help step families in identifying change and loss. As counselors we work to teach these families the process of grieving and how you can grow and not just survive your past. I believe God intended for us to learn from our past to be able to be more effective in the present and future.