A blended family constitutes a mix of step children and step parents. This type of blend can bring about challenges within the family because members come from a whole set of rules and backgrounds different from their blended family. However even though a family is blended they can have a wonderful family relationship. To help understand common challenges that come with blended families and how blended families can blend with success, I have interviewed therapist Carisa Sherwood, LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“My name is Carisa Sherwood, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Sacramento area. I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and received my master’s in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Chapman University. I am also the program director at Life Practice Counseling Group, which is a non-profit counseling agency that provides counseling services to individuals, couples, families, and children. We offer our fees on a sliding scale based on monthly income or the client’s ability to pay, with offices in Sacramento, Stockton, and Oakland.”
What are some challenges that blended families have when it comes to blending?
“One of the most common challenges that blended families encounter is one of understanding our roles. Coming together with a new family where children are just meeting other children and living with new people poses an issue of what we refer to as homeostatic anxiety. Homeostatic anxiety is the feeling we get whenever there is change, it refers to anxiety that gets created when the homeostasis, or norm, is changed. When things change, the anxiety rises because we don’t know what our new role will be, what it will look like, or how it will feel. Where will we fit in? Will I even fit in? This is not just something the children experience, but the parents as well.”
What type of impact can those challenges have on the overall relationship of a blended family?
“When our homeostasis is threatened we all react and protect ourselves in different ways. Some can withdraw and cut-off, others can get emotionally reactive with anger or outbursts, while others yet could cut-off from their own emotions and experience and pretend like nothing is wrong but would feel the effects of that later in life. These individual reactions all come together in the new blended family, or system and impact the way the family will blend and the nature of the system. If this continues what can end up happening is that rigid, repetitive patterns form and then a new homeostasis is formed. Keep in mind that homeostasis does not mean that everything is good and healthy, it just means the status quo that we are used to.”
How can blended families blend with success?
“One of the best ways to address the homeostatic anxiety when families first come together and blend would be to begin talking about the roles that each person will play. The family can all come together and discuss what it will look like, what might happen, what some fears are, what some hopes are, talk about expectation, etc… What the family definitely will want to avoid is forming coalitions, where two or more people gang up on another person. You might think this only happens between the children, but this does also happen with adults and children. What we want to encourage instead is forming alliances between different sets of people. We would do that by encouraging two people that are new to each other to play games together, go out together, problem-solve together. And then we would switch up between different sets of people.”
What last advice would you like to leave for a blended family who wants to blend with success?
“Successful blending takes patience, understanding, and a nurturing heart. We all need to come from a place of non-threat, non-defense, and the parents need to come from a place of unconditional love for all the children. During the beginning phases children require a lot more attention, respect, and listening to. If we can take time to talk about the process, what is happening, how we are feeling, and really allow each person to share their experience in a loving environment without judgment or telling anyone that they shouldn’t feel anything, we begin to allow a place for each person to come together and blend and really form a symphony of individuals where each person plays a part.”
Thank you Carisa for the interview on how blended families can blend with success. For more information on Carisa Sherwood you can check out her website on www.LifePractice.org.
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