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Screaming Across the Abyss
by Robert Klopfer, LCSW
This article has appeared for several years at this time of the year. It is a true Thanksgiving Story. We hope you enjoy it.

Eleven fifteen, Sunday night, settling in for sleep in anticipation of a short workweek with the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday. Benny, my college senior stepson, is on the telephone from Southern California. His mother hands me the receiver with a worried look. "Benny wants to speak to you. It's important. He's upset." She leaves the bedroom and closes the door.

Our nine-year history is complex and we are struggling to work out this stepfather-stepson relationship. I approach the conversation with the familiar sensation of wariness and anticipation. "Hi Benny. What's going on?"

I hear sadness and anxiety in his voice as he tells me of his need to talk to me about his feeling. "I'm upset about coming home. The last time I was home we had that big disagreement and it really upset me. We need to talk about it some more."

On Benny's last visit, now six months ago, an argument that had been reoccurring in many forms for our entire history had resurfaced. This had been a particularly nasty version and I had spent many hours brooding, depressed and disappointed in myself for my part in it. Benny and I had talked about it before he left and seen each other over the summer in Las Vegas, yet the feelings were still sensitive and the wounds had not healed. Responding to his tone, I encouraged him to talk about his feelings.

Benny has always been independent of thought and sensitive to feeling. His college degree will be in philosophy, his intellectual curiosity is all consuming and his ability to synthesize and conceptualize ideas is remarkable. "I need to know how you are feeling about my coming home", he plowed ahead. "You hurt me very badly and it's still upsetting me. We need to talk about why that happened". And so we did. We went over our last battle, each of us sharing our view of the events leading up to the hurtful encounter.

Intense sensations filtered through me. My thought flowed to our painful past and the feeling of shame I knew so well when Benny talked about his pain. He was twelve years old when we met. His parents' separation was barely a few months old when I met his mother and came into his life. We got along well until we decided to marry and Benny had to move forty miles away from the New York City home. The stepfamily issues hit us hard; we were so unprepared for the realities of living in-step. How could I have treated him so insensitively for so long a time?

We talked about our last battle. Benny led with his feeling but the quality of this conversation was very different. He was looking to understand, not to assign blame. Our history was mixed from his point of view. There were man wonderful things we had shared in addition to our battle for control. He credited me with helping him to develop his ability to argue rationally. He wanted to know how I saw our relationship. He wanted to know where he stood with me. "Robert, do you respect me?"

There are significant moments in our lives that we recognize after they have occurred. We can look back and see their importance. This conversation was a significant moment in process. Both of us were aware of the flow of feelings and ideas and the deepening sense of working towards a new level of understanding between us.

I shared my feelings with Benny clearly and calmly. I told him of me admiration for him as a person and my love for him as my stepson. Together we explored issues that previously were mentioned but now we were both ready to understand.

We talked about my pain, too. My father's long illness forced him to be placed in a nursing facility three weeks before our wedding. He died four months later. My mother was unable to care for herself and moved into our home for one difficult year until she too was institutionalized. Benny encouraged me to talk about my pain, my grief, and my loss of a sense of control of my life. He understood that our battles were partially an attempt to maintain control in our home while my parents were in failing health. We understood his grief of the loss of his family of origin, his resentment to my coming into his life as a new father, his resentment of his lost friends, home, neighborhood, and sense of his life as he knew it.

We shifted our focus to our styles of relating to men. We have different styles on the surface. Benny is intellectually argumentative and challenging of authority. He explained how each encounter with a male is fraught with the danger of competition for dominance. He shys away from more traditional male athletic competition, yet talked with envy about those who could compete in that arena.

My relationship style with men is more noncompetitive on the surface. I realized that Benny's envy of my athletic prowess matched my envy of his intellectual acumen. And that while I have adjusted to the role of coach rather than competitor, the pleasure I experience in the success of my charges is a poorly veiled sublimation of my own competitive instincts. He asked me how it felt when my son, Steven, defeated me in a tennis match for the first time. I told him my emotions were strongly mixed: sadness in my own loss and the realization that this was the first of many such athletic encounters and pride in my son's powerful game. For a period of time prior to his first victory Steven's athletic skills were greater than mine; now he was able to face the emotional scar of a victory over his father. Benny and I agreed that our battles for control become clearer if were recognize the need both of us have had for dominant male status in our newly structured stepfamily.

Benny's awareness of his family of origin issues and his struggle with his own powerful sense of masculinity showed me he was battling with these dilemmas in many arenas. When I told him of my love for him he responded by telling me that he did not know if he could love me in return. he already had a father he loved and that was a difficult emotion for him to share with another man. I explained my respect for his love for his father and my belief that it is possible to love men in different ways. I told him of my love for my son, his grandfather, and for him. All of these were experience uniquely, but all were forms of love.

My respect for his insight and admiration for his understanding could not be tempered when he argued that his struggle for self-awareness was achieved through thought provoking discussions with friends and teachers. Benny argued these were more than adequate substitutes for good psychotherapy! He explained his view of the male world has been similar to the ideas expressed by Nietzsche. "Men relate to each other by standing on two sides of an abyss and screaming out their latest conquests, accomplishments, and sources of pride", he explained. His frustration with this style and his more relaxed and gratifying relationships with women are pushing Benny to attempt to find new styles of male relatedness. We agreed this was a valued struggle, since both of us place a high priority on interpersonal communication and the traditional male role leaves little room for meaningful dialog between men.

We spoke of other intimacies and of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. My affection for him flowed through the telephone across the continent and the same sensations seemed to be traveling east. The sense of connection across the abyss was calming and deeply gratifying. I noticed the hour and told him I needed to get to sleep so I could function later that morning. I told Benny how I looked forward to seeing him on Wednesday evening and of my hope that we could continue our conversation over the next weekend. He agreed and I said good bye.

"Robert, wait..."
"Yes, Benny. What is it?" I asked.
"I love you. Bye"

This article appeared in the Stepfamily Quarterly Magazine, Fall 1997 issue.


Resurrected Pain

I am dreading the holidays. My 12 year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the "joy of the season" with so much sorrow in our hearts?

Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

The Enduring Nature of Loss

Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won't "get over it." You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

Because loss is enduring these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to "fix" others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed word that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother's adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild's Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

Responding to Loss

Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed-and received with compassion. Don't be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don't fear listening to those of others. The process of "bearing with one another" is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

Give permission to grief and use the holidays as a spring board to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, "I noticed that you're not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]" Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, "I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together." These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. "I've noticed that since coming home from your mom's house you are pretty irritable. I'm wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?" A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone's grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, "I know you're sister's family is only here for a short time. Why don't you spend extra time with them and I'll manage the children for a while."

Don't take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child's sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don't make it about you; keep it about them.

Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children's sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don't allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

The Great Teacher

Loss is the great teacher. It has the power to reprioritize our life and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don't squash your grief (or anyone else's).

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Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies.


The Dating Game
Ron L. Deal

"It's a new year with new possibilities, Ron. But it's been so long since I was part of the dating game," Kevin began, "I'm not sure how to play it anymore." It had been some time since Kevin's wife died and as we talked further I could tell that Kevin's concerns about dating were not limited to him. He worried a lot about his daughter. "What do I say to her before I go on a date? Should I introduce her to my date? What if I get married again someday-how will it affect her?" He was asking a lot of good questions.

Dating Cautions

How do you know when you're ready to date? When you don't need to. Discontentment with being single and loneliness breeds vulnerability and lessens your ability to be discerning about a dating relationship. Learn to relax in your singleness and trust God with it.

A dating break-up is a flashing, yellow caution light. Couples who experienced a breakup during courtship are four times more likely to have relationship difficulties after the wedding.

Dating bliss is not necessarily indicative of real stepfamily happiness. Premarital satisfaction only accounts for one-third of marital satisfaction; stepfamily dynamics highly impact couple happiness after the wedding more so than before. In other words, learn all you can about stepfamily living before you marry.

Couples with children from previous relationships who date longer than five years have lower levels of marital satisfaction than couples who dated less than five years. Fear and anxiety about further pain may be what holds couples up from moving into marriage.

The Goal
I think it is very important for single parents (or those dating a single parent) to understand that the goal of dating and/or remarriage is not to replace the divorced or deceased parent in your household. Don't marry to give your kids another parent. Get married because you feel lead by God to a person who can companion you for life. This decision must be made with consideration of your children, but not for them. If your children's welfare were the only consideration, you might want to consider remaining single until they are on their own. Children raised in single parent homes do as well or better on most measures of wellbeing than children raised in stepfamilies. But they aren't your only consideration; balancing your needs and theirs requires that you step carefully, and wisely, and remove all fantasies that would blind you.

Wise Dating
The first date is usually a tough one. It signifies to you and your children (no matter what their age) that another season following the death or divorce of the family has begun. To children, it feels like another layer of loss, therefore, expect some accompanying sadness.

Help your children prepare for each phase of dating (new date, steady dating, getting engaged, planning for life after the wedding) with a series of dialogues with your children. They should never be surprised by your actions. Use "what if.?" questions to help them prepare for the possibilities and begin getting used to the idea. The age of your children will determine how long and detailed the discussion. For example, "It's been two years since your dad and I divorced and I know it's been hard for all of us. What would you think if I decided to go on date?" What you are looking for is not necessarily your kids permission to date, but the emotions and thoughts that surround that possibility. Their response will give you information on their continued sadness related to the loss and help you decide the timing of dating.

Casual dating is okay as long you define the relationship with the person you are dating ("I have no intention of moving deeper in a relationship right now. If you are okay with casual dating then let's continue."). And, let your kids know what to expect as well, particularly young children (age 5 or less) who are prone to quick emotional attachments.

Introduce your children to the person you are dating within the first few dates; don't carry on a relationship behind their backs. Let them get to know each other a little at a time. Become more intentional about their level of contact and connection as your dating relationship progresses. Once you are serious about the future (including marriage), let the future stepparent begin "dating the children." This means investing intentional, strategic time and energy into relationship building. This may require many months of time, perhaps even a year or longer if the relationship is progressing slowly for whatever reason (e.g., time limitations, ex-spouses who sabotage, etc.). Monitor this process as you make decisions about a wedding.

Many people ask me how long couples should date before engagement and/or marriage. I find definite time frames misguided so I generally make the following points:

  • Time is not a good measure of quality. How long a couple dates is not necessarily indicative of the quality of their relationship. Couples can date six months or three years and have either low or high quality relationships.
  • Couples with high quality relationships may have poor stepparent and stepsibling relationships. Couple relationships and stepfamily relationships do not necessarily follow the same slope.
  • Therefore, don't determine your readiness to marry solely upon how much you are in love. It is much more difficult to be a family than it is to be a couple. Slow the pace of your dating and allow your children to adjust as much as possible before the wedding.

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Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies, an expert in remarriage and stepfamily relationships, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD's and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily and The Remarriage Checkup.


Step-Money: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Ron L. Deal

Everyone knows that couples have disagreements about money matters. But when the practical challenges of money management are combined with the complications of stepfamily living, money issues can be volatile.

“I just don’t feel like his partner,” said Barbara. “Lloyd controls everything and I don’t even know how much we have nor do I contribute to investment decisions. It’s like the money is all his, just in case we don’t make it. It’s been that way from day one when he asked for a prenuptial agreement. How can I feel like his partner when I’m excluded from this part of his life?”

Sometimes money conflicts are about values or power and control; other times they are about fear. Barbara had access to all the money she and her children needed, and they were well cared for. However, in her heart, she didn’t feel that Lloyd was completely committed to her. His unwillingness to let her have some say in his material wealth was evidence to her of this struggle—especially since her husband didn’t have any problem sharing financial decisions with his first wife. When asking for more decision-making power regarding their money, what Barbara was really seeking was emotional security and a permanent commitment from her husband. But that can be difficult when money is paired with pain.

When Money Is Paired with Pain

Money issues in stepfamily marriage are sometimes paired with pain from the past; they become a detriment to the present marriage when negative behavioral patterns are set in place. Underlying Lloyd’s need for a prenuptial agreement and control over their finances was a ghost who haunted him with distrust, insecurity, and the fear of losing control. The only thing that kept him from growing increasingly anxious about his future was staying in control of the money and investments he brought into the marriage. Besides, in his mind, his generosity toward Barbara and her children was more than enough provision; it shouldn’t matter to her, he thought, that her name isn’t on the deed to the house or cars. But it did matter to Barbara, a lot.

Overcoming Fear, Risking Trust, Choosing Commitment

The challenge for many stepcouples is deciding whether fair will be defined through the lens of pain or hope. If decisions are being made through the lens of pain, then one or both will choose a path of self-preservation (withholding assets is a way of withholding yourself). If the decisions and the relationship are viewed through a lens of hope, risks and an investment in the marriage are likely taken. This requires trust.

In our book The Remarriage Checkup, David Olson and I review five stages of trust previously identified by Patricia Schiff Estess[1]:

  1. The Rose-Colored Glasses Stage. In those first romantic moments, money talk seems crass or unimportant because the strength of love “will handle everything” (naiveté) or because couples believe there will be no money conflicts (ignorance).
  2. The Don’t-Rock-the-Boat Stage. Feelings of resentment or anger surface. Frequently thoughts such as, “Why should I resent his paying alimony? I knew about it before we got married,” or “I can’t stand her cheapness when it comes to gift-giving” aren’t voiced for fear that any stress would put too much pressure on the fragile new union.
  3. The Lay-It-On-the-Table Stage. Couples painfully express their concerns to each other, feeling it’s OK to be honest, to argue about spending priorities and to speak candidly about their feelings, frustrations and fears surrounding finances. A foundation of trust is being laid, albeit roughly.
  4. The Getting-It-Together Stage. The couple has arrived at a mutually agreed upon lifestyle and has established an effective method of handling finances and making financial decisions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve commingled funds, just that they have agreed on contributions—both monetary contributions and contributions of time—and that they have a system in place for managing both jointly owned and separately owned property.
  5. The Achieving Stability Stage. The couple reels-in control of finances. Despite the ultimate instability of anyone’s financial position, they now feel comfortable adjusting their goals or spending patterns, as circumstances require. Their perspectives are integrated. They can handle change.

In addition to integrating their daily and practical financial patterns, did you notice what else is growing beneath the surface? Trust. Each and every stage requires a choice to risk the unknown as the two come closer in heart and mind, but eventually the choice to risk gives birth to confidence and trust. And every couple needs that.


Stepfamilies: What About the Couple Relationship?
By Carri & Gordon Taylor

When we remarried and entered into "stepfamily-land" there was much confusion about the couple’s relationship. The unspoken thought was that it was going to be just like a first marriage, even though we were very much aware that we were both bringing children to this new relationship. Confusion set in, as the children became the main focus, parenting style collisions surfaced, ex-spouses didn’t vanish off the planet, but in fact they remained a very present force to be reckoned with. We didn’t just marry each other, we married an extended family system with tentacles extending into places we were and were not aware of.

This confusion prompted us to do some research and even more thinking, because we both wanted our second marriage to be successful. We were aware that we were statistically, a high-risk couple. Research points to the fact of higher divorce rates for second and subsequent marriages. At first it seemed like we had to put our marriage relationship "on hold" to give the time and energy to all the explosions that happened in this "open door, multiple household" system. Time together over dinner or on walks was spent strategizing our battle plan, not basking in the "romance" of our new found love.

To survive we had to work together and support one another in not only developing the new relationships - our own, our stepkids, new extended family members (in-laws); but also in continuing to nurture and nourish the pre-existing relationships we brought with us – biological children (no matter what age or where they resided), ex-spouses and the previous extended family members (out-laws).

About five years down the road (we have a total of 17 years together now), we came to the conclusion that our marriage relationship hadn’t really been put "on hold," but it had grown and been strengthened through adversity – as long as we fought together for our stepfamily, instead of fighting and blaming each other because things weren’t how we thought they would be!

We finally came up with a concept that works for our understanding and is helping other step-couples understand their territory. PRIMARY and FOUNDATIONAL. The following are the definitions of these terms.

PRIMARY: First in time or origin.
FOUNDATIONAL: That on which something is founded and by which it is supported and sustained (the marriage relationship and family).

In first marriages, both principles are present in the couple relationship and are established simultaneously. The marriage relationship is established first (PRIMARY) and also supports and sustains all relationships (children) and interpersonal dynamics that take place (FOUNDATIONAL).

In second and subsequent marriages things are different. The couple relationship is still FOUNDATIONAL, because without it there would be no stepfamily. It supports and sustains the newly developing stepfamily and everyone in it, maybe even ex-spouses. However, the children brought into this remarriage are the PRIMARY relationships. These relationships pre-exist the couple relationship.

A first marriage is primary and foundational. A second marriage is foundational and secondary. In the children’s minds, this new marriage may not even be foundational, merely secondary. The foundation on which they entered the world blew up through death or divorce. Establishing the stepfamily as their new foundation takes time, patience, education, understanding and skills. Children may still be hanging on to the fantasy of getting mom and dad back together and in no way want to participate in building the new family.

Does any of this negate the importance of the remarried couple’s relationship? Not in the least! It does mean that most of the time the couple must strengthen their relationship while ministering to the needs of the children (no matter what age) and supporting the biological parent as he/she deals with their children and even an ex-spouse.

Without understanding this concept: competition, jealousy, and resentment get in the way of building a stepfamily, which in turn set the couple and family up for even more trauma than remarriage and stepfamily development normally bring. Stepfamilies form backwards from biologically intact families. This is also true of the remarried couple’s relationship.

What’s our goal for remarriage? To reestablish our children’s trust in marriage and family, while reducing the viability of divorce. To do this and more, our marriage must grow and remain intact to lend stability. Ideal? No. Real? Yes. As challenging as this is, the stepfamily can be a place to grow up spiritually and emotionally. Thank God that He offers the grace, mercy, forgiveness and healing to those of us living in one.

Copyright 2002. Opportunities Unlimited. All rights Reserved. Used with permission. Visit the Taylor's web site at www.cgtaylor.com.


Sexuality in the Stepfamily: Yours and Your Children’s

Since the stepfamily consists of two or more bloodlines under one roof, the issue of sexuality in the stepfamily can be a difficult one. When you have unrelated teens living in close quarters, sharing a bathroom, etc. it is very important to set clear boundaries. Here are some guidelines proposed by the National Stepfamily Resource Center as researched by Margaret Engel, PhD.

  1. Monitor your displays of sexuality.

    A new marriage brings a sexual aura into the household. The newlyweds may hug, hold hands, exchange special glances and murmur “sweet nothings”. They may make obvious efforts to set aside private time behind closed doors. Adolescents may be inordinately embarrassed by this at a time when they are are managing their own raging hormones, and they may become even more curious about experimenting with sexual behaviors. Such displays may also set off kids’ negative reactions to the new marriage. Studies indicate that adolescents in stepfamilies are at greater risk for early sexual experiences. Monitoring your obvious displays of sexuality may help, as will clearly communicating your family values.

  2. Err on the side of conservatism in dress and privacy.

    The sexual atmosphere can be heightened in the household by provocative dress, casual nudity, and inadequate bathroom facilities during peak use times. Relaxed behavior that did not present a problem in the single family home does create a problem in the stepfamily. Ensure that all members of the home dress appropriately; and allow each member privacy. There may be one person who is uncomfortable with a casual attitude around dress and privacy, but is embarrassed to say anything.

  3. Openly discuss the new sibling relationships in the family and expectations for behavior.

    The combining of unrelated, sexually mature male and female family members into one household increases the potential for confusion about appropriate roles. A teenage girl might wonder if the attractive new boy in the home is going to be a brother or a possible boyfriend. A teenage boy may wonder if he’s supposed to make romantic overtures to prove his manliness. Many adolescents are tempted to translate their curiosity or frustration into romantic experimentation with similarly confused stepsiblings.

    Amid the confusion, there may be legal issues to consider. Family laws vary state by state regarding legal relationships between stepparents and stepchildren, and ages of sexual relationship consent versus rape with a minor Family laws are typically silent when it comes to relationships between stepsiblings. It is up to the stepparents to put strong boundaries in place, and to extend the incest taboo across stepfamily lines. A romantic relationship between stepsiblings can cause serious complications and repercussions.

    Parents and stepparents should remain tuned in to the potential for unclear boundaries as children mature, if the stepfamily was formed when children were younger. Be prepared to discuss sexuality in the stepfamily, and to prevent an additional complication to an already complex family structure!


Step-Grandparents

Carolyn and Bob Henderson became step-grandparents almost two years ago when their son married into a family with three children from a previous marriage. Since they had been looking forward to becoming grandparents someday, Carolyn and Bob were excited about the prospect of becoming instant grandparents, yet wondered what this step-grandparent role would look like.

The Hendersons are not alone. According to the latest statistics, up to 33 percent of persons 65 years or older are step-grandparents and the numbers are growing rapidly. Those who find themselves in this new role recognize that they face a potentially awkward situation as they work to find their place in the family.

“When we became step-grandparents the children were 2, 9, and 14", said Mr. Henderson. “There were no other grandfathers in the picture, but there were two very active grandmothers and Carolyn would make three. Recognizing that we had not been around these children since birth and we had no idea what they liked to eat or what they liked to do, we decided to take it slowly. We were not going to try and make up for years of living in hours. We wanted to respect the other grandparents and let the children know that we were genuinely interested in a relationship with them.”

According to some step-grandchildren, this can be an awkward time, especially if there are other grandparents in the picture. One child explained that he already had a close relationship with his grandparents and didn’t really want a relationship with his step-grandparents.

Mr. Henderson recalls a time when Morgan, the youngest grandchild, saw him chewing gum and asked what he had in his mouth. He told her it was gum, but she might not like it because it was hot gum. She wanted a piece. Now every time she sees him she wants some of that ‘hot gum.’ He believes it is little things like this, going to football games, watching recitals and just being there that encourage bonding between step-grandparents and their grandchildren.

Experts agree that the best way to cultivate a relationship with step-grandchildren is to spend time with them. Find out about their areas of interests. Get to know their friends. Attend their sporting events. By focusing on these things step-grandparents can build strong healthy relationships with their step grandchildren.

The Hendersons offer these helpful tips to couples who find themselves in the role of step-grandparent:
  • Accept your role – you are a bit player, not the star of the show.
  • Recognize that there is usually lots of stress involved in bringing two families together. Do what you can to help minimize the stress versus creating more.
  • Don’t pry into the past.
  • Focus on the needs of the children, not your wishes for the relationship.
  • Remember special events.
  • Recognize that what works for some might not work for others. Every situation is unique.
  • Be as supportive as you can of their interests. If possible do things with them.
  • Support the parents in their rules, and expectations.
  • Find ways to praise the children and be slow to criticize.

In the words of a step-grandchild, “My life was already a juggling act. I didn’t need anymore complicated relationships.” Step-grandparents who are sensitive to the complexities of the situation and respect the grandchildren’s needs and wishes about their relationship stand a good chance of developing a life long bond with their step-grandchild. After all, isn’t that what grandparenting is really all about.


Forget 'the Brady Bunch'. New stepfamilies are usually more like the Hatfields and McCoys
Sunday, October 11, 2009
BY VIRGINIA ROHAN
The Record
STAFF WRITER

It was a short article in the Los Angeles Times — a filler, really.

But one sentence caught the attention of Passaic-bred television producer Sherwood Schwartz.

"It said that the previous year, almost 30 percent … of marriages included a child or children by a previous marriage," recalls Schwartz, who was producing "Gilligan's Island" when he came upon this item in 1965.

"Well, that means that almost a third of all marriages are including children from previous marriages. I'd been writing situation comedies for a long time, and I knew that instead of having 100 possible ideas, you'd have 500 ideas. It was like a light bulb lit up instantly."

And that's the way they all became "The Brady Bunch."

This fall, the debut of Schwartz's classic television comedy about stepfamilies celebrates its 40th anniversary. Since 1969, the sea change Schwartz sensed in America has become a tsunami.

Although exact statistics are difficult to come by, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center's fact sheet, more than half of Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be, in one or more step-situations during their lives. The Stepfamily Foundation, around since 1975, puts the estimate even higher, maintaining that "64 percent of families today live in some form of divorced and/or stepfamily relationship."

"I'm not sure if it's 64 percent, but it is the most prevalent lifestyle," says Robert Klopfer, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Stepping Stones Counseling Center in Ho-Ho-Kus, which specializes in enriching the quality of stepfamily life.

"When we started Stepping Stones in 1994, people didn't really know a lot about stepfamilies. And today, it's very prevalent, even though I still think there's some feeling about being identified as part of a stepfamily that people have trouble with. For some people, it's a bit of a stigma."

After Schwartz saw that long-ago news item, he was so sure other producers would pick up on it that he immediately registered the "Brady" concept with the Writers Guild of America. And yet, except for rare shows like ABC's new comedy "Modern Family" — in which Ed O'Neill's character has two adult children, a much-younger wife and an 11-year-old stepson who idealizes and endlessly prattles about his deadbeat dad — "The Brady Bunch" remains the standard bearer for TV stepfamilies.

But experts say the show conveys a fantasy image of stepfamily life. In it, Mike, a widower, and Carol — whose reasons for being single Schwartz deliberately left vague — mesh their families seamlessly and never really argue with each other.

In reality, stepfamilies are formed by two different cultures coming together — and there are lots of clashes.

"Usually you've got the Hatfields and the McCoys under the same roof," says Jeannette Lofas, founder and president of the Stepfamily Foundation, based in Manhattan.

Says Klopfer, " 'The Brady Bunch,' in essence, operated as a first family most of the time. There were no other parents, so there were all these kids with two adults, and they had awareness of step-relationships, but they didn't seem to have step issues. And it worked very well for television."

What's the harm in that?

"I think it set a model for many people," he says. "In the early stages of stepfamily life, which we call the fantasy stages of living together, the two adults fall in love, and they imagine it will be like 'The Brady Bunch,' where everybody will love each other and will get along and will have these little minor 30-minute episodic events that will happen and will all get worked out very quickly. [But] the statistic that we use is, it usually takes about four to seven years for a stepfamily to bond, to really feel like a real family."

And those are the lucky stepfamilies. According to the Stepfamily Foundation, when children are involved, 66 percent of those who are living together or are remarried break up.

Klopfer says one big problem is that when a couple in love marries, "the kids aren't in love. They're not even in like."

Lofas says parents have to be committed to learning a family-management system.

"They have to work with their spouse to create house rules that they can both get behind," she says. "The major, major, major problem is that families are forming without rules."

Stepfamilies get formed after three major developments — the death of a spouse, abandonment by one parent or divorce — all traumas that need to be worked through, Klopfer says.

For kids of different ages, there are "unique stressors," he says.

Adolescents, "at a time when they're trying to psychologically separate from their biological parents," find life infinitely more complicated when a new person, with possibly different views on discipline and independence, is introduced into the family.

"With younger kids, you have the whole issue of wanting to keep their families together, living in a fantasy world sometimes, imagining that if they're just good enough, or bad enough, maybe their biological parents will get back together again," Klopfer says. "So, you may have a perfect child who never does anything wrong and blames himself for the divorce. Or the opposite, the kids — what I call kamikaze kids — will try to do everything in their power to break up this new relationship."

Klopfer and his wife each had children from previous relationships, and at the beginning of forming a family, they struggled through issues, he says. They attended a Stepfamily Association of America support group in Fair Lawn and found it very helpful. And they decided to start Stepping Stones.

"When we started in 1994, there were not really a lot of materials around to help people, and … people didn't know what to do," he says. "But a lot of people, especially women, read and get all these books that are available now, even 'The Idiots' Guide to Stepfamilies,' which isn't a bad book. … People have knowledge now of what to do and what not to do."

Klopfer also sees the stigma of being in a stepfamily going away.

"I think there's a much greater acceptance of divorce in our culture," he says. "And schools are used to dealing with issues now where there are more than two parents.

"There's a whole big change in our culture, this sense of inclusion, of wanting people to feel a sense of belonging, as opposed to a sense of being on the outside looking in."

There may even be a growing awareness that there's really no such thing as "The Brady Bunch."

"They solved all their problems in 24 minutes," Lofas says. "We have never been able to do that."

It was a short article in the Los Angeles Times — a filler, really.

But one sentence caught the attention of Passaic-bred television producer Sherwood Schwartz.

"It said that the previous year, almost 30 percent … of marriages included a child or children by a previous marriage," recalls Schwartz, who was producing "Gilligan's Island" when he came upon this item in 1965.

"Well, that means that almost a third of all marriages are including children from previous marriages. I'd been writing situation comedies for a long time, and I knew that instead of having 100 possible ideas, you'd have 500 ideas. It was like a light bulb lit up instantly."

And that's the way they all became "The Brady Bunch."

Step by step

1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day.

More than 50 percent of U.S. families are the result of remarriages or re-couplings.

One out of two marriages will end in divorce.

About 75 percent of divorced people eventually remarry.

60 percent of all remarriages eventually end in divorce.

66 percent of those who are living together or are remarried break up when children are involved.

80 percent of remarried or re-coupled partners with children both have careers.

Sources: The Stepfamily Foundation and the National Stepfamily Resource Center at Auburn University.

This fall, the debut of Schwartz's classic television comedy about stepfamilies celebrates its 40th anniversary. Since 1969, the sea change Schwartz sensed in America has become a tsunami.

Although exact statistics are difficult to come by, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center's fact sheet, more than half of Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be, in one or more step-situations during their lives. The Stepfamily Foundation, around since 1975, puts the estimate even higher, maintaining that "64 percent of families today live in some form of divorced and/or stepfamily relationship."

"I'm not sure if it's 64 percent, but it is the most prevalent lifestyle," says Robert Klopfer, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Stepping Stones Counseling Center in Ho-Ho-Kus, which specializes in enriching the quality of stepfamily life.

"When we started Stepping Stones in 1994, people didn't really know a lot about stepfamilies. And today, it's very prevalent, even though I still think there's some feeling about being identified as part of a stepfamily that people have trouble with. For some people, it's a bit of a stigma."

After Schwartz saw that long-ago news item, he was so sure other producers would pick up on it that he immediately registered the "Brady" concept with the Writers Guild of America. And yet, except for rare shows like ABC's new comedy "Modern Family" — in which Ed O'Neill's character has two adult children, a much-younger wife and an 11-year-old stepson who idealizes and endlessly prattles about his deadbeat dad — "The Brady Bunch" remains the standard bearer for TV stepfamilies.

But experts say the show conveys a fantasy image of stepfamily life. In it, Mike, a widower, and Carol — whose reasons for being single Schwartz deliberately left vague — mesh their families seamlessly and never really argue with each other.

In reality, stepfamilies are formed by two different cultures coming together — and there are lots of clashes.

"Usually you've got the Hatfields and the McCoys under the same roof," says Jeannette Lofas, founder and president of the Stepfamily Foundation, based in Manhattan.

Says Klopfer, " 'The Brady Bunch,' in essence, operated as a first family most of the time. There were no other parents, so there were all these kids with two adults, and they had awareness of step-relationships, but they didn't seem to have step issues. And it worked very well for television."

What's the harm in that?

"I think it set a model for many people," he says. "In the early stages of stepfamily life, which we call the fantasy stages of living together, the two adults fall in love, and they imagine it will be like 'The Brady Bunch,' where everybody will love each other and will get along and will have these little minor 30-minute episodic events that will happen and will all get worked out very quickly. [But] the statistic that we use is, it usually takes about four to seven years for a stepfamily to bond, to really feel like a real family."

And those are the lucky stepfamilies. According to the Stepfamily Foundation, when children are involved, 66 percent of those who are living together or are remarried break up.

Klopfer says one big problem is that when a couple in love marries, "the kids aren't in love. They're not even in like."

Lofas says parents have to be committed to learning a family-management system.

"They have to work with their spouse to create house rules that they can both get behind," she says. "The major, major, major problem is that families are forming without rules."

Stepfamilies get formed after three major developments — the death of a spouse, abandonment by one parent or divorce — all traumas that need to be worked through, Klopfer says.

For kids of different ages, there are "unique stressors," he says.

Adolescents, "at a time when they're trying to psychologically separate from their biological parents," find life infinitely more complicated when a new person, with possibly different views on discipline and independence, is introduced into the family.

"With younger kids, you have the whole issue of wanting to keep their families together, living in a fantasy world sometimes, imagining that if they're just good enough, or bad enough, maybe their biological parents will get back together again," Klopfer says. "So, you may have a perfect child who never does anything wrong and blames himself for the divorce. Or the opposite, the kids — what I call kamikaze kids — will try to do everything in their power to break up this new relationship."

Klopfer and his wife each had children from previous relationships, and at the beginning of forming a family, they struggled through issues, he says. They attended a Stepfamily Association of America support group in Fair Lawn and found it very helpful. And they decided to start Stepping Stones.

"When we started in 1994, there were not really a lot of materials around to help people, and … people didn't know what to do," he says. "But a lot of people, especially women, read and get all these books that are available now, even 'The Idiots' Guide to Stepfamilies,' which isn't a bad book. … People have knowledge now of what to do and what not to do."

Klopfer also sees the stigma of being in a stepfamily going away.

"I think there's a much greater acceptance of divorce in our culture," he says. "And schools are used to dealing with issues now where there are more than two parents.

"There's a whole big change in our culture, this sense of inclusion, of wanting people to feel a sense of belonging, as opposed to a sense of being on the outside looking in."

There may even be a growing awareness that there's really no such thing as "The Brady Bunch."

"They solved all their problems in 24 minutes," Lofas says. "We have never been able to do that."


When a Parent Dates a Non-Parent
by Donald R. Partridge

Bill, a single adult with no kids, has become quite interested in Shirley, a single mom. They are out at a restaurant on their first date and are having a very enjoyable time getting to know each other.

But Bill has a problem, a huge problem—only he doesn’t know it. You see, Bill thinks he and Shirley are alone at their table, just the two of them. He doesn’t know it, but they are not alone at all.

Shirley is a parent, meaning her mind and heart is bound up tightly with her daughter, Carole. And even though at this moment Carole is staying with her dad, in reality she is as close to her mother as if she were present. Bill knows that Shirley has a five-year-old daughter but has yet to understand what this means. He doesn’t realize that even though the mother and daughter are not physically together, the daughter is still very much with her mother. So in many ways Shirley’s daughter is in the restaurant with her. And with the daughter comes a whole host of people.

Connected to Carole are her dad, her dad’s girlfriend, her dad’s parents, and other relatives of her dad who care about Carole. And all of these people are in Shirley’s life as they all have an interest in the welfare of her young child.

Unknown to himself, Bill is dating a crowd.

And if Bill and Shirley ever decide to marry, it will not be just the two of them standing at the altar. Bill may not realize it, persons attending the wedding may not realize it, even Shirley may not realize it—but Bill will be standing there saying “I do” to a crowd.

Potential Clash of Environments

The truth is that Bill and Shirley live in completely different environments. They may themselves be quite compatible and find many interests in common, but what may not be compatible are their environments—which are actually worlds apart and are very difficult if not impossible to mesh. So it’s only a matter of time before Bill’s and Shirley’s environments clash. Initially what promises to be a very fulfilling relationship can easily prove to be the most difficult experience of their lives.

Look at Bill’s environment as a single adult. It does not involve children or a past divorce. It is self-styled and self-controlled. It is as simple or as complicated as he chooses to make it. It is consistent, scheduled, orderly, and predictable. At the end of Bill’s work day, what he does with his evenings and weekends are for him alone to decide.

When problems arise, he remains in control. With Bill, problems don’t last—they get resolved. Solutions are always found. Bill has never had to cope with issues beyond his control or life situations that require long-suffering and endurance.

Now look at Shirley’s life. Surrounding Shirley is a maze of issues and problems which will not go away. She has ongoing difficulties with her ex-husband, she is still suffering emotional heaviness from her divorce, and she has to bear all the responsibilities of providing a home, food and clothing and a vehicle for herself and her daughter. Add to the above Shirley’s loss of a traditional family structure, loss of having her child under her complete control, loss of a double income, and, especially, loss of self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. And Shirley must bear all of these burdens alone.

Imagine what’s going to happen when Bill, the problem solver, becomes part of Shirley’s complex and crowded life.

It won’t be the couple who are the problem—they are doing great together. It is their environments that will be at serious odds. This may sound really strange to say, but Bill’s success in life work against his future with Shirley. He has yet to experience unsolvable issues. Life for Bill is steady and controlled. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have the patience or ability to handle ongoing issues; it’s just that neither he nor Shirley knows yet how he’ll respond.

The paradox for Bill and Shirley is that Bill’s success in life and his ability to control his environment may be their undoing.

Bill thinks to himself that he will be able to handle all of Shirley’s difficulties. Once he has the freedom to do so, he’s looking forward to helping Shirley bring her life under control the way he has.

Whoa! It is exactly such an attitude that will bring down this very good relationship. Let’s see what happens.

Plans Gone Awry

Planning ahead for a Saturday when Carole will be with her father, Bill has purchased two tickets to a professional sports event, and he and Shirley are eagerly looking forward to spending the whole day together. But when that morning arrives, Shirley’s ex-husband Greg calls to say he cannot pick up Carole due to demands from his work. He asks Shirley if they can change the scheduled pickup to the next week. Shirley is disappointed but reluctantly agrees.

When Bill arrives at Shirley’s apartment, he’s surprised to see little Carole and a clearly flustered Shirley. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that the presence of Carole means that he and Shirley will not get to spend the day alone and will not be able to attend the sports event together. As Shirley is trying to explain to Bill why Greg had to change the visitation schedule, all Bill hears is that Shirley has caved in to Greg’s demands.

Bill asks Shirley why Greg doesn’t work overtime on weeknights instead of weekends. Shirley has no answer. Bill asks Shirley if she can get a babysitter for Carole for the sports event—Shirley says she tried but everyone was busy. Bill demands that Shirley call Greg back and tell him that she is going to drop Carole off at his home according to their schedule. Shirley refuses, pointing out that she doesn’t want to do anything that will cause more difficulty in her and Greg’s already strained relationship.

Bill has just been baptized into Shirley’s environment.

Bill wants Shirley’s environment to be controlled and disciplined just like his. He doesn’t understand management and compromise. Bill labels what Shirley did as weakness. According to Bill, Shirley should call up Greg and tell him straight out that they are going to stick to their agreed-upon plan. Her standing up for herself will cause Greg to apologize humbly, cancel his decision to work overtime, and come over immediately to pick up Carole—and never try to change the schedule again!

And, according to Bill, if Shirley refuses to confront Greg and will not force him to submit to the original plan, then she’s the problem. The tone of Bill’s attitude and demands are crystal clear to Shirley. The blame for their spoiled special day rests squarely on her shoulders.

What NOT to Say

Listed below are some beginning phrases frequently used by a non-parent like Bill toward a parent like Shirley:
You must…
You should…
I insist on it!
You have to…
You ought to…
How can you…
Why don’t you…
Why didn’t you…
If I were you, I’d…
Why do you allow…
I suggest that you…
I wouldn’t have said that!
How come you didn’t say…
You go back to him and say…
What you should have said was…
How could you let your ex-spouse…

Get the tone of these phrases? Accusatory. Blaming. Inflammatory. Punishing. Also strongly implied is that Bill is the one with wisdom and understanding, the one who knows what is best for Shirley and Carole. Also implicit is that Shirley is the poor, needy individual who doesn’t know how to manage her life effectively.

Bill asks Shirley, “Why do you allow Greg to impose what he wants over what you want?” “Why do you have to adjust your schedule to accommodate his?” “How can you just give in to him like that?” “Why doesn’t Greg adjust his schedule to fit yours?” “Call him up and tell him he cannot always have what he wants.” “I wouldn’t ever allow anyone to push me around like that!”

If Bill truly cares about Shirley and wants to continue their relationship, he must never approach her with this kind of authority and power.

Instead, he must learn all he can about Shirley’s environment and her ways of operating within it. He must accept how Shirley has decided to manage her life and allow her to make her own decisions, even if she is, in his opinion, making mistakes. This is her environment, her child, and her ex-husband and he will need to approach Shirley and what is happening in her life with caution and humility.

What TO Say

Bill might choose to say things like:
Don’t be disappointed…
We can do other things...
Please don’t worry about it…
I’m happy just to be with you…
Being with you is more important…
Maybe we ought to check with Greg…
The important thing is we’re together…
We probably should always have a plan B…
I appreciate your desire to be with Carole…
I will always support your decision to put Carole first…

If Bill cannot approach Shirley as a learner and if he refuses to allow her to make her own decisions regarding her life and Carole’s life, then they shouldn’t date. He absolutely must not come into the relationship with an attitude of acquisition, treating Shirley like some employee subject to his demands and control. He must be very supportive of Shirley and take the trouble to understand the complexities of her environment and her ways of managing it. If he does have any suggestions, he can certainly take the time to talk with her about certain situations, with the understanding that it is Shirley who will always make the final decision.

Imagine what would have happened if Bill and Shirley had married early. Bill would likely have destroyed their blending family with his attempts to dominate an environment completely alien to anything he had ever encountered.

Equal Environments

As we noted in our previous article titled, Understanding the Environments of the Stepfamily, the formula for two parents marrying is 1+1=2, or, one extreme environment of one parent plus one extreme environment of another parent equals two extreme environments.

Interesting, however, is that with a single adult dating a single parent the formula remains the same: 1+1=2!

The single adult becomes an extreme environment for the parent due to lack of understanding and insistence on behaviors that simply will not work.

We can see that Bill exhibits all of the characteristics of becoming an extreme environment for Shirley. Everything he is doing is putting more pressure on Shirley’s already pressure-filled life. So, if she marries Bill, instead of living in just her own extreme environment, she will have to contend with two extreme environments, which will possibly dismantle their relationship.


© 2009 Dr. Donald R. Partridge, All Rights Reserved

Dr. Donald Partridge’s first marriage lasted thirteen years. Divorced and with two very young children Don remarried and has been in a highly successful stepfamily with seven children for the past 22 years.

Dr. Partridge has committed himself to working full time with single parents and stepfamilies. You can find more information and helpful literature written by Dr. Partridge at www.blendingfamily.com.


Does Stepfamily Counseling Work?
by Robert Klopfer, LCSW

Many adults living in stepfamilies have undergone counseling or psychotherapy before. At least one of the adults has had to face the loss of a significant previous relationship. When life in a stepfamily gets difficult, should the adults consider another round of counseling? Will facing the issues bring more discord and discomfort? Should the children or adolescents be in therapy? What can we expect to get from Stepfamily Counseling?

While each stepfamily is different and the issues they face are wide-ranging, we know some basic facts about the advantages of stepfamily counseling and how it will benefit the participants when it is effective. We know that stepfamily living involves more conflict situations that are built-in to the family structure. Many of us hate conflict and hope to avoid it at all costs. Many of us come from previous relationships that had too much conflict. The areas of frequent conflict in the stepfamily system are: stepparent-children, former spouse(s), former in-laws, insider-outsider concerns, changes in family rituals, visitation, financial inequities, and many more.

Stepfamily counseling helps the adults to focus on these issues, break them down to bite-sized chunks, and look at them in new perspectives. Most of us had no idea of what to expect when we began our journey as a stepfamily. Dr. James Bray found a lack of understanding of this process and a failure to adjust to it were key elements that caused stepfamilies to fail and couples to re-divorce. The stepfamily counselor helps the family develop a map of the territory, a way of finding their unique way to traverse the process of stepfamily development and to find road-markers to help the process along. While conflict is more prevalent in early stepfamily life, it usually calms down when people get to know each other and, hopefully, over time, to care for each other.

Many children and adolescents bring unresolved losses into their stepfamily. If these losses increase, children and adolescents may get depressed or act out against authority. This leads to school adjustment difficulties. Counseling for youngsters who need understanding, support, and outside guidance is crucial to their well-being and will enhance the quality of stepfamily life for all members of the family. Our counseling orientation helps the parents by including them in parent-child sessions to help all to understand the bruises these children have sustained, how to treat them effectively, and help them to heal. An earlier research study (Visher and Visher) found the key to success for adults in stepfamily counseling was how the counselor addresses step-issues in an understanding and competent manner. These couples report a high degree of satisfacton with the process and significant improvement in their family life. Focus on resolving current conflicts and drawing a road map for the couple was crucial to a positive outcome. For children and adolescents, the counselor's understanding of their losses, their adjustment difficulty, and their unyielding wish to preserve their sense of a family they knew and cherished was key to the successful resolution of current discomfort and helpful to their adjustment to their real family situations.


Grass and Gratitude
by Jayna Haney

It happened again. At the holidays, it can grab hold of you and not let go. Uh? I know I'm talking crazy but it really is true. What? Okay, I'll explain...

It started with opening up a holiday newsletter from a friend of mine. She and her husband and two kids just moved to a smaller town north of Houston and live the perfect life. I'm glad for my friend, but it really made me start wishing. I wish I wasn't divorced. I wish I could just pick up and move. I wish I had made better decisions.

Then comes the wanting. I want to just move to a small town. I want to have a "normal" family instead of a stepfamily. I want to have her perfect life.

Then, the lack settles into my bones. By that time, I feel so bad about myself, my life and my choices, I am downright depressed. How long did all this wishing, wanting and lack take to get me from happy to feeling depressed- 30 seconds maybe! It is important to honor (and not shove) feelings of sadness, lack, etc. but don't stay there.

There are two lessons I have learned about wishing, wanting and lack:

First, Gratitude. Wishing, wanting and lack strikes fast and furiously (anybody out there know what I am talking about?) especially at holiday times. Gratitude is the answer. But you have to practice it.

Many years ago before I divorced, I read the book "Simple Abundance". It talks about being grateful for the simplest of things- sheets on your bed, food in your stomach, flowers, trees, etc. Make a list of 5 things everyday and write them down. When I am in lack, I first just tell myself it is okay to have those feelings. But then...if I turn my attention toward making my list in my head or on paper, it helps a lot. First, I list my sheets on the bed, my family, my Mom, etc, and before you know it, I have a lot more than 5. I can even count things like Suduko, laughing, my favorite pair of shoes, good sleep, etc.

All the sudden, I am no longer in Lack. I can see the good things in my life again. My life is just fine! But I have to intentionally look for good things - and see them again. And it works.

Second, Grass. That grass that always looks greener on the other side isn't. It is never greener. That's right- Never. We spend a lot of time looking at everyone else around us (which starts the wishing and wanting.) But I've learned that there are no perfect families or lives of any kind anywhere. Everyone has stuff in their life that you wouldn't want. You wouldn't want their life if you knew about them.

For me, it hit home the year that a college friend of mine lost her husband and 3 children in a car wreck. Tragic. And here I was complaining about my life. My single parent life with 2 children, job and money stress, trying to figure out what the heck I was doing- It looked really, really good at that moment. I had my kids, my life, my future, and all those other things on my gratitude list that make me happy.

My wish for you: Find the green of your grass (and keep finding it) and be grateful!

Jayna Haney works with single parents and stepfamilies to create satisfying lives and healthy families with programs, strategies and tools designed especially for them. Jayna is passionate about her work - having been both a single parent with two children, and now, part of a stepfamily. Author, speaker, educator and coach, Jayna and her husband of 8 years, Mike, live in Houston and have a lot of fun with their four kids, ages 12 to 15.

You can learn more about Jayna and The Bridge Across at www.thebridgeacross.com.


Counseling Tips For A Single-Mom in Step:
WHO GETS CUSTODY OF THE SCHOOL PLAY?

by Brenda Rodstrom, LCSW

School is in full swing – kids have settled into the routine, and some great extra-curricular activities round out the enjoyment for many. There are opportunities for parents to become involved in their children’s school life, which is a mixed blessing for the parents who are divorced.

As a stepfamily coach and counselor, I hear many single mom’s dread the times when they will have to be in the same space as their former partner. Possibly more challenging, they eventually have to share that space with the new wife. Here is one case scenario.

THE SCHOOL PLAY
Stephanie’s daughter Sarah is in a school play. Stephanie has been coaching Sarah on her lines. Mother and daughter are very excited. However, as the night of the play approaches, Stephanie feels a knot growing in her stomach. Her former-husband, Charles, will be there – with his new wife. She cannot bear to be in the presence of the woman who ruined her marriage. She does not plan on speaking to her. She will stay as far away from both of them as possible.

WHAT SHOULD STEPHANIE DO?
Stephanie’s feelings are understandable. It is painful to see her former-husband with “the other woman.” But, it would be damaging to Sarah to see so much friction between her parents.

GETTING THROUGH THE NIGHT
Stephanie’s situation is similar to many that I have helped women (and men) get through. Here are a few ideas that have helped others.

  1. Invite a friend or relative to accompany you to school events when your former will be there. The friend serves as a buffer and support.
  2. It is important that Stephanie does talk to her “former” – and his wife. They don’t have to sit together, but civility is required. Children who fare best after a divorce are those whose parents make a real effort to form a co-parenting relationship.
  3. After that very difficult task, Stephanie deserves a treat! A massage the next day, a good movie, or a night out with friends.

DRESS REHEARSAL FOR THE FUTURE
A school event is, in effect, a dress rehearsal for much bigger events. The time you spend at this event is a lot less than what lies ahead. Think graduations, taking your child to college, weddings, and grandchildren’s birthday parties. These will happen sooner than you think! They will be so much easier if you get used to being in the same space as your “former” a little bit at a time.

DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
It takes a long time to get over a divorce. Of course it can be hard to see the man you were married to with someone else. It will get easier over time. There are divorce support groups, single mom’s groups, and a lot of therapists and counselors who can give you the support you deserve. Remember, your well being is good for your child as well as yourself.

Brenda Rodstrom, LCSW, works extensively with single mothers, stepmothers, and members of stepfamilies. She is a member of the Stepping Stones Counseling Center Staff. She is the founder of Stepfamily Dynamics Counseling and Coaching.

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Our Readers Respond...

* .... My son and my daughter get along with my special-other very well. My son, age 17, asked if we were going to get married. I told him I was not sure, we had not been discussing it. He said,"That's okay, Mom, but if you are going to break up, please wait until I go to college." (Thanks to Terri for her anecdote.)

* .... When you gather your children together to create a stepfamily, you hope they will find some common ground. Much to our dismay, our teens have found the common bond of traffic violations! Recently my nearly 19 year old son came home, noticed his stepbrother (age 17) on the couch and exclaimed, "Hey, nice job! I heard you're a criminal too. They proceeded to give each other a high five and their bond was solidified." (Thanks, again, to Sheli Dansky-Danzinger)

Join the Stepfamily Association of America.
Read The Stepfamily Quarterly Magazine.
Call (800) 735-0329 for more information.

For more information on these and other stepfamily topics, check our recommended reading list provided by barnes and noble.com.


Notes from the President

The word "stepfamily" or any other step combination IS NOT HYPHENATED. The spell-check programs on most computer software programs hyphenate the words and it is definitely an annoyance. Sometimes, even our own literature does not catch all of those "corrections".

The media seems to have a love affair with the designation "blended family." "Blended" is like hearing chalk screech on a chalkboard. Stepfamilies are not blended! Healthy ones recognize that children from prior relationships have two families and do not blend solely into one family. Stepfamilies that try to ignore this reality are typically doomed to either failure or considerable unhappiness on the part of several or all of the stepfamily members. We are combined families, extended families, expanded families, almost anything is better than blended as a designation!

Dr. Marjorie Engel, President of the Stepfamily Association of America


Below are links to previous articles that have appeared in our newsletter. Check back as this list grows!

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As we embark on the mission to empower stepfamilies through a Stepfamily community we would welcome any ideas, suggestions, or questions you will share with us. Please participate in our vision of raising self-esteem in-step and providing a voice for stepfamilies in Northern New Jersey.

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