‘Blended’ families

ROSE DOWNER

ABOUT one out of every six marriages in South Africa ends in divorce.

The institution of marriage has taken a beating and the number of blended (step) families is on the increase. Stepfamilies are more of a norm now than ever, with approximately 65% of remarriages including children from previous relationships.

When families “blend” to create stepfamilies, both parents and children face a number of challenges.

The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 states that a ‘family member’ in relation to a child, means, among other things, “any other person with whom the child has developed a significant relationship, based on psychological or emotional attachment, which resembles a family relationship.” This is particularly significant and appropriate considering the number of blended families in South Africa.

When a couple gets married, they probably expect to stay together forever. However, as time moves on the couple may realise that they would be happier apart than together. A decision is made – divorce!

This is an extremely difficult decision for couples to make. Divorce can be particularly painful for parents, but as time passes, each person does begin to heal.

Sometimes husbands or wives may want to start over as their spouse has died. If children were raised in a single-parent family, one day their caregiver may meet someone and decide to get married. Whatever the situation may be, when this happens, a new family is created!

Children need to be reminded that it’s normal to be sad and scared as their family changes and it may take some time to adjust to the new family situation. Bring on the confusion! ‘What do I call my step-dad or step-mom?” “What new rules will he/she bring into the home?” “Do I really have to listen to my step-parent?” “What will happen during holidays?”

Having a blended family myself I can relate to these worries! In my opinion, a step-parent is another adult who is looking out for you, so it is best to give him or her the same level of respect you would give your own parents or even teacher at school.

Throughout my work as a social worker in South Africa, I have reached the conclusion, and you may disagree, that one of the main reasons for many of the problems families face, for example, abuse, neglect, domestic violence etc, is that of a colossal breakdown of family life – morals, values, traditions, kindness and love all forgotten.

In my opinion, these are a few of the basic principles a married couple should follow:

Solid marriage. Without the marriage, there is no family. It’s harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don’t have couple time like most first marriages do.

Being civil. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you’re on track.

Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs.

Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.

If you are part of a blended family and currently experiencing difficult times try to remember these wise words. “It is not flesh and blood, but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” ~Johann Schiller

Rose Downer is a registered senior social worker and may be contacted on 082-667-5567.

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