Divorce with Children: Blended Families and “Our Child”
One of the outcomes of high divorce rates is the frequency of blended families. Approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce, and close to 80% of people in those marriages will remarry. In some cases, a partner will marry someone with children. In other cases, they may remarry and have more children with their new spouse. Experts have come to know this child as the “Our Child.”
The Inadvertence About Half Siblings in Blended Families
Often when we think of blended families, we picture something like the Brady Bunch. A blended family of stepparents, stepchildren, and stepsiblings. Oftentimes, people unintentionally fail to consider half-siblings and their part in a blended family. Perhaps this is because the “blending” occurs far after the remarriage.
There is, however, a higher prevalence of children living with half-siblings than one might think. One in six children in the United States currently lives with a half-sibling under the age of 18. And again, this doesn’t even account for children who have half-siblings that are over the age of 18.
The emotional aspects and outcomes of a blended family with step siblings versus a blended family with half-siblings are vastly different. Regardless of the age of the child, the dynamic of watching their parent create a bond with another child can be very difficult. Especially when it is with a new husband or wife. Ignoring these emotions or not addressing them properly can lead your child to feel abandoned, isolated, or unwelcomed.
Struggles That Half-Siblings Deal Within Blended Families
It can sometimes be difficult to see the potential for harm in bringing a new child into the world. Having a child is such a gift for so many couples, and is something to truly celebrate. However, for some families, it can create a large divide in the family dynamics.
The Chicago Tribune published a story of a young man in his thirties who had much younger siblings as a result of a blended family. He was in an unusual position, being his siblings were young enough to be his children. Although there were benefits to this relationship, he felt a sense of jealousy. He took on an “uncle role” and loved spending time with his siblings, but he had wished he experienced this during his childhood. When he was growing up, his dad was in graduate school and working full time. Now, his dad was semi-retired and financially stable. He looks at his dad’s much younger wife and their new children benefiting from his dad’s position; a luxury he didn’t have.
Struggles Feeling Unwelcome
In blended family households, it’s very common for children, regardless of age, to feel unwelcome. The dynamics in a blended household are very unique, from many aspects. As much as a step-parent can love their stepchild, it will never be the same love they have with their biological children. The dynamics become even more complicated for a child when a biological parent has a child with a step-parent. This is the “our child” phenomenon we mentioned at the beginning of this post.
The natural bond that occurs between a parent and child at birth brings to light the tentative and frustrating process of step-parenting. In families where the stepchildren and their new step-parents do not have a good relationship or have unresolved tension, the birth of a new half-sibling can put more strain on their relationship.
It can also be difficult for children, young or old, to watch their parents get a do-over at parenting. Typically, when people get divorced, they struggle with feeling like they didn’t ‘get it right’ in their marriage. Because of this, people often treat their second marriages as a ‘re-do’. This can be challenging for two reasons.
First, a child may struggle with feeling less desirable than the new ‘our child’, because their parent finds their new partner more desirable than the child’s other biological parent. This may lead to issues with self-confidence.
Secondly, it can be difficult for a child to watch someone else become ‘daddy’s little girl’ or to watch their parent change their ways to accommodate a new relationship. This can lead to further feelings of isolation.
More Attention on “Our Child”
Another issue that half-siblings face is feeling like the ‘other kids’ because of the attention that the “Our Child” receives. Although babies get a lot of attention in general, this attention often does not go away, because the ‘Our Child’ becomes the center of the family, as they are related to everyone. In these households, the child gets more attention than the other children, resulting in them having more influence and control in the home.
Advice to Parents of Blended Families
Before you and your new partner have an “Our Child,” check these off your list first.
- The Step-Parent Relationship
You want to make sure this relationship is as solid as can be. You want to make sure that your child and the step-parent have a very good and open relationship. There are going to be a lot of adjustments that are coming up. Although it is difficult to ever have the same bond between a step-parent and step-child as a biological one, it is important that this relationship has a strong foundation.
- Talk to the Other Co-Parents First
Discuss with your child’s co-parent your expected pregnancy, prior to discussing it with the child. This gives the other parents time to process it, and determine how they are going to approach questions that the child may come to them and ask.
- Make the Child Part of the process
Encourage your children to be part of the process. If you have older children, have them help with the baby shower. If you have younger kids, have them help pick out special toys, or paint the baby’s room. Discuss their new role as a big-sister or big-brother. Encourage them to feel that everyone is on the same team.
- Be Prepared That Children Will Have Mixed Emotions
It is important to consider that all children will not take this news the same. Some children will be super excited, and some children might not be ready for a new addition to the family. You will need to recognize any changes in your children’s behaviors to determine if there are any underlying feelings they aren’t addressing. By addressing these feelings, you will create a sense of normalcy that will help them continue to communicate in the future.
- Make it a Family Talk
As you expand your family, make it a family discussion. This will help everyone to feel like they are being included in this big life moment, and will help everyone feel supported. It is important to allow children to feel comfortable opening up and asking questions during this time. Making it a family discussion will minimize the potential for any of the other children to feel isolated during this time.
Our divorce attorneys have years of experience and expertise in family law. Although every family unit is unique, the obstacles and emotions you face during a divorce are often very similar. Our hope is that our blog has provided you with enough guidance to start you on the right foot. If you need additional representation, please call us for a consultation.