Does it matter if you call yourself a Blended family or a stepfamily? If you set your expectations lower will you have a more successful family relationship? Some professionals in the stepfamily world believe this, arguing that using the term blended family sets expectations unrealistically high and causes a lot of disappointment.
I had no idea when I started my blog and chose the website name, Helping Blended Families, that I would be going against the “grain” of what seems to be a big issue in the blended/step world (as if another issue is what blended and step families need).
I have been coming across the idea (and most recently in my favorite online magazine, Stepmom Magazine) that the term Blended Families, rather than the term stepfamilies, creates expectations that are too high and is “troublesome to stepfamilies and the professionals that work with them. It’s a catchy media phrase that does not describe either the family relationship or what happens when at least one partner to a marriage brings children from a prior relationship (into the mix – be it a divorced parent, unwed parent, widow or widower).” I believe that quote was attributed to the NSRC division of Auburn University. The author then states, “Stepfamilies do not ‘blend,’ they continue.” How’s that for setting expectations low?
Ick. All experiences are valid, negative and positive, but being that the statement is part of a well respected online magazine, coupled with the authoritarian tone of the statement, it makes it seem as if the low expectation of continuing as a blended family is the only way. Lets be clear. That’s one way to approach your blended family relationships, it is not the only way. Building with high expectations to blend is another way.
Regardless of the reason for the heavy-hand and narrow-mind, it is true that The National Blended Family Association doesn’t exist and National Stepfamily Association does (thankfully, it’s a great resource). But does the non-existence negate the term and prove that setting expectations low is the best way to go when in a couple relationship? No, it doesn’t. Even if others say that it does.
Because there are others, including me, whose opinion is that setting expectations high is the way to go (so does The Gottman Institute ). And apparently the working therapists of Auburn University’s Glanton House believe there is room for the term Blended Families as their website has a tab for Blended Families / Remarriages and it’s impressively inclusive and uses both terms: Blended Families and stepfamily. It reads:
Are you getting remarried? Are you worried about the challenges that come with blending two separate families into one? After a remarriage has occurred and the two separate families are merging together, typically the families remain divided along biological lines. This time can be stressful and turbulent. It is important to complete the tasks of defining a realistic new stepfamily identity, restructuring family boundaries, and strengthening emotional bonds, in order to complete the successful merging of two families. Therapists at the Glanton house may be able to assist families progress through the tasks in a healthy manner.
I do appreciate this argument of Blended vs. Step terminology because it is a fantastic example of what will happen in your Blended / Step / Mixed family. There will be people who knit-pick the things you do, the way you do them and they’ll declare all the things you’ve done wrong to anyone who will listen. They’ll blame the stepparent for all they see wrong while ignoring their own emotional issues attached to this type of acting out.
What really matters is ending up with a healthy family no matter what you choose to call your family or the route you take to get there: via a therapist, certified stepfamily coach, friends, clergy, blogs, books or your own self-discovery. After all, wouldn’t you want to be disappointed from setting your expectations too high and failing rather than from not setting them high enough and never getting a chance to really succeed?
One final thought, if you’re approaching a Blended Family marriage, or any marriage, without high expectations then why bother to get married in the first place?