Blended Families: Toxic Ex Creating Obstacles

What is a blended family?

A blended family is created when two people start a new relationship with their children from previous relationships along for the ride. There is usually a natural transition with dating, to introducing the children to the new love interest and their children, and eventually to taking the plunge to living together as one big new happy family. It does not matter how much everyone liked each other at the beginning of the relationship or at the time that everyone started living together. There will be challenges that will test the integrity of the relationship and family unit.

What’s the problem?

The process of blending families is hard. The couple must adjust to the next step of their relationship of moving in together while their children are also along for the ride for better or for worse. At the same time, the couple must adjust to having more children in the home and those children must also adjust to their new housemates.

There are so many obstacles for a blended family to overcome like:

  • Adjusting to a new living environment or sharing a space that was previously not shared.
  • Living with new housemates and trying to adapt to accommodate everyone’s routines.
  • Trying to divide household chores and responsibilities between adults and children. 
  • Trying to parent biological children the “old way” which seems way less fair compared to the new sibling’s treatment.
  • Adjusting to different or conflicting parenting styles, discipline and expectations between parents.
  • Newly developed personality conflicts and jealousy between children.
  • Scheduling conflicts for holidays and special events.
  • Trying to merge family finances (income and expenses).

Blending families can be very difficult with obstacles at every step of the way. The challenges that come with being in a new adult-interdependent relationship (aka common-law relationship) will be amplified when children are involved and if there is a bitter ex lurking in the background. The stakes are always high in blended families, and they will either succeed or fail miserably. Parents trying to blend families should have an “exit plan” before living together. 

What is the biggest obstacle in blended families?

Each family is different and will have their own unique challenges when it comes to starting a blended family. However, without a doubt: If either spouse has an unhealthy co-parenting relationship with the biological parent of a child or children brought into the blended family, it will complicate and frustrate the dynamics in the blended family. 

If a non-blending biological parent does not support the new blended arrangement, it will open the door to a new set of issues being thrown into the mix. The children usually confide in their non-blending biological parent about their hurt feelings or frustrations about challenges that arise during the blending process. When children vent or make negative comments to the safe parent outside of the home, it quickly reveals the character of the non-blending parent.

A child-orientated parent will use the children’s comments as an opportunity to teach healthy coping skills and empathy. The child-orientated parent will do everything possible to reduce the harm and encourage the children to succeed in both households even if they are not thrilled about it. On the other hand, a “me-orientated” parent that is bitter and toxic will use those complaints as an opportunity to strain the child’s relationship with the other parent, the new parent and the new blended siblings. The bitter parent will use each complaint made by the child as evidence that the other parent is a bad parent. The bitter parent will try and jam a wedge between the children and any new blended family members.

What can you expect with a bitter ex in the mix?

A bitter parent can be really toxic to the situation. The bitter parent will speak negatively about the other parent and new housemates directly to the child or within earshot of the children. The children will be aware that their non-blending parent does not like the other parent or housemates. The bitter parent might provide more love, attention and rewards to a child that joins in and complains about their other parent and new blended family.

The bitter parent will also take steps to try to prevent the children from having a bond with the new blended family. If the new siblings are with their other parent on the first and third weekend of the month, the bitter parent will only agree to give the other parent time on the first and third weekend of the month because the blended siblings are away. A court order will likely be required in those circumstances to allow siblings to see each other on the weekends.

The bitter parent might take things to the extreme and find a way to create conflict and stress for every single special occasion. The bitter parent often finds an excuse to withhold holiday parenting time to make sure those memories are soured, but most importantly, not shared with their other parent and new blended family.

The bitter parent enjoys causing significant disharmony for the blended family. The children of the bitter parent and blended family might enjoy the benefit of two Christmases; however, the blended siblings and any half-siblings in their blended family likely do not appreciate having their only Christmas delayed because the bitter parent changed the schedule at the last minute. These types of games are most harmful to school-aged children. The other parent is faced with the dilemma of having the “fun and presents” revolve solely around the withheld children or to proceed without them at their detriment. It’s a painful experience inflicted by the bitter parent simply to cause significant harm within the blended family.

Unfortunately, those types of games are rarely an isolated incident.

The bitter parent will create scenarios that appear to be insignificant or petty; however, the bitter parent is not the person forced to choose between the wellbeing of one child at the expense of another child. A child-orientated parent, especially one without any other children, would not put their children in a position to feel let down by their other parent or resented by their blended family. The child-orientated parent would be accommodating. A bitter parent is not.

The bitter parent wins in the other parent’s lose-lose situations. The bitter parent is the safe parent that the child confides in about any hurt feelings or challenges in the other parent’s home. The bitter parent loves this and will use the child’s suffering, that they took no steps to prevent, as evidence that they are the better parent. The other parent’s relationship deteriorates with their new spouse and other children if the hard decisions are always at their expense.

The bitter parent will deny playing games, of course. The bitter parent will continue to do what they do best by hijacking the narrative to maintain control over the situation and the children at all costs. The child-orientated parent must utilize damage control strategies and keep moving forward in a positive direction. Bringing in outside help or experts can help with damage control, resilience and problem solving.

What options are there to help blended families?

Each family has its own dynamics with a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. There is no “one size fits all” approach and there are many resources out there suited for different types of situations. Therapy and counselling services can help and there are many different methods to access and use those services. There are also parenting experts and classes that can help guide families through difficult situations. If the conflict is fueled by a bitter parent: there are non-court options or even court options if the challenges can’t be resolved amicably. It’s worth the effort to find a service that works.

Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal service providers and community support services. We help people discover great options for their situation. Email us to learn more.

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