Blended family: Counseling before marriage

Do you think it is wise to seek family counseling regarding blended families before marriage? I am a 38 year old woman with four children, ages 12 to 21. They are all still at home. My boyfriend is 57, both of his daughters ages 23 and 25 are on their own. He is very concerned about raising children again at his age and is very concerned that he might disappoint me in the process.

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You and your boyfriend are off to a good start through such honest and open communication! His concerns are valid and need your in- depth consideration. At age 57, your boyfriend may feel reticent to return to the demands of teenagers. You are almost a generation apart! These are different places on the life cycle which may mean that you have very different needs. He may also have specific experience in his first marriage which may impact his anxiety about balancing the couples' relationship with the role of stepfather/parent. Counseling would be an excellent opportunity to explore what expectations each of you would bring to remarriage. And, in fact whether remarriage is the right option for the two of you.

Because 50% of remarriages do end in divorce, it is wise to examine what becoming a stepfamily would feel like to everyone involved. All of you have suffered through the loss of a previous family unit. There needs to be a place for mourning these losses. Counseling may help you get in touch with the past which inevitably comes up for review. Stepping into a stepparent role may cause conflict if there are unrealistic expectations. Some of the common myths that haunt stepfamilies include the myth of "instant family" and "instant love".

Stepfamily formation takes time, and stepparents are often set up to disappoint their partners when expected to take on the role of an authority or discipline figure, rather than accept a friendship role. Over time, young children can develop a strong parental quality relationship with a stepparent, however teenagers are less likely to accept your boyfriend as a parental figure. "Take it slow" is the recommendation of experienced stepparents who have found that forging a friendship is the first order of business with their stepchildren.

Keep in mind that the strongest predictor for stepfamily success is the quality of the relationship that exists and develops between stepparent and stepchildren. The next strongest predictor is the quality of the couples' bond. Refer to my article "Making Healthy Stepfamilies" for further exploration of what contributes to making a workable stepfamily.

Keep in mind that in the case of your boyfriend, age may mean wisdom! His extra 19 years of living may have offered him insight into the pitfalls ahead. Perhaps he is specializing in feeling the anxiety of the situation at this time, and you are focused on the positive possibilities. It may be the case that talking together in and out of counseling will bring you to the understanding of each other's needs that will make it work!

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