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  • Writer's pictureKiersten Todd

Blended Family? How a White Picket Fence Can Help You

Hey everyone, it's Kiersten! I'm here to chat with you about blended family communication. I could have taken this blog in several different directions but to keep it somewhat simple (because let’s be honest these things never are), I’m going to focus on understanding your limits to effectively set boundaries for yourself and your family.

Throughout my practice, I have had the opportunity to work with all sides of a blended family (bio-parents, step-parents, and children). Understandably, a lot of blended family issues boil down to communication skills, acceptance, and boundaries.

Self-disclosure: For those of you who don’t know, I am a stepmother to four wonderful kiddos. Oh ya, you heard me… four (lol). So, not only am I approaching this blog from a psychologist's perspective I'm also writing from a parent's perspective. I know from first hand experience just how difficult communication and boundary setting can be in a blended family.

Blended Family Can Feel Like a Constant Struggle

Perhaps this is a new transition for you, or perhaps you’ve been in this for a number of years now. Regardless of time, issues in a blended family can seem pervasive due to a number of factors, even if the kiddos do not live with you full time.

Maybe you and your spouse do not see eye-to-eye on disciplinary action which has created tension in your relationship; or the kids take advantage/mistreat you when they visit you which has impacted your own mental health. You might hear about things happening in the other parent's household that make you want to pull your hair out; or perhaps there has been a court battle going on for years that has resulted in a clinical diagnoses (depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, etc.). These are just a few of the issues that can exacerbate feelings of resentment, helplessness, and isolation.

Many times what I hear from the parents’ perspective is that they feel out of place, angry, unheard and taken advantage of: some bio-parents have been painted to be a horrible person by their ex, poisoning their own children against them; some step-parents are simply trying to find their voice within the unit. I hear many mothers and fathers worry about how their children will turn out. What impact will this have on them? What am I doing wrong? How do I help them escape the narcissistic tendencies from the ex husband/wife? How do I reconnect with them? 

Break It Down 

The thing is… this stuff is hard. And I mean HARD. It is extremely difficult to think about this logically when there are so many emotions being felt by several different people. To make things worse, it can be very isolating when your family or friends have no concept of what you are going through. Here are a few questions that you may find helpful in breaking down the emotions you may be experiencing...

What/who are your emotions directed at? 

Sometimes we have so many overwhelming emotions that we struggle to pinpoint who they are directed at. Being able to identify the root of your emotions is key to being able to disarm them. Are you upset at your partner? Your ex-spouse? Your kids? Yourself?

Sometimes it's all four and more, and that is ok! I am here to tell you that there is no wrong answer. Emotions provide us with important information that can reflect the things we are missing (i.e., connection, control, etc). 

Is it within your control?

Things that are within your scope of control may look like: 

  • What is happening within your household

  • Your relationship with your partner

  • Your communication with your children

  • Your reaction and view of setbacks  

Things that may not be within your control may look like: 

  • Differences in parenting styles between households

  • Consequence/discipline in the other household

  • What is being said about you/ your partner

  • Time with your children and/or partner 

Frustrations from lack of control is a huge issue I see in blended families. Many times, the people struggling most are those trying to grapple with the things they have no control over, and when it proves unsuccessful, it can create anger, resentment, depression, and/or anxiety. If you find yourself asking questions that start with ‘why’ you may be struggling with lack of  control (“Why do they have to do/say those things?” “Why can’t they just be a better person?!”). Identifying this is an important part of being able to move onto the stage which allows us to make conscious choices about boundary setting.

How do I set a boundary? 

Ok, so you are working toward accepting what is out of your control. Now you need to decide what your limit is and establish healthy boundaries.

The reality is, many people are still afraid of asserting boundaries. Unfortunately, there is still a very negative connotation to standing up for yourself and speaking your truth. It might make you feel like you are selfish, uncaring, or just a terrible person. You might be asking yourself, "Can I even have boundaries in a blended family?" The long and short of it is, yes you can; however, this takes commitment and a lot of introspection. I’m going to encourage you at this moment to give yourself permission to identify your limits. We are all human and yes, we all have a ceiling. You should not be silenced by fear in order to keep others happy while you are suffering. 

Now, I want to make something clear - boundaries are different from walls and sometimes the two can be misconstrued. Sometimes when we are learning how to set boundaries we will put up walls and go into isolation. It’s like an ‘all or nothing’ situation. To combat this, I like to use the white picket fence analogy with my clients… 

Imagine you are outside, it's a beautiful day and you are standing in your front yard. There is a beautiful white picket fence separating your yard from the street. People are sauntering by with their children, dogs, etc. You notice that, in other yards, their children may be stomping on the grass and their dog may be peeing in the flower beds. In your yard, however, people see you, smile and wave, and you wave back as they continue walking on.

That is a boundary. You can still see other people, and they can see you, but they don’t come onto your property due to the nicely established fence. It doesn’t mean that someone won't decide to hop over it one day, that happens. When this happens, you can utilize your communication skills to escort them out the gate and back to the sidewalk. It also serves as protection for you as you can still see other people but you don’t need to engage with them unless you choose to.

Do you see how this would be different from walls? Walls are built so high up that we can no longer see anyone and they surely can't see us. It can be very isolating and will only magnify the issues you are struggling with. 

Allow Yourself Time to Process and Communicate

Due to the complexities of boundary setting in blended families it is important to take your time to determine what is important to you and how to communicate these to the people around you. 

It may not work out the way you want; asserting boundaries does not mean that people will respect them. At times our boundaries can look like walking away during an unhealthy conversation. Other times it can look like engaging in a mature conversation. The important thing to remember is that you cannot control the reactions of others, all you can do is be true to yourself in what you need and let go of the rest. 

If you are still struggling with letting go I encourage you to seek support from someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to, whether that be family, friends, or a psychologist.



About Balance Psychological Services

Balance Psychological Services is a psychological private practice aimed toward healing, growth, and balance. Our mission is to ensure that every person who walks through our doors feels seen and accepted for exactly who they are, no matter the circumstances they are facing. With offices conveniently located in Stony Plain, Edmonton, and Beaumont, we are here and ready to help you find your balance.


Information provided through Balance Psychological Services' blog posts is meant for educational purposes only. This is NOT medical or mental health advice. If you are seeking mental health advice, please contact us directly at (587) 985-3132.


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