Monday, June 21, 2010

The Wicked Stepmom

Ron L. Deal (Amarillo, Texas). Kyron Horman is missing. The 7 year-old boy from Oregon has been missing for over two weeks and authorities are looking everywhere to find him. It must have been the stepmother, right?

Apparently authorities are now taking a closer look at Terri Horman, Kyron’s stepmom. Of course, I have no idea whether in this case the stepmother is guilty, but what is troubling is that society finds it easy to believe that a stepmother is the culprit. One post to an online news report said, “The stepmom was my first thought.” Another said, “Typical story. Divorced father gets custody of his child, hooks up with another woman. Life is great at first…Then things start to come apart.”

When a biological mother is accused of harming their own child, doubt is our first reaction (“How can that be? A mom would never do that!”). But stepparents rarely get that benefit of the doubt. Did you know that the original version of Cinderella (and other popular fairy tales) portrayed the mom as the wicked parent who abused her own daughter? Later, the Brothers Grimm changed the story to a wicked stepmother so it was more “acceptable” and, therefore, more marketable, to society. And still today, we are quick to judge.

It’s my experience that stepmothers (and stepdads) are not wicked or evil or manipulative. Except in a few highly publicized cases, they are distinctly sacrificial and deserve a pat on the back from society. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Today, say thanks to someone’s stepparent.

Sandra Bullock and Stepfamilies

Ron Deal (Amarillo, Texas). Everyone wants a successful marriage; actress Sandra Bullock is no exception to that. “I’ve always been very skeptical about marriage because I only wanted to do it once,” she said a few years ago before marrying her now separated husband Jesse. “I want to do it the right way.” But then she got blindsided. This past month we learned that Sandra and Jesse are divorcing following his alleged serial affairs.

What many don’t know is that Sandra’s marriage to Jesse James (yes, that’s his real name) is her first, but it is Jesse’s third. Even though this is a first marriage for her, it is a remarriage for them. Remarried couples have a tremendously high divorce rate—at least 60% when it just involves a couple, but more like two-thirds when stepchildren are present, as in Sandra’s case. I’m confident that the general demands of marriage blindside all of us, but remarried couples have many more blind spots: issues, dynamics, and stressors that erode their relationships. Not all marriages are the same and not all prescriptions for health are the same either.

If you know someone in a remarriage, point them toward resources that will help them beat the odds. If you are in a remarriage, read the monthly Smart Steps article in HomeLife magazine and visit us online today:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quitting Normal

Normality is overrated. In fact, most people think or hope for something idealized, perfect, or a mythical kind of life and simply call this impossible standard, "normal." Well, the quicker we can jettison this notion of normal and move on to reality, the better off we're going to be in our stepfamilies.

Oh, but it's so hard to let go of normal. Normal is addicting. Quitting normal is like quitting smoking. Even if you do get convinved it might actually be harmful to you, you still want to sneak out back puff on a little normal, all the while promising yourself you'll cut back...maybe quit someday. And you put off the necessary steps to commit to quitting.

Just like cigarettes, an additciton to normal can get pretty expensive. A constant hope for normal is necessarily a firm commitment to persistent disappointment and continual disillusionment. There is only so much disappointment a heart can take before it gives out. But I tell you, it doesn't have to be that way. There is an alternative to normal that you might just find, after a while, is something of a wonder.

OK, let's swith metaphors. People in stepfamilies are pioneers. By definition there is nothing normal about pioneering and charting new territory. It is always a creative effort. It is always about facing new situations and figuring out what to do about them. It is about eliminating the word failure and replacing it with learning opportunity. Pioneers do not fail. They learn.

If pioneers were to rely on what was normal, what could be assumed in the city, what they relied on when they had abundant resrouces at their fingertips, they would find their disappointment insurmountable. But pioneers do not carry with them this addiction to normal; rather, they carry with them a desire to learn from challenge, a belief that pain is a teacher, an expectation that the next thing that happens is probably not what they expected. Pioneers assume that life is about to teach them something and they have decided to be teachable.

So far we have tried to quit normal like a pioneer quits smoking. That is probably a good enough mixed metaphor that we do not need to add another to futher complicate the message. The point is this: One of the most challenging problems people in stepfamilies face is their assumptions, expectations, and I suggest addition to normal. The reason normal is not achievable is not because people in stepfamilies are not capable. Rather it is because there is no normal. You cannot arrive a place that does not exist. Healthy stepfamilies? Yes. Creative arrangements in stepfamilies? Sure. This-is-who-we-have-become-and-I-never-in-a-million-years-would-have-dreamt-this stepfamilies? Yep, that too.

Normal stepfamilies? Nope, not a chance. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Developing Stepfamily Loyalty

If there is one word that captures many of the dynamics of stepfamilies, it is "loyalty." There are so many differing loyalties which run deep and guide behaivors. Many of these loyalties conflict with each other and end up driving wedsges between family memebrs.

One of the conflicts which is common in stepfamilies is balancig the loyalty for spouse and bio child. If you are the bio parent, your parent relationship with your child preceded the marital relationship. When there is conflcit between your spouse and your child, it is very tempting to side with the bio child [developed loyalty] because it appears that they are treated unfairly by your spouse [developing loyalty]. This is a common situation and provides numerous challenges to the blending or "crockpotting" of families. This kind of conflict is often the source of the de-blending of the family. Situations such as these are notorious for presnting themseves as requiring you to choose one side or [betrayal] the other.

These conflicts are really a question. That question goes something like this: "Are we really a family?" This is not so much a question of wanting to be a family or not. Rather, it is more pragmatic. "Will we really pull this off or is this destined to end?"

When conflicts are understood as this question, it can send a chill up your spine, but it does not need to. Rather, what is needed involves a calm spirit and the firm commitment that you do not have to choose only your child or only your spouse. Rather, you must keep in mind what you are doing in the big picture - form a family. You are loyal to the family.

Here are some steps to preserve all loyalties:
1. Require couple time, bio time, step time, and whole family time to be define of the flow of life.

2. When #1 defines the flow of family life, then standing up to your most developed loyalties for the benefit of the family feels less like betryal because of the history and expected future of being together.

3. Use language which acknowledges each subgroup in the family in such a way that it is understood and expected that these subgroups are not only important to family life, but in fact ARE family life.

4. Trust the process. The question of "are we really a family?" will be asked hundreds of times over the year, perhaps thousands of times. Do not get sick of the question. Rather, be glad it is asked because it is an opportunity to show that, yes, we are indeed a family.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Slight Trajectory Adjustment

When I think of the word, "trajectory," I think of an object in motion headed toward something else. I think not only of the present location of the object, but also of the direction, the speed, and the potential impact of the object. Maybe it is like canoeing down a river.

Stepfamilies have trajectories. Certainly the question, "Where are we as a stepfamily?" is a really important question, but so it, "Where are we going?" That is the trajectory question.

For some stepfamilies, just asking the question is frightening. "Where are we going?" It can feel like canoeing through raging rapids and being afraid to ask about upcoming waterfalls.
The problem with canoeing down a river is that you can't just turn around and go back. But in stepfamilies, some people long to do just that. There is no turning around. That is the bad news. The good news is that you do not have to go ver that waterfall. A slight change in trajectory is what is needed. If we could get everyone paddling on the same side of the canoe, we might change our direction slightly, even though we are still going with the flow of the river. If we change our direction slightly, we might get close enough to shore to grab on the a low hanging branch and then we could all pull ourselves to shore and rest.
With only a slight trajectory adjustment, as opposed to fighting the entire river, a family can move to a safer and saner place - and hopefully avoid the waterfall.
Deciding what to do about the waterfall is much more roductive sitting around a campfire than in a canoe. Certainly you can't just wish the waterfall away, but you do not have to be a slave to it either. Your slight trajectory adjustment can get your family to the side for a breather, and then time to make decisions.
As you canoe through stepfamily life, consider making a slight trajectory change which can lead you to a safe and sane place for decision making. Then figure out what to do about that waterfall. Scout it out. Look for hidden portages. Maybe there is a trail. Maybe this trip is now a hiking trip and not a canoeing trip. There are many ways o deal with what is coming.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Smart Stepfamilies on Facebook

Well it is about time. Smart Stepfamilies enters the Web 2.0 world and is now on facebook. Click here to go to the Smart Stepfamilies Facebook group.

Lonely Times

Loneliness has nothing to do with the number of people surrounding you. A person surrounded by people could be lonely while a person in a solitary place could be most content and connected.

There are times with some people when being in their own step family is a lonely place. No, it should not be this way. The purpose of forming a new family was quite the opposite of being lonely. It might have been an attempt to solve the loneliness that was already there. Lonely times are never the goal, but sometimes they are the reality

St. John of the Cross might call these lonely times the dark night of the soul. He interpreted these times as a journey toward God. Mother Teresa, the iconic hero of the poor in India, apparently lived nearly her whole adult life in the dark night of the soul, and yet her entire life is also one whose influence made a lasting difference.

The point is this: when these lonely times come, and they probably will, it does not mean that you are worthless or meaningless. Rather, it just might be a call from God to contemplate, to pray, to seek your company with the Divine. Loneliness, after all, might be God calling out your name for a conversation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

How Not To Win In A Stepfamily

How do you win in a stepfamily?
Some people might think that there is no winning in a stepfamily. I am not sure I can tell you how to win, but I can share a few ways of how not to win.

1. Do not win by making someone else in your family lose.
2. Do not win by making personal satisfaction or comfort your measure of success.
3. Do not win by keeping tabs on how everyone else is being unfair.
4. Do not win by giving up on the family.
5. Do win by impsing the "right way" to be a stepfamily.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Waiting Game

If you are in a stepfamily or are in the planning stages of forming a stepfamily, then you are going to do some waiting. Oh yes, there is much waiting that must be done in stepfamilies. If you learn how to wait well, then you will increase your odds of successful stepfamily formation.

You will wait for your stepchildren to appreciate you.

You will for your children to appreciate their new stepparent.

You will wait for issues with your new spouse's former spouse to be worked out.

You will wait for that "normal" feeling.

You will wait for consistent child support.

You will wait for swaps for parenting time.

You will wait for peace.

You will wait for logistics to get worked out.

You will wait for logistics to get (re)worked out.

With all of this waiting it might be hard to imagine just when things are going to get good. Well, there is no magic answer as goodness is defined differently for everyone and timing also varies between people. But here is a little advice while waiting.

1. Ask yourself what you are supposed to be learning while waiting for whatever it is you are waiting for.

2. Assess the impact of how you do waiting on the members of your stepfamily.

3. List out who you are blaming for your having to wait and then figure out a better way to understand their position.

4. Find meaning in the waiting. The world is ripe with meaning in all things at all times. Don't let the meaning of waiting get lost in the frustration of waiting.

5. Activate your creativity while waiting. That means you should make the most of it. Make it beneficial that you had to wait.

Good luck in waiting.