A study sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and conducted by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), studied marriage, Blended Families and divorce rates of 7,357 men and women between the ages of 15 and 46.
The statistical origins of blended families
Using data collected through interviews beginning in 1979, continuing until participants reached 46-years old, a clearer picture of marriage and divorce in the United States develops. The study breaks the information into several participant characteristics, including:
- Educational level
The results of the study, which concluded in 2011, give the following statistics about divorce in America.
- Of the 7,357 participants, 86.8-percent married at least once. Of those who married, 44.8-percent divorced. The first marriage lasted an average of 9.7-years.
- Out of those who divorced, 65.7-percent remarried in less than 5-years. More than 36-percent of the second marriages ended in divorce after 6.6-years.
- The study shows that the higher the educational level of the couple, the less likely the marriage will end in divorce.
- Women marry an average of 2-years younger than men do.
- African-American’s have the highest divorce rate as compared to non-Hispanic Americans and Hispanic-Americans, at 48.4-percent.
- Couples that did not finish high school, divorce at the highest rate of 58.8-percent.
The study indicates that the higher the educational level of the couple, the more likely the marriage will succeed beyond 9.7-years.
The statistics also shows a large number of divorced people seek a second partner shortly after the first marriage ends. Participants with children who married for a second or third time, introduced their children to a stepparent, which means families blended.
Visions of the American family use to include clips of “Father Knows Best”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Cosby Show”.
Looking to television for examples of family structure in today’s world, you will find, “Modern Family”, “Glee” and “Two and a Half Men”. These, along with many other television programs, revolve around blended families.
The nuclear family still exists, it looks different, and the definition changes depending on whom you ask. A New York Times report quotes the definitions as given by people on the street who were asked their first thought when hearing the word family. Of the 52-asked, almost every answer included:
The love for family prompts divorcees to remarry and take their children into a new, blended family.
Blended families include gay and lesbian families with adopted children or those from previous relationships. The number of gay couples raising children stands at over 100,000 and continues climbing despite the controversy surrounding gay marriage and adoption rights.
A more unconventional family structure deemed “voluntary kin” by Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite and her colleagues consists of non-relative members. The relationships in these families fill voids left by death or estrangement from biological families.
Children cared for in “voluntary kin” families receive financial, emotional and parental support. They bond with their caregivers and often refer to them as family.
What is a blended family? Use the Merriam-Webster dictionary to define the term:
“A family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both”
Bringing the children of divorce into a new family dynamic creates challenges parents need to address before marriage.
Many problems can occur when introducing a stepparent to children that have yet to recover from the break-up of their biological parents. Other problems arise when a stepparent tries to take the role of disciplinarian in the children’s lives.
Many first-time stepparents make these mistakes:
- Assume the second marriage will mirror the happiness of the first marriage
- Believe because they have children, that the stepchildren will automatically love them
- Couples do not discuss their roles in the lives of their spouse’s children before blending families
Discussing the potential issues of blending a family before moving the new partner and his/her children will open the lines of communication. You may find the stress of blending families too much to bear.
When children begin living with a stepparent, the matter of how to address the new adult in their lives causes controversy.
Some parents do not like children calling them by their first name. Some find it disrespectful and insist their stepchildren call them mom/dad.
Others believe the decision should go to the individual child. Parents of two or more children often find that one child will call their new spouse mom/dad while the others prefer the stepparent’s first name.
It also depends on the presence of the other parent in the children’s lives and their ages. Young children find it easier to call a stepparent mom/dad, especially in the absence of the biological parent. Older children often refuse to call a stepparent mom/dad because they have a person who fills that role regardless of their absence.
The rules of step parenting vary from home to home and what works for a neighbor may not work at all for you.
You can’t tell me what to do
Parents of divorce make mistakes that make blending families difficult and frustrating.
Parents try to make up for the pain children go through during and after the divorce by making them the center of their lives. With no heart for setting boundaries or inflicting punishment, the kids rebel when a stepparent appears and the attention they have become accustomed to becomes less. Symptoms of this include:
- Breaking curfew and other long-known rules
- Back talking the biological parent and/or the stepparent
- Obvious attempts to make the parent feel guilty for marrying again
- Failing in school and disinterest in family activities
The stepparent’s mistake comes with trying to discipline kids who do not respect their authority. A stepparent should allow the biological parent to take charge when dealing with rebellious children.
Before blending a family, the couple needs to set boundaries for disciplining their spouse’s children. The rebellious child also needs boundaries and clear punishments set for going over them. Support each other’s decisions and stick to the punishments. The bad behavior will increase if they do not have to face the consequences.
Over time, the behaviors will stop and a relationship with the stepparent will develop. Constantly giving in to a child’s wants or not issuing the promised punishment will cause the child to back slide.
Both parents standing tough in the face of a hysterical teenage girl or a belligerent 14-year old son will pay-off with time and patience.
Love and the blended family
Overcoming the difficulties of blending families and having peace in the home can take years to achieve. Most often, the children from different marriages, cultures and lifestyles learn to live together even if strong bonds do not form.
Stepchildren often do not seem to love, or like their stepparent. Kids will stay loyal to their biological parents, especially the absent parent in some cases.
The child probably likes you, but feels that showing it will negate the love they have for their biological parent. Pushing the child to show affection or obviously trying to make the child like you will only make the process harder.
The end of a marriage can leave children feeling as though they have to choose a side. Kids cannot choose a side and will form emotional barriers to keep out all the negative talk about either parent. Then a new parent arrives and wants the child to like them.
Inside, the child sees another adult who wants him/her to choose a side. As a stepparent, step back and let a natural relationship develop. You cannot force someone to like you and a bond may never form if you try.
You can better your chances of connecting with your stepchild by:
- Not forcing them to convey feelings they do not have or understand
- Buying them gifts or taking them on special trips (money can’t buy love)
- Not allowing disrespect of your rules or feelings
- Never criticizing the absent parent
Feel success in being available and willing to parent your stepchild to the best of your ability even if never asked. By providing physical, emotional and material necessities without asking for anything in return you earn the respect of your adult stepchild and the child feels secure.
A normal family
Almost 50-percent of American families have blended, which makes blended families, normal families.
Parenting techniques will develop as you learn the personality of your stepchildren and if a bond does not form, always leave the door open for support without questioning why a child shuts you out.
- Consistent parenting
Armed with these three stepparent tools, you will find the challenges become fewer with time.