We should start referring to blended families as blending families.
The tense of this word means everything because – in my experience as a stepdad – our family will never be fully blended. Every day is another step towards unconditional love and unity. It’s an ongoing path that winds through struggles, insecurities, fears, and limitations. As a result, the blending is never done. To use the term “blending family” provides a constant reminder that creating a new family is a process that must account for our humanness.
Blending a family is hard. Stepdads need support specific to their unique challenges – challenges that many faith-based and community-based organizations overlook.
The Institute for Family Studies published a great article highlighting why service providers need to rethink their work with blending families. The author states, “What is needed is an alternative program designed specifically for couples forming stepfamilies that can inform how leaders structure their training and ultimately close that gap.” He lists the following three areas that make blending families unique:
- Key Differences in Premarital Preparation with Couples Forming Stepfamilies. When it comes to blending families, coupleness does not necessarily equal familyness. Traditional premarital counseling is focused on the couple dyad, but blended family living is about a couple embedded in a family journeying into familyness.
- Blending Family Complexity. Biological families are often comprised of two parents and four grandparents, whereas, blending families often have between three and seven parents and stepparents, across three or more households. This makes parenting far more complicated and difficult.
- Including the Kids. Premarital counselors who have only worked with couples may feel a little uneasy involving children in sessions, but children need to have a voice – especially with blending families.
These challenges extend beyond counseling and affect every aspect of service delivery, including your work with stepdads. I encourage you to take a fresh look at your services to identify ways you can address the unique challenges stepdads face. Here are a few suggestions:
- Provide staff training on how to address stepdads’ needs. Effective work with stepdads begins with staff awareness of the unique challenges stepdads face. Here are a couple of ways to equip your staff:
- Invite stepfamily experts to speak during staff meetings, trainings, and events.
- Provide resources that help staff work with stepdads. The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse has an entire webpage dedicated to blended families and stepdads, which includes several downloadable guides for staff.
- Provide resources to stepdads designed for blending families. Create a library of resources that address stepdads’ unique challenges. Here are some wonderful options:
- Use a curriculum that provides stepdads an opportunity to process their unique challenges. NFI’s evidence-based 24/7 Dad® program, for example, is built on universal principles that are relevant to all dads. The principles provide the framework for stepdads to bring their unique challenges into the group or one-on-one setting where they can be discussed and addressed.
- Create a marketing strategy that targets stepdads. You can include the term “stepdad” in your marketing materials along with other dads you target (e.g. new dads, teen dads, incarcerated dads, etc.). Find stepdads who can provide feedback on their wants and needs that would motivate them to attend a fatherhood program, then incorporate that feedback into your marketing materials.
When you make a concerted effort to target, engage, and support stepdads in their family blending journey, you will play a major role in helping blending families thrive in situations where they would otherwise be left vulnerable.
What resources do you provide to stepdads?
Which of the suggestions above would enable you to have the most impact with stepdads?