The Family Portrait
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
5 September 2020 in Blended Families
As I walk through the home section of my local department store, I wander to the isle full of decorative picture frames. Some with single frames, some with multiple frames in different shapes and sizes and some are pin boards to allow your creative vision to awaken with your personal picture-perfect collage. So many to choose from! As I stand there trying to picture in my mind which frame would best define my spaces, I began to focus on the images of the families presented in the frames. Who are these people? Are they “real” families? I think in silence to myself, are they aiming to sell me a picture frame or the idea of a “nuclear” family? Yet, no matter the intention, the picture displayed in this frame is that, of a “blended” family!
Blended family! Blended family! Blended family! What exactly is a blended family? What does the blended family system resemble? It was necessary for me to seek the concrete definition of “blended family” while still pondering my own understanding and depiction of this family system.
Oxford Dictionary defines a “blended family” as “a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships”. Kumar (2017), defines the blended family as a system in which a new couple partnership is formed, either through remarriage or cohabitation, that includes children from previous relationships”. As I reminisce to my first experience of a blended family outside of my own, the first family that comes to mind is “The Brady Bunch”. Let us revisit The Brady Brunch for a bit, you know, the story of a lovely lady and a man named Brady! In this legendary tale of a blended family, Mr. Brady was a widower and Carol (his new wife) was well…divorced! During the late 60’s and early ‘70’s stating Carol was a divorcee would have been too risqué of a move, so the creators opted to avoid telling us what happened to her first husband. As they say, “art often imitates reality”!
Historically, blended families were the result of a spousal death, which was more socially acceptable than the blended family as the result of divorce. Fast forward 50 years, and the “traditional” definition of the blended family might be changed to a “family system consisting of adults and children, who may or may not be related by blood, that have joined together to create a new family”. The modern portrait of the blended family may portray a variety of family systems; the historical “Brady Bunch” step-family where a man and a woman with children from previous relationships remarry and combine households, same-sex couples with children from previous relationships, fostered, or adopted children; adult(s) with fostered or adopted children, adults who have either remarried or formed new romantic relationships while co-parenting with the parent from the previous relationship, and let’ not forget the blended families that include parents/grand-parents, or those that don’t include children at all!
As we can see from the examples above, which is not all encompassing, what was once known as the “traditional” blended family or stepfamily has drastically evolved from 50 years ago. Although, one element that has not changed, are the challenges that come along with blending families; such as differing parenting styles, systems of discipline, finances, and social values. These challenges can cause stress, anxiety, worry, conflict, and possibly result in the dissolution of the family system if these challenges are not properly addressed.
I am sure you are suspecting my particular interest on this subject. Well, here it is. I was originally inspired to work on this segment because my oldest son is not biologically my child, but I have raised him since he was age 5. He is now 18. I have learned a plethora along my journey, and I desire to share my wealth of experience and knowledge with others. It has been a lot of healing, discipline and self-reflection along the way. Secondly, I was inspired because my oldest sister's mom's side of the family is blended culturally. My sister's husband is Mexican and from Mexico, her cousins are Filipino, her brother's wife is White, and we are all Black. This is the epitome of BLENDED. I love the way we all mix, and I want to share that component with others as well. Blended is no longer “traditional” and means so much more! Lastly, as a therapist that often works with families, I have had the opportunity to assist families with relieving and unmasking the fallacies and fears of exploring and discussing sensitive topics that impact their blended family.
Therapy can support blended family’s as they sort through the thoughts and feelings causing distress, while also assisting the family to resolve conflict within the system. Through therapy, new roles can be established, parents can learn to set boundaries around parenting, discipline, and finances; and learn how to build new and loving bonds with the children within the system, and with one another resulting in a healthier family connection where each member can be heard, understood, respected, and loved.
Breonda Dixon, Master's Level Practicum Intern - Author
Brittney Collins-Jefferson, LCSW, LCADCI - Co-Author
Kumar, K. (2017). The blended family life cycle. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 58(2), pp.110-125. Retrieved from https://www-tandfonline-com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/doi/full/10.1080/10502556.2016.1268019