Families like WO Irvine’s are becoming increasingly common in Canada. According to the Canadian Step Institute, nearly 40 percent of marriages in Canada end in divorce. Seventy-five percent of all divorced adults remarry which results in blended families when both partners have children from previous relationships.
The Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) in Ottawa recently hosted a workshop for blended families. The workshop was conducted by social worker and avid volunteer Marion Balla. Addressing a full house, Balla provided tips for families, took questions and provided resources on how to cope with the stress of being a blended military family.
“The most important thing,” says Balla, “is creating opportunities to spend time together and focusing on what the family is doing well. Encouragement is always a better recipe than discouragement.”
The military challengeIn a military family, deployment is the big issue. When one parent is deployed for weeks or months at a time, the other instantly becomes a single parent. Add to that the fact that they are parenting step children—sometimes during the tumultuous teen years—and there’s the potential for situations that would test any parent.
One of the difficulties is what WO Irvine calls the “loyalty challenge.”
“Sometimes your stepchildren may come to you violating the ‘chain of command’ – confiding in you over their biological parent because you’re friends. This is one of the greatest challenges. You have to draw a line. First and foremost you are a parent.”
Living in small communities or on military bases often means everyone knows everyone else’s business. Neighbourhood gossip about one family’s problems can be very hurtful, especially to children. Still, many base communities are tight-knit and extremely supportive. People in the community understand the challenges of postings and deployments.
Balla stresses that some of the best resources for families are on military bases.
“There are social workers, resource centres, support groups and people who are in the same situation.”
No two blended families are alikeBlended families, says Balla, are uniquely complex. Each partner comes to the relationship with children. These children have another parent or parents who may also have children with another partner. The new couples can have children together. It is no wonder it can be overwhelming.
“I don’t like the term ‘blended family’,” says Balla. “It has negative connotations. People don’t blend. They come into the family with their own perceptions. The good thing is that children have the potential to have many role models and be loved by all of them.”
Balla stresses the resiliency of children and their adaptability in difficult times.
“It’s not just the parents who shape the family. Children are courageous and adaptive. Don’t underestimate them and remember to communicate and spend time together as often as possible, whether it’s supper together or a family meeting to discuss how everyone is doing and focus on the positive.”
For more information on the resources available to military families in your area, visit the Family Force Web site.
Article by Laura Banks, Canadian Army, Ottawa
Photos by Cpl Bill Gomm, 38 Canadian Brigade Group