Blended families, says the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), can be unchartered territory for children and parents alike.

Gone are the days when families were primarily a nuclear unit – a couple with their children. Today, blended families – or step-families as they were previously called – are on the rise. They are formed when divorced families come together to form a new familial unit.

This is no surprise at a time when divorce rates in SA are also showing an upward trend. The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa in 2018 shows that divorces increased year-on-year, with most marriages lasting only five to nine years. “In 2016, 55% [of] divorce cases involved children aged less than 18 years.”

Naturally, navigating so many personalities while recovering from divorce can be a minefield for anyone.

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Communicate and be honest

Whether it is talking about parenting styles or your history, parents should lead the charge in frank discussions. This will also be a chance for children to get to know their new siblings, while dealing with the complicated issue of coming from a divorced home.

This is a time to be self-reflective and work on conflict resolution skills. “It can change you in remarkable, and deeply satisfying ways,” says parenting educator and author of Blended Families, Flicky Gildenhuys on the SACAP website.

Get professional help

Therapy can offer a neutral platform for everyone to talk about the situation they are in within the new family. What’s more, the third-party advice will be objective and provide the mental and emotional tools for everyone to move forward together harmoniously. Children can, after all, be dealing with feelings such rejection and abandonment.

Do away with high expectations

It is easy to have high expectations when you are starting something new, but with time, the rose-tinted lenses will be replaced by reality. The best approach is to nip whatever expectation you have at the bud and take the new relationships for what they are.

Gildenhuys says: “Part of the process of blending well involves very powerful and fulfilling stages of the journey where you don’t just fall or get swept up into the notions of being a family.

“Instead, you are empowered to consciously develop a family identity, craft family rules and roles, as well as instigate affirming, meaningful and enjoyable family traditions and rituals that last lifetimes and become part of your family legacy.”

Sources: SACAP and Stats SA

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