The Blended Family Structure
Blended families are becoming increasingly more prevalent, currently accounting for 4.5% of all families with children in Australia (Australian Institute of Family Studies 2012.) A blended family, in its most basic sense, is a couple family where there are at least two children, of whom one is the natural child of the couple, and one of whom is a step child of either member of the couple (Australian Institute of Family Studies 2002). The formation of a blended family, different to that of a step family, can occur under many circumstances, and all individual members of the family are effected differently. Whilst it can be a joyous experience for many to combine their two families with positive long-term implications, it can also raise varying issues and challenges. Prevalent among these issues is the introduction of new family members and their new roles within the family, as well as adapting to new environments and the changing nature of relationships shared between parents and children and sibling-to-sibling relationships (both biological and step). These challenges and issues must be overcome in order to exist harmoniously as a family unit.
How common are blended families in Australia?
In 2012, 49,917 marriages ended in divorce, an increase of 982 or 2.0% compared to the number of divorces granted in 2011. However, the number of remarriages has also increased, with 11.8% of all registered marriages in 2012 being a remarriage for both partners, and 83.6% a second marriage for one partner (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012). This rise in divorce rates as well as remarriages means that the nuclear family structure is becoming less ‘commonplace’ in today’s society as more families are becoming what is known as ‘Blended Families’. The blended family is formed when a single parent, whether by divorce, separation or widowing, forms a relationship with a new partner who may or may not have their own children also. When the new couple have a biological child together, or choose to adopt as a couple, a blended family is created. It is the introduction of a biological child of both partners that separates the blended family from a step-family. A step family consists of a couple whom either one or both have their own children (biological or step) and form a relationship or marriage, cohabitating as a couple, with no biological relation to their respective partners children or between the step-siblings (Relationships Australia). A 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey ascertained that the number of blended and step families has increased by approximately 50% in the last decade, currently representing 10.6% of all couple families with children (91,000 blended families in total), compared to a figure of 4.4% of blended families that contained children in 2001 (Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Survey 2001, ABS 2011). Of the 5.0 million children aged 0 to 17 years in Australia in 2009-10, 11% lived within a blended family, whilst 441,000 people had children aged 0-17 years living elsewhere with the other natural parent of their children (Family Characteristics Survey 2009-2010).
Issues associated with blended families and the negative implications A blended family will often harbour a great sense of loss for all individual members of the family. As each member has suffered a loss of either a parent through divorce, parental separation, or death, children being separated from their siblings, or one parent becoming a non-residential parent. With the introduction of new family members as parents form new relationships and form blended families, the issue of adapting to a new psychical environment arises for both children and parents, as well as the emotions associated with the changing nature of relationships within the family. For the parents in a blended family, residential parent-child relationships face the challenge of the addition of a new parental figure into the...
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