Blended Family Adds a New Baby

The L family has been experiencing a troubled triangle between Larry* and his second wife Lucille*, who were fighting over his young daughter Lola from a previous marriage.  Lucille was expecting her first biological child and was also the full-time stay at home Mom to her step-daughter. Lola’s biological Mom had quit the scene, so there was no relief from that quarter

Often an “ours” baby helps gel a blended family into a more loving whole.  But this little Lydia* was set up from. before her birth to be part of the war.

Within the first year of marriage, the relationship between Lola and Lucille had deteriorated badly. Larry was torn between loyalty to his daughter and to his wife.  Each filled his ears with complaints at any opportunity.

When Lydia was born, big sister Lola bonded with her straight off, which might have been a point in her favor.  Unfortunately, Lucille felt the need to make a separate triangle–Mom, Dad, and Lydia–leaving Lola crying in her room on many occasions.  Lucille thought Lydia too rough for a newborn.

It seems as if Lucille wanted a different, fantasy family, one in which “intruders” from Larry’s past marriage didn’t exist.  Her strategy was to criticize Lola relentlessly to her father, until Lucille’s projection of a difficult child became Lola’s reality. More and more Dad had to agree that Lola was challenging in general and particularly unsafe around Lydia.

Fro the extended family, this drama was painful to watch.  Larry’s siblings and parents, as well as Lucille’s, were aware, but Lucille became angry whenever others tried to compensate by giving extra attention to Lola.  Larry felt forced to cut off his brother and sister as well.

He felt stuck.  He dreaded a second divorce, especially since the effects of the first one were becoming more disastrous daily.   He shrank into avoidance, becoming more passive as his wife became increasingly vocal.  He thought his best option was to send Lola away for high school, which made sense since she was now a troubled adolescent.  It was Lucille’s suggestion, of course.

Rhodos 2005

You might be thinking that Lucille won, but once you know some family systems theory, you’ll see that she set herself and Lydia up for a risky future.

Lydia learned some harmful lessons from the family power struggle with Lola.  The first is that she is very powerful, since she is able to ally with Mom to provoke Dad and displace sister.  That lesson came back to bite Lucille when Lydia entered adolescence.  Now, Mom was at war against an opponent whom she trained.

Lydia’s second destructive lesson is that Dads don’t count.  This unconscious belief led to Lola’s unsatisfying relationships with boys.  She found that love and power-struggles came together too often.  She bounced from passive men, whom she disrespected, to strong ones who quickly gave her the cold shoulder.

The third lesson was that a child can be sent away, gotten rid of, if parents don’t like her behavior.  This is a very scary message, since parents are frequently angry with their children.  When Lydia began raging at age 11, she made statements and actions as provocative as those which caused Mom and Dad to send her half-sister to boarding school.  Fear of abandonment exacerbated her anger.

As you might have predicted, Larry eventually left Lucille, but by then, both children were young adults, and the damage had been done.

These kinds of struggles require the expertise of a family systems therapist.  Those unfamiliar with blended families can make a bad situation worse.  If you recognize your family in some of the details of the past 2 posts, make your changes now.  The only one who can change you is yourself.


**There are no Larry, Lola, Lucille, or Lydia, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy. Rather these are teaching examples, composed of bits from real life combined with illustrative details added to make the stories more interesting and instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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