Stepfamilies


Adding this to my “books to read” list….

My Father Married Your Mother – Candid essays compiled on stepfamilies

The 26 essays in “My Father Married Your Mother” tackle the subject of stepfamilies from all directions… One thing that all the essays have in common is that they are brutally honest.

“I wanted them to only be honest because I thought the collection would only work if these were honest stories. To me the problem was that there was such deception about the experience of being in a stepfamily. People didn’t really want to talk about some of the deep feelings they have because they were not socially acceptable,” Burt says.

… Another common thread in the book is the theme of loss. “Every stepfamily is borne on the back of a loss. A child has lost a parent. Whether it’s through divorce or death or abandonment, there is a major loss that needs to be acknowledged,” Burt says.

Coping Strategies for Blended Families by Debbie Wilburn

Elizabeth Marquardt reports on sessions held at the International Conference on Children and Divorce. I have long felt that remarriage can be just as (if not more) difficult for the children as divorce, and the following excerpt does a great job of explaining one of the reasons why.

Claire Cartwright of the University of Auckland presented moving qualitative interviews with young adults who grew up in stepfamilies and, based on those interviews and other research, made several recommendations for clinical practice. The most striking, and one I couldn’t agree with more, is that parents in stepfamilies need to be told that the parent-child relationship is as important as the couple relationship. Sound obvious? It’s not. She and Scott Browning, a family therapist in Chestnut Hill PA (who gave out copies of his very helpful, brief paper, “Treating Stepfamilies: Alternatives to Traditional Family Therapy,” email him at scobrown (at) chc.edu for a copy) noted that traditional family therapy emphasizes the couple relationship first. In an intact family it makes sense — the mom and dad are often absorbed in the kids and their work and they need to be reminded to priortize their own relationship for everybody’s sake. But in a stepfamily, the kids need tremendous reassurance that they’re not losing their mom or dad to the new marriage. When you tell a stepchild that “the couple relationship comes first” (or, as Cartwright noted, one father’s probably well-intended but all-wrong words to his daughter: “I love your stepmom more than you,”) you reinforce their fears and further jeopardize the chances of the family’s success.

There is definitely a lack of research in this area. My hope is that researchers continue to press on and that it would lead to greater awareness and understanding. Therapists especially need to know what approaches to take when treating divorced and step families, because they come with very different issues and dynamics than intact families.

Is Remarriage A Step in the Right Direction?
by Ron L. Deal
Originally published by Single Parent Family magazine, December, 2000.

In this article, Deal recommends that single parents consider the following factors before making the decision to remarry.

  1. Don’t begin the journey unless you’ve done your homework, counted the cost, and are willing to persevere until you reach the ‘Promised Land’.
  2. Make sure you’re not still haunted by the ghost of marriage past.
  3. Realize that a parent’s relationship with their children will be an intimacy barrier to the new marriage.
  4. Understand that cooking a stepfamily takes time.
  5. Accept the fact that remarriage is a gain for the adults and a loss for the kids.
  6. Dating is important but true stepfamily relationships start with the wedding.
  7. Discuss and develop a plan for your parenting roles.
  8. Develop a working relationship with your ex-spouse.
  9. Loyalties, left unattended, will divide and conquer a stepfamily.
  10. Consider the potential for sexual pressures within the home.

Of course he expands on each of these, so I recommend reading the entire article if you have the time. I found it refreshing to find someone with a realistic perspective on stepfamilies. It’s never as easy as people want you to believe.

I found an excellent write up regarding step-parents: http://www.parentalalienation.com/stepparents.htm

We need to be patient with children who are adjusting to a new step-parent. Don’t expect them to welcome the new parent with open arms. The natural parent has had time to grow to love the new spouse (obviously) but the child may have not. For the new couple the marriage is a joyous time, a new start for the divorced parent. But for the child it can be a very confusing time with a mix of positive and negative emotions.

My parents both remarried a few years after their divorce. I grew up living with my dad and stepmom. The adjustment to that remarriage seemed much more difficult than the adjustment after the divorce, but I was only 6 at the time of the divorce and only three years passed before my dad remarried.

Growing up, I had a rocky relationship with my stepmom. It has improved as I have matured and grown into adulthood, but it’s still a source of discomfort for me. It still often bothers me to see my father show my stepmom affection. Deep in my heart I have that longing to see him that way with my mother. I suppose I will never fully shed that longing. Don’t think I’m delusional, I don’t hold onto the hope that my parents will one day reunite. I know that is never going to be a possibility. But I do believe it’s natural to wonder how it would be if they were still together and the divorce had never happened.

What do you think about remarriage? Step-parents? Did either of your parents remarry? How did you feel about it then? How do you feel about it now? Was it a positive change for your family or a negative one?