Friday, December 29, 2006

Hope For Holiday Haters

It's Christmas and New Years and you're supposed to be happy about it. And yes, many people express their holiday joy in annual Christmas letters and make a big to do about everything holidays.

But what about holiday haters? What about the people who do much better in a routine? It's not that they are grinches because they are mean people, but rather they operate to their own (and everyone else's) benefit when they are in their daily routine.

New years day is Monday, and then the routine can begin again. No more Christmas consumerism craziness, no more obligation to have to "up" for every next party and event (most of which you don't give a rip about), no more I-don't-know-what-to-buy syndrome. All of that is goone for another year.

Hang on you holiday hater. Just a few more days. You can make it. I have faith in you. Once that routine begins again, you'll be your old self.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A New Beginning

The great thing about the new year coming is that it gives a benchmark for starting anew. I know that lots of people get all into resolutions this time of year, which is fine. However, it also means a lot of broken resolutions. Try something different this year.
Resolutions usually are impossible promises. Rather than making a promise you are not going to keep, why not commit to a theme to pursue?


For example, patience is a theme to pursue. A resolution is that you will be patient with your spouse, stepchildren or children. When it is a theme to pursue, then everytime you are patient you get credit for it. When it is a resolution, however, everytime you don't do it, you sre penalized for it.
Pursuing a theme in many ways is opposite of making a resolution. It is more achievable and more positive. Count your successes, not your failures and you are more likely to get more of hte behavior you are looking for. Penalized the behavior you don't want and you are likely to feel bad about it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas - No Stress

So this is Christmas. I sure do hope you have a good one. As a last minute refresher, please read Natalie Nichols Gillespie article on Successful Stepfamilies on holiday stress. You'll be glad you did.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Cards and the Pursuit of Normality

Sometimes stepfamilies form when the children are already grown up. That was my case. My parents divorced when I was in college and then my mother remarried when I was about 30 years. Life became different then. Holidays became different.

One point of tension came when my mother wanted me to address my new stepfather as father in my Christmas card to him. Well, that was never going to happen for one gigantic reason. He is not my father. What didn't help the situation is that one my stepfather's adult children addressed my mother as "mom."

Now, my mother was focused on the pursuit of normality, so I understand her action. But from my perspective, I did not want to accept the reality that with remarriage, my life was once again changing against my will. I am a stubborn one, you see.

But it gave me a little hint into what younger children go through when their newly formed stepfamilies push toward normality either too fast or inappropriately. It brings conflict and tension - especially during holidays.

Adjustment in stepfamilies and the pursuit of normality happens slowly. There is also an appropriate way to go about it. It is so important to understand this.

One thing my mother was doing was relieving her anxiety by (unbeknonwst to her) placing it on me. If I would have just addressed my stepfather as dad, then she would feel better about the whole situation. Well, that anxiety is hers to carry, not mine. Oh, I have my own that I don't need to place on here, so don't get me wrong. The point is that the desire for a feeling of normality can motivate behaviors that increase the tension father then decrease it.

So, when you're all around the tree or around the table, please be sensitive about pushing too quickly toward being a "normal" family, it is might just set you back.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stepfamilies: Bringing Sexy Back 2.0

How often do you have conversations with your spouse about sex?

I guess I need to qualify that. "Hey baby, let's jump in the sack," doesn't count. I mean a conversation about sex. Most people never talk about sex. Did you know that? They have sex at varying frequencies, but rarely discuss it in a mutual and non-demanding way.

And yet sex is one of the most important topics a couple can talk about. If the sex is not working for both of you, and the one it is not working for never says anything in conversation, I will bet you my next paycheck (which is nothing to brag about) that person is saying something about it non verbally. That person is avoiding it, being conveniently tired or busy, setting emotional booby-traps, and so on. Or, that person is so demanding that it is not really a conversation about sex and more resembles a desperate used car salesperson trying to make a quota - being shady or making ridiculous bargains.

I really want to encourage you to talk about sex. Yes, it's difficult because the topic is so charged, but that is why I recommended the book, Sheet Music, which several of you have taken me up on. It is a light-hearted, but very practical tool to assist couples in having meaningful conversations about sex. You won't regret it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stepfamilies: Bringing Sexy Back

Stepfamily life, especially when they initially form, can make your sex life complicated. Privacy issues, emotinoal adjustment, family integration, relational negotiations, residual emotional pain from previous relationship and on and on are not sexy. They are difficult. Without careful attention, the family dynamics can come to a screeching halt.

Don't let it happen. Sex is good. Find a way to keep your sexual relationship healthy. It is one of several ways that you remain connected as a married couple.

Yes, when people are very busy, they are also not "in the mood" too much. That is no reason to neglect this very important part of your relationship. Here are a few tips:

1. Sometimes you have got to get into sex before you got into the mood.
2. Get your house in order. A messy house is not sexy.
3. Read a sex book together. Sheet Music is good - see below.
4. Do not demand and do not withold. Pressure and frsutration are not sexy.
5. You're still sexy no matter how old you are, no matter if you drive a minivan, no matter is you've added a few pounds, no matter if you're tired.

So go on, bring sexy back.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ain't No Way To Fight

Holiday pressures can bottle up, intensify, and explode. When marital stress accumulates, it can be tempting to take it out on each other. Dont do it.
Conflict resolution skills are not just a nice thing learned at seminars and specialized classes at church, they are to be utilized when things heat up.
In all likelihood, you already know everything you need to do to reduce and resovle conflict. So, put it into play if the marital stress mounts.
By way of reminder, listen first. Your spouse's gripe likely has merit - at least to him or her. No matter what he or she says, you have something to learn from that conversation.
Make your case calmly without blame. Now, don't wimp out by giving in for the sake of peace. Without blame means do not accuse, do not use an accusing tone of voice, do not blame with your nonverbals. There are tons of ways to communicate blame. Get rid of all of them.
If you can't find resolve in one sitting, then revisit the conflict at an agreed upon time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Peace and Quiet

One thing the holidays typically do not afford families is a chunk of time for peace and quiet. With time off of work and opportunity to cram in as much family time as possible, alone time often takes a back seat or is thrown out altogether.

This is not good. Time spent alone, away from the hustle and bustle and chatter of the holidays, can be some of the best spent time. Sipping coffe while gazing out at the snow (if there is snow), or stealing away to a local coffee shop, or even snuggling up fo a mid afternoon nap can all be very healthy as you navigate the holidays.

Most importantly is reflection time. Certainly the only moment we have to live in is the moment we are in, but reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future deserve attention as well. Certainly reflecting on the past should be on the positive past for encouragement adn th negative past only for education (not for self-condemnation). Likewaise, dreaming of the future should be spent on the poosibilities of the future, not a gloom and dooom forecast.

Happy holidays! May you find a moment to be whisped away by wonder.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Money, Children & Child Support

This is just a simple reminder. Money, as it relates to child support or alimony, is completely restricted for children.

There is no good end to involving your children in conversation that are related to child support. Here are my reasons:

1. The child, no matter what they say, will assign a value to himself or herself based on the number of dollars transferred in support.

2. It's none of their business. They did not cause their family structure and therefore have no place in the financial arrangements that the structure requires.

3. If the kids are involved in child support conversations, then they will no doubt utilize this opportunity as leveage against one, but probably both, parents. You do not want this to happen.

4. And finally, if the kids are involved in conversations about child support with you, then you are probably avoiding a conflict you need to have with your former spouse.

Nope, it's not easy to keep the kids out of this kind of conversation, but the truth is that you must. It is a toxic topic for children and teens.

God bless.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

If Santa Never Showed Up

By Ron L. Deal
President, Successful Stepfamilies

Imagine the disappointment of your child if Santa never showed up at his or her house. I mean, if Santa didn't bring them—or anyone else in your home—anything for Christmas how would your child feel? Left out? Dismissed? Insignificant? Unimportant?

Now imagine a stepparent that intentionally withdrawals from a child over an extended period of time. Day after day the stepparent’s rejection is perceived as a running commentary on the child: insignificant, unimportant, and dismissed.

There is a renewed effort by many Christians throughout the world to encourage couples to adopt a child. Recently a Focus on the Family radio broadcast featuring Stephen Curtis Chapman highlighted the efforts of his organization Shaohannah’s Hope to partner with groups like Focus on the Family and FamilyLife to encourage Christian adoption both within the US and abroad. Our own Natalie Nichols Gillespie (managing editor of my monthly E-Newsletter) has herself adopted a child and has just completed a new book on the subject entitled Successful Adoption: A Guide for Christian Families. The point I’m trying to make is this: all over the world people are encouraging others to adopt children. How ironic that many stepparents have an incredible opportunity to influence the life of a child—to “emotionally adopt” them, if you will—but choose not to.

No, I’m not suggesting that all stepparents should formally adopt their stepchildren. I’m only suggesting that they intentionally utilize the opportunities God has given them to influence their stepchildren. For years most of the feedback I got from frustrated biological parents was that their spouses were too rough on their kids. They came in like a bull in a china closet and caused a lot of conflict in the home. Now, I’m getting more and more feedback from biological parents who wish their spouse (the stepparent) would emotionally engage their children instead of choosing a “complete hands-off” approach. What a waste.

This Christmas season, can you imagine Joseph taking a “he’s your kid, not mine” approach with Mary? Instead of becoming a loving influence to Jesus, can you envision Joseph going fishing or spending all his time with his other biological children (who, of course, came later)? No, I believe that God chose Mary not only because of her character, but Joseph’s as well. The Holy Spirit knew that he would be a vital contributor to Jesus’ childhood and even though we have no account of it, I’m confident he was. Mary’s gift to the world was giving birth to the Savior; Joseph’s gift was loving him as his own.

Please don’t be confused, this is not to call into question what I teach about stepparents being the “baby-sitter” initially with their stepchildren. The purpose of that “hands-off” approach to authority and affection is to give stepparents time to do just what I’m suggesting here: become a loving, trustworthy, influential role model in the lives of their stepchildren.

Don’t miss out on your God-given calling—and if you already have, repent and get in the game! There’s so much you can do to bless a child.

For further reading, check out this online article, also by Ron L. Deal.

Friday, November 24, 2006

All Aboard For Christmas

You made it through Thanksgiving. I hope that there was much thanks given in your celebration.

And now, Christimas is on the way.

When family gets together for the holidays, there is usually some unstructured time that evolves into playing games, taking naps, and talking. Sometimes, however, when (step)family time is uncomfortable, people find ways to avoid contact and connection. The problem is when you have the ,"How fast can I get out of here?" attitude going, then you are missing out on something.

Truth is, everyone has something interesting about them that you don't know. Little known facts often emerge in conversations, if you take the time to conversate.

That's part of being "All Aboard" for Christmas. These kinds of conversations can be part of the "flavors" of each other's lives "blending." When these kind of conversations are avoided, then it just prolongs the unblending that so often happens in stepfamilies.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The discipline of Thanksgiving

Many families will get together this week and celebrate a great American holiday - Thanksgiving. Some will have a fine spread like the one pictured here. Turkey, pie, pumkiny things, and so forth. Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to appreciate God's generous blessings in our lives.

For some people, however, Thanksgiving is a tolerated interruption that requires acting nice, being polite, and being proper in front of people they don't like. For others it means either splitting time or swapping holidays - one with mom and ther other with dad. For some kids it can be so stressful that they can't wait to get back to school.

I encourage you to be thinking now, before the actual day of Thanksgiving, to list that for which you are thankful. Think people and possessions. Think freedom and opportunity. You have much to be thankful for no matter how you feel.

Which leads me to my next point. Some people don't feel any sense of gratitude because the stress of life has weighed on them, they have had some bad experiences, or they believe the bad has outweighed the good. Gratitude is not a feeling, it is a discipline. Giving thanks is not some little extra thing people can do if they feel like it. It is something that should be practiced, like drawing, bowling, or dance. It is something that you need to get good at. Few have a natural gift for being good at gratitude.

The practice of thanksgiving is what will make for a good Thanksgiving. Go ahead, give it a try and see if you are good at it. If you are, don't withhold your ability from people. And if you are lousy at it, then try to develop that skill of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Myth: The Evil Stepmother

"There are over 900 stories written about evil or wicked stepmothers. They are particularly common in fairy tales, which suggest that stepmothers are comparable to wild animals and supernatural beings that treat children wickedly. In the past, the stepmother's role was to replace the child's biological mother who had died. Many of these bad examples are seen in such stories as "Cinderella" and "Snow White" where children are portrayed as victims who hate their stepmothers."

Click here for more myths.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stepfamily Myths Debunked

If you want to check out some more stepfamily myths, go here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Myth: Stepfamilies are broken homes

"Stepfamilies are broken homes." I am sure that you have heard this one on more than one occasion, or at least felt it from people around you. Well, I hope you have a problem with this kind of language. I know that I do.

Let's see, where do I begin?

First, the word "broken" is terribly flawed. It gives the sense of a permanent condition. Once broken always broken. This kind of language is almost elevated to the level of genetic determinsim. Not only is the family broken now, they will forever be broken. That notion is actually the opposite of what stepfamilies really are.

Second, stepfamilies are often mending families, not broken families. Yes, something happened that made a stepfamiliy as stepfamily. Death, divorce, child born out of wedlock, or whatever. And yes, there is almost always loss preceding stepfamily life, but that is a far cry from being permanently broken. Stepfamilies are often the place where healing happens, where people seek to reconcile their past mistakes, seek find a healthy love, and a whole host of other good things. The trajectory of a stepfamily is good, not bad.

Third, this "broken family" myth sets up stepfamilies for discriminination and demeaning pity. Stepfamilies, when viewed as broken, are expected to be be less than adequate, more troubled, and in some cases theologically flawed.

This myth has got to go. Stepfamilies are families - period. They should have all the rights that any other family has and should not be pitied. They should be understood for their unique realities and met where they are at. They should not be expected to act like nuclear families, but should be respected for the unique structure they bring to the table.

There is no need to be ashamed of being a stepfamily. You are not broken. And, if you want to get technical about it, I know of many "normal" families that are a lot more "broken" than many stepfamilies, but don't get me started.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Myth: Divorce ends marriage

OK, maybe divorce does end marriage, but it does not end the relationship. If you think for one minute that the legal divorce ends the emotional, financial, and co-parenting relationships, you've got another thing coming.

Let's focus on the emotional divorce. An emotional divorce is NOT achieving hate for the ex-spouse nor is it achieving indifference. Rather, it is getting to a point in which the former spouse is just that, a former spouse and not the evil "ex."

An emotional divorce requires forgiving that former spouse for their wrongs (I know they don't deserve it), not requiring them to meet your needs, and finding a way to decenter that person from your life.

Decentering is probably the most challenging thing to do. The former spouse might be centered positive (maybe things could still work out), or the former spouse might be centered negative (that lousy $#%&*@ is the cause of all of my problems). Either way, having your former spouse centered in your life means that the emotional divorce has not been accomplished.

Sometimes decentering your former spouse requires a centering something else. It is tempting to make it another person, but what might be better is centering on healing, faith, and coping. Accomplishing decentering is a major part to the divorce process.

Anyone want to share their successful decentering?

Monday, October 23, 2006 a red-headed stepchild

It is one of the worst cliches ever. I mean really, what if you happened to a stepchild and you actually have red hair? Stepchildren don't choose to be stepchildren and people do not choose red hair - OK, some people choose red hair, but there is nothing wrong with that.

According to the Urban Dictionary, the term has at least four meanings.

1. A person or group treated without the favor of birthright.

2. A child who is obviously not your own, a child who is treated worse than other children in the family

3. One who is beaten often.

4. According to popular belief red headed stepchildren are prone to severe discipline problems, rebelliousness and promiscuity.

Well, aren't these lovely definitions? But, aren't these just good fun? I mean really, does any one really attribute negative stereotypes to stepchildren?

The answer is that they do. Jokes about stepchildren aren't funny and do not serve to promote healthy family life. As if life were not complicated enough for stepshildren, then add social stigma, mockery, and taunting. Furthermore, when adults use the phrase with children, it is even worse. Then there is the generational power play going on. Not a good idea.

My advice, stick to jokes that are funny and not offensive, demeaning, or crude. Making negative attributions to people becuase of family structuture or genetics is cruel.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stepfamilies - Theories and church practice

There are tons of theories out there about how families are supposed to be. Some theories focus on how a family is suppoed to develop over time while others try to make clear cut gender role distinctions. Still other theories are on the other end of the spectrum such that any collection of people near each other might be considered a family if it so chooses.

What many of these theories try to do is explain how things are or how they should be. But, what many of these theories actually do is tell a story about the person creating the theory and the time period in which that person lived. For example, 50 years ago, there were far fewer stepfamilies and most of these stepfamilies are the result of the death of a spouse. Most families back then (in America anyway) were nuclear families. The nuclear family was the standard to strive for and the measure normalcy.

Now there are many more stepfamilies and these stepfamilies are mostly formed post-divorce. The nuclear family remains an important and significant chunk of our society, but nearly half of all people do no have the luxury of striving for it. So, what needs to happen is for new theories to develop that take into consideration new family forms and structures. When good theories about how stepfamilies operate are developed, then perhaps better support systems, wider acceptance, and better trajectories can develop.

The place this knind of new theorizing needs to happen is not so much in universities where many theories develop (although it needs to happen there), but more so in the churches and denominations. Most churches do a poor job with stepfamilies. They are either judged as failed, broken, or incompetent or they are ignored altogether. Many people in stepfamilies are previously divroced, which in many churches means that they are penalized in one way or another. No leadership roles, no public roles, fewer service opportunities. Second class status is often the resulting trajectory for divorced people, which means if they are in a stepfamily, the whole family gets penalized.

OK, so I've been a bit down on churches as their underdeveloped theories on stepfamilies causes poor treatment of stepfamilies. However, I know that there are churches who do it well and do it right. There are churches who make room for stepfamilies, offer useful ministries to stepfamilies and by stepfamilies, who do not penalize people for their divorce and so forth.

I'd like to know what churches out there are doing a great job with stepfamilies. What's your experience with a good church?

I would also like to hear negative experiences, but please don't mention the church by name if you share one of those horror stories. Maybe frame it like this: "I attended a church in the Midwest..."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stepfathers and stepchildren 2

When a man marries a woman with a child(ren) from a previous marriage or relationship, the man becomes a stepfather. He also enters into a potentially complex set of relationships. In fact, every relationship he has in this stepfamily is going to complex.

With his new wife, it will be complex becuase he does not have equal parental standing with the children. In her life, they pre-existed him, thus giving him an historical disadvantage - they have more history with the mom than he does. She still needs to be the one in charge of the kids, which may feel all wrong and conflict with what many people call being the "man of the house." As a marital partner, he is an equal, but as a parenting partner he is not.

His relationship wth the stepchildren is complex because he a new man in the family. Furthermore, his love and affection and strength of commitment wit the children's mother earn him little or no credit as an authority in the realm of parenting. However, if he treated his new wife (the kid's mother) poorly, it would most certainly count against him so far as the kids are concerned and would probably be his ow undoing.

His authority as a parent is complex because he has little or no history with teh children, the children have a biological father (unless he is deceased) who fills an authority role (either real or imagined ) with the children. In fact, even if the bio father is deceased, in the kid's minds, he may still be the authority.

A stepfather's authority comes in two ways over a long period.

1. Earned. When a stepfather shows himself patient, reliable, good, and willing to develop a relationshp with the stepchildren, these children may grant him some authority in their lives. This may seem all backwards, an adult working to gain authority from the kids. It may feel like the tail is wagging the dog. But if you think about it, it makes good common sense.

If you think about entering stepfathering not as a father figure, but rahter as a new man who is entering ther children's life, getting to know them, learning about them, like a new babysitter or baseball coach, then it makes a little more sense. A trust has to be built and a pattern of relating has to develop. The powerful and sensitive flow of wills must merge. that kind of thing seldom happens quickly.

2. Bestowed. The mother must give authority to the stepfather. Although the temptation here is to do this all at once, it only works if it is done gradually. This does not happen in one sit down conversation with teh kids.

"Kids, darryl is your new stepfather and i give him all parental authority in the house. What he says goes."

You can say these words, but it won't do any good.

This kind of authority comes in little chunks and pieces, here and there. Bestowing authority upon the stepfather from the stepmother takes a very aware and alert set of parents. She really has to know her children's tolerance for the stepfather's inluence and he needs to be aware of the signs the kids give whe they are accepting or rejecting his authority and furthermore, have the courage to back off when he has violated that tolerance. Mom needs to be ready at anytime to bring her authority back into the picture if things are falling apart between stepfather and stepchildren. She cannot abdicate her authority - ever.

Again, this is very challenging to the sense of being "man of the house." It feels like everyone in the house has power to make things happen except the stepfather. "What am I, chopped liver?" might be the feeling of the stepfather when he has to earn authority with children and wait for it to be bestowed upon him from their mother. "Don't I have any authority just for being there?" "Hey, I bailed your mother out of a real financial bind, and this is the thanks I get?" Again, he earns no authority points by being a good husband.

Think big picture and think slow cooking here. Stepfathers can have a good relationship with their stepchildren, but it develops slowly and is always a work in progress. it is like an invesment into a 401(k), put a lot in with nothing to show for it, that is until it is time to cash in - and that time is not right now. It's worth it even if it is doing me no real good today. It's worth it for it's future value.

Friday, September 22, 2006

When Stepfathers Claim Their Stepchildren 1

Being a stepfather is not an easy task. There are often impossible expectations resting on their shoulders just because they are "the man of the house."

Discipline is often viewed as the stepfathers role. This can be very hard because the stepchild may view obedience to the stepfather as disloyalty to the bio father. Stepfathers may feel like they need to overdo discipline and parenting with a strict posture in order to gain compliance and therefore be a successful stepfather. Typically, this strict posture backfires either by non-compliance or by the stepchild building resentment over time.

Another challenge for stepfathers is knowing how to balance the emotional/relational distance with their stepchildren. How close can I get? How close should I get? How "mine" are my stepchildren?

This leads into the question of what extent stepfathers should "claim" their stepchildren.

I am curious of there are any stepfathers out there dealing with this stuff. Or are there mothers out there seeing their husbands struggling with this challenge of being a stepfather. What's your story?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Divorced Dads

Divorce is not easy on anyone. Everyone suffers. Too often what happens in divorce when children are present is that the relationship between the children and the father is diminished. This happens for many reasons and that is nto what I want to get into here. What I want to do is to encourage the post-divorce relationship between fathers and their children.

Here is a link to an organization called the Divorced Fathers Network . Thier goal is to promote the father-child relationship after divorce. At first glance it looks like they are going to be a good resource for divorced dads.

Below is a book for fathers that might prove helpful.

Fathers are Forever.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spiritual Life after Divorce

Let's face it, there are people who hold to the belief that divroced people are not spiritual - or are not even capable of being spiritual. Sadly, some of these people are leaders and decisin makers in churches - maybe even your church.

I known of situations in which people have been banned from certain leadership activities because of their divorced status. In fact, I know of a church or two who will not let a person walk in their building if that person is divorced.

Probably the saddest story I have ever heard related to this was when a minister found out one of the members of his church was divorced and remarried he demanded that the man divorce his second wife and make an attempt to reconcile with his first wife. He divorced his second wife and was unable to reconcile. Can you believe that the anti-divorce minister prescribed divorce as a means of getting right with God? OK, my blood is boiling.

There are better ways to pursue a spiritual life in the wake of a divorce.

Here is an article that gives some encouragement for people who have divorced, even if it was for all the wrong reasons, that they can life an active, full, and relevant spiritual life.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Biggest Challenge

Some people say that parenting is the biggest challenge stepfamilies are up against. Other would argue that unresovled grief is the biggest challenge. Still others would say hands down it is "the ex."

I am sure that the biggest challenge would be specific to each family.

What I hope you can contribute to this post is a story of success within your greatest challenge. You know what your greatest challenge is in stepfamily life. Tell us about a time when you faced up to your greatest challenge and came through with shining colors.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Cooking Class

It is assumed that stepfamilies blend when they are formed. In fact, stepfamilies are often referred to as "blended families." But do they blend? If so, how fast? If not, what actually happens when the stepfamily comes together?

My buddy Ron Deal has a little fun with a cooking anaology and stepfamilies. What really makes this funny is that Ron is not what you would call a master chef. He grills meat, but beyond that...well?

Anyway, go check out this article if you want to find out how to "cook" a stepfamily.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Stepmom

In the movie, Stepmom, we see Julia Roberts experience so much of the trauma stepmothers go through as they try to enter into the new family, intergate into the new family, as the try to BLEND. She didn't know the routines, was sabotaged on every front by her stepchildren, and felt completely incompetent as the female adult in the home.

Then mom stops by to pick up the kids only to notice the wreck and suddenly the children are cherubs, the mess is all the stepmom's fault, and mom says smugly, "I'll take it from here."

For stepmothers, it seems that all the good they do is diminished while any minor mistake she makes is magnified as if she were an evil harpy. Let's face it, stepmoms are often in a tough position. What's a stepmother to do?

First, stepmothers must be farmers at early spring, not late fall. Think of your family as a constant tilling and planting operation. Harvest will not come for a good long while. Yes, this calls for patience, but patience has never been a bad idea.

Second, stepmothers must affirm their own victories because no one else is going to. Although that might be overstated for some, for others it isn't. A stepmother must be confident that the good she did was actually good, even if she gets no immediate credit for her actions.

Finally, stepmothers must be consistent. When a stepmother is consistently good, she slowly wears away the objections that stepchildren hold against her. She must remove these objections through her actions. Eventually, she will usually succeed. Worst case, she has been good.

Stepmoms, you've got a noble work ahead of you. Hats off to you.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What Jared Really Learned at College

I found the story below at the Stepping Stones Counseling Center web site.

What Jared Really Learned at College by Sheli Dansky-Danziger

April 26, 2003 was a beautiful, crisp, spring day in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Grandparents, siblings, two parents and one step-parent gathered to celebrate Jared's graduation from the University of Michigan. Over 5000 graduates formed a seemingly endless procession into Michigan Stadium where my former husband and I sat together to witness this exhilarating event.

We had a wonderful family weekend filled with spirited meals, picture taking and reminiscing about Jared's four years of college. As we prepared our caravan for the return to Detroit Metro Airport, Jared called his father and me aside. I didn't know what to expect but logically I thought he might be thanking us for this remarkable educational experience. Instead, Jared thanked us for the way we have dealt with our divorce. Jared's father and I were totally caught off guard. Apparently Jared had friends who were forced to have separate celebrations (meals, hotels, seats at graduation, etc.) whereas we were together throughout the weekend. My former husband and I tearfully hugged Jared and told him how proud we were of his accomplishments; we then headed home.

As a divorced and remarried parent I have often felt concerned and saddened for my children. I hoped that they understood and grew from the changes they have endured in their lives. It's reassuring to know that maybe we have all ultimately done well and that Jared truly learned an important life lesson at college.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pet Custody Issues?

Divorced couple in China squabble over dog. Judge orders couple to treat dog as if it was their child. Read article here.

This article got me to thinking about how divorces happen and continue on as it relates to children. Does it show more love to contend for the object of your care and love in court? Or does it show less love? If it were not a pet, but a microwave oven, would be more or less silly? If it were a child and not a pet, would it be more or less silly?

Weighing these kinds of decisions about how far to go, how much to press, how much to invite the court into co-parenting decisions are not merely black and white matters. There are so many shades of gray. How in the world is allowing partial or full custody to the former spouse in the "best interest of the child?" How is not "figting for my child" the best thing?

Sometimes it is tempting to equate "fighting for the children" with love. How else do you show that you truly love? Sometimes it is really the best thing to fight like crazy because you'll be terminated as a parent if you don't. If only it were black and white.

When determining co-parenting issues, measure carefully the impact on the child. In the case of the dog custody issue, the dog will be fine. With children, we can't be so sure.

I'd love to hear how some of you have made good decisions with your former spouse when it concerns the children.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Communicate well and share costs

When co-parents try to figure out how to pay for their children's needs, it is important to have good communication. Although most things are spelled out pretty well in the court papers, not everything can be thought of ahead of time.

It is also important to be generous. Thinking about what is "fair" is not always the best way to deal with cost sharing. What the children need is a better approach to take.

The better co-parents communicate and share costs, the better it is on the children - in general.

Click here to read a New jersey court brief of a couple who did it poorly.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shared Parenting Law Debated In North Dakota

In the state of North Dakota, there is debate over a bill that makes shared parenting the default parenting situation post-divorce. Learn about the North Dakota Shared Parenting Initiative here. Here is a Fox News story on the topic.

What do you think about shared parenting as the default parenting arrangement post divorce?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Divorcemobile? reports on Ford Motor Company's latest commercial for their Ford Freestyle. Ford appears to be directly marketing to divorced parents.

I would like to hear from divorced parents if this ad is affirming, offensive, non-factor or whatever.

Redemption After Divorce

There has always been a stigma about divorced people within church walls. There is a certain logic to that stigma as divorce is not God's dream come true for intimate relationships. Many Christians have believed divorce to be the death knell for people - a straight ticket to Hell.

However, there is a certain illogic to the stigma as well. To believe that God damns people for a failed relationship is to avoid the redemptive flow of God's relationship with people. I don't think that there is anyone out there who would say that divorce is something to strive for. Even divorce "advocates" would say that a good marriage is better than a "good divorce."

What believers in God need to do is to be tough on divorce and gentle with divorced people. People experiencing a divorce have been through enough already. What they don't need is an assault from the people who are supposed to be on their side.

God's approach to divorced people is redemption. On some rare occasions, divorced people remarry the people they divorced and the second time around goes pretty well. That is a very special kind of redemption, but not the only kind.

Other divorced people find someone else to marry and it goes well. They have learned a great deal from the past and apply those lessons in the new relationship. They have greater patience and tolerance for what might have ticked them off in their first marriage.

Still others find redemption in the single life. Though these people may long for a relationship, but they find that their time is best utilized in service to others. They invest in their friendships or ministries and realize that they have found their place outside of marriage.

God works through a larger redemptive movement rather than in the holding a failed relationship against a person eternally. Of course God never wanted the divorce and yes, God hates divorce. But God does not hate divorced people. Big difference. God never hoped for a divorce. But when divorce happens, God is interested in what He can do in your life now in the given situation. Holding that sin against you does not promote His mission on this planet. Jesus died for that sin if it was even a sin at all, so we all need to get over it.

Yes, we still need to support struggling marriages and not throw in the towel too sin. Hear me, I am against divorce and you should be too. However, there are times when it is necessary and then there are times when it has happened when it was unnecessary, but too much water under the bridge. Where are we going is more important than where we have been.

God works through divorce if that is what He is given to work with.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Stepfamily Wedding Poem

Below is a poem for stepfamilies-to-be. I found it at Wedding Guide UK.
A Father’s Fiancée
by Michael Praetorius

A father’s fiancée is
An intended mother.
More than two are joined
This day in joy.
Though two may blossom
By the winged bay’s fountain,
Other flowers are watered
By that love.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Resilience is the ability for a person or group to bounce back from adversity, setbacks, or failures. It is the quality of a person or organization to interpet positiviely facts that might at first glance appear to be hopelessly negative.

For people in stepfamilies, there are often ample opportunities to interpret negative facts positively. For example, all stepfamilies are born of some kind of loss. Death, divorce, abandonment, or for some other reason, stepfamilies are born of loss. For couples and children to grieve their loss, navigate new relationships, and "blend," it all makes for a challenging situation.

Successful stepfamilies learn to interpret the facts and make opportunities from these facts. For example, one stepfamily would fight every Christmas about how to decorate the Christmas tree. It began to make a dread fall over the family as the holiday season approached each year. Finally, one year they decided to decorate half of the tree according to one family's tradition and the other half according to the other family's tradition. That's resilience. They found a way to accept that the facts are the facts, but also to interpret those facts in a way that fits their new situation.

I would love to hear other stories of stepfamily resilience.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Welcome To Smart Stepfamilies

Welcome to the Smart Stepfamilies blog. You are a welcomed guest. Thanks for stopping by.

The purpose of this blog is to get some conversations going between people in stepfamilies (or people who work with stepfamilies), share information on stepfamily dynamics, and report any news that might involve stepfamilies.

Feel free to comment and voice your opinion or share opportunities at any time on this blog. The only censoring that will happen on this blog will come when people are mean or rude in their coments or spamming. Otherwise, pretty much anything is fair game. There is no one preferred opinion that has to be conformed to on this blog.

You will notice some google ads on the top of the page. I apologize for the inconvenience there. Feel free to ignore them. You will also notice some links (Stepfamily Superstore) and products on the sidebar. Feel free to browse those at your convenience. If anything looks good to you, go and get it.

You can expect weekly posts here at the Smart Stepfamily blog. The best way to keep curent with this blog is through a the rss feed using a feedreading service like bloglines. If you are unfamiliar with bloglines, go and check it out. It is pretty easy to learn.

Again, thanks for visiting this blog. Please come back and share in the conversation.