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Challenges surface when two families come together


QUESTION: My husband died two years ago, leaving me and our two children behind. I have met a wonderful man – a widower with two kids – and we plan to marry. Where should we start to build our new family? And could you identify the issues that are likely to be most difficult for us?

DR. DOBSON: I would strongly suggest that you get some outside help as you bring your two families together. It is extremely difficult to do that on your own, and for some people, it is impossible. If you can afford professional counseling from a marriage, family, and child counselor who has dealt with blended families, it would be wise to get that assistance. A pastor also might be able to guide you, although there are some tough relationship issues to be handled by a professional who has “been there” before.

One of your kids is likely to see your future husband as a usurper. When a mother or father dies or when a divorce occurs, one child often moves into the power vacuum left by the departing parent. That youngster becomes the surrogate spouse. I’m not referring to sexual matters. Rather, that boy or girl becomes more mature than his or her years and relates to the remaining parent more as a peer. The status that comes with that supportive role is very seductive, and he or she is usually unwilling to give it up. The stepfather becomes a threat to that child. Much work must be done to bring them together.

The kids’ loyalty to the memory of their dad is another issue that requires sensitive handling. In their eyes, to welcome the newcomer with open arms would be an act of betrayal. That’s certainly understandable and something that must be worked through with your children.

I would say the greatest problem you will face, however, is the way you and your husband will feel about your kids. Each of you is irrationally committed to your own; you’re merely acquainted with the others. When fights and insults occur between the two sets of children, you will be tempted to be partial to those you brought into the world, and your husband will probably favor his own flesh and blood. The natural tendency is to let the blended family dissolve into armed camps – us against them. If the kids sense any tension between you and your husband over their clashes, they will exploit and exaggerate it to gain power over the other children, etc.

I have painted a worst-case scenario in order to prepare you for what could occur. Now let me encourage you. Many of these problems can be anticipated and lessened. Others can be avoided altogether. It is possible to blend families successfully, and millions have done it. But the task is difficult, and you will need some help in pulling it off.

QUESTION: I am 21 and still at home. I am very comfortable there, and I plan to stay with my parents for a long time. Why not? Tell me why you think it is unwise to go on living where it is cheaper and easier than getting out on your own.

DR. DOBSON: There are individual situations when it makes sense to live with your parents for a longer time, and maybe yours is one of them. I would caution you, however, not to overstay your welcome. That would not be in your best interests or those of your folks. Remaining too long under the parents’ roof is not unlike an unborn baby who refuses to leave the womb. He has every reason to stay awhile. It is warm and cozy there. All his needs are met in that stress-free environment. He doesn’t have to work or study or discipline himself.

But it would be crazy to stay beyond the nine months intended. He can’t grow and learn without leaving the security of that place. His development will be arrested until he enters the cold world and takes a few whacks on his behind. It is to everyone’s advantage, and especially to the welfare of his mother, that he slide on down the birth canal and get on with life.

So it is in young adulthood. Until you cut the umbilical cord and begin providing for yourself, you will remain in a state of arrested development. Remaining at home with Mom and Dad is the perpetuation of childhood. It may be time to put it behind you.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or Questions and answers are excerpted from The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, published by Tyndale House. Copyright 2006 James Dobson Inc.