Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shoveling Snow (A Metaphor For Stepfamilies)

This month we have been examining things people in stepfamilies can do to make their stepfamily life experience better. We have talked about virtues such as forgiveness and wisdom. These help the process of stepfamily life along.

After getting pounded by 18 inches of snow up here in Minnesota, I have done a little thinking about how getting the snow out of the driveway is like stepfamily life.

There are some strategies to snow management that are similar to dealing with life in a stepfamily.

1. Let it melt. It is true the eventually the snow will melt. In Minnesota, that might mean mid April, which means significant problems until then. The ignore the problem and it will go away strategy might work in some situations (talking about stepfamilies now), but it is a problematic and painful way to go. It is alsot he longest way to get to "normal."

2. Shovel it. This is a better strategy. It's back breaking, but it does mean that you will get to the solution more quickly. Working hard is better than not working at all. And, the job will get done faster, if you survive.

3. Fire Up The Snowblower. Every Minnesotan worth his salt has a snowpblower. Fire that sucker up and blast through the white stuff. This represents working smarter. A good snow blower is like having good family dynamic insights and implementation.

4. Neighbors team up. OK, this is the best way to manage snow. All of your neighbors have the same problem you do - too much snow. Get have a dozen of you together and knock out one driveway at a time and it is not only efficient, it is actually fun. when stepfamilies can work together in small groups or teams, sharing their struggles and giving each other sage advice, it can be fun.

Ah yes, there is something good coming out of this winter blast!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Foolish Musings on Wisdom

What is wisdom and who can grasp it? Where can one go to purchase this thing called wisdom? Does one ever have enough of it? Once you get some of it, does it remain with you always?

I would say there are few people who would argue against the idea that wisdom is a good thing to pursue. And yet, there is so little space for wisdom in our culture that finding space for it is a daunting task. "Yes, wisdom is a good thing, but who has time for it?"

Here are a few foolish musings on wisdom:

1. There are two sources of wisdom. Personal experience and other people's experience.

Personal experience is often times pretty straight forward. If you do something, you know that it is like to do it. Then you choose whether or not to do it again. Or you choose to modify the way in which you did it in order to alter the outcome.

The experiences of others is not as straight forward nor are they as easily to internalize. Who the "others" are matters. Is it friends, family and co-workers and that's it? What about historical figures? What about Biblical figures? The storehouses of historical and sacred wisdom are so vast, so expansive that we hardly notice them. They are like intricate and highly detailed wall paper that you might notice at a glance, but seldom look at for it deep design or message.

2. There are pre-wisdom steps that are necessary in order to gain wisdom.
A. Acknowledge that there is such a thing as wisdom.
B. Assess its value relative to your life and find yourself lacking.
C. Decide that it is worth pursuing.
D. Pursue it in the course of daily life, not merely as a cognitive exercise outside of daily life.

3. Practice all the wisdom you gain.

4. When you fail to do number three, reflect on those times and assess what it is about you that wars against wisdom. If this becomes an exercise in guilt, then you're not doing it. In failure, wisdom transcends guilt toward a more wholesome and less toxic motivation.

5. Pass along your wisdom, but only when it has become part of who you are. Resist the temptation to immediately tell everyone about the great new thing you learned before it is really who you are. Sharing gained wisdom too quickly, before it is who you are, will result in embarrassment and hypocrisy.

6. When you fail to do number 5, reflect on those times understanding that guilt may be a temptation.

7. Develop relationships with people younger and less experienced than you are and live your wisdom in their presence. You do this for them, but you do this for you, too. If you have gained a sense of wisdom, being in relationship with someone who perhaps thinks you are wise raises the bar for you and challenges you to be persist in your wisdom.

What does all of this have to do with stepfamilies? Hopefully you see that it has quite a bit to do with stepfamilies. If anyone needs to pursue wisdom it is people who find themselves in complex situations wherein the rules are not clear, the playing filed is not level, and the cultural context works against them. Stepfamilies, in large measure, fit this definition.

Pursue wisdom a little and you will find it a little. Pursue it a lot and you will find it a lot. Never stop pursuing it and you will never exhaust its vast storehouses.

Friday, February 16, 2007


If you're in a stepfamily (or if you're a human) you've been done wrong. In fact, from your point of view, you might be getting done wrong on a daily basis. It might be your former spouse sticking it to you in court, it might be your current spouse sticking it to you for not being fair to his or her bio children, it might your bio childrin turning the screws on you and testing your "true" loyalty at every turn.

What do you do about the residual pain and frustration caused by these relational injustices?

Well, you can kick and fight and scream and try to force your way. But I can tell you now, it just isn't going to work. No one comes to their sense because you beat the daylights out of them.

You could also let yourself get run over "for the sake of peace." I can also tell you that there is no happy doormat out there. The doormats ot there iwth smiles on their faces are lying.

What you can do is two-fold:

1. Be proactive in preventing future transgressions by direct, assertive, and generous communication. No blame her, but more so statements about how you feell and what you would like. Also, carrying no expectation that you'll get everything you want, but hope that it will change from the place it is now.

2. Forgive. The past may be indicative of the future, but it isn't the future. Holding things against people not only doesn't hurth them, it does hurt you. Your body, believe it or not, automatically detects unforgiveness, labels it stress, and releases more stress hormone, which you do not need more of.

You must relieve yourself of the emotional responsibility of keeping of making that other person responsible for what they did - for the good of everyone including yourself.

Let it go. Open up your fist and let it go. Things won't get worse, but they could get better.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Make Friends With Perspective

Half of sanity is perspective.

To know that you can't do something all at once can come as a relief - if you have the right perspective.

It's like a landscaper shoveling 5 tons of river rock. If he thinks he's going to move that huge pile of rock in one or two scoops with his shovel, his level of disappointment is going to be huge. He'll get discouraged and quit shoveling. But he can't just quit because the pile of rock is in his driveway and he'll never get his Ford out of hte garage with all that rock in the way.

On the other hand, if he realizes that huge jobs are the accumulation of little jobs, then he is is encouraged by every little thing he does.

Managing stepfamily life can be like this landscaper. The pile of emotional and relationship challenge is what it is, but the perspective you take on it might make all the difference in the world. If you think that you are going to accomplish all that needs to be done in a year or two, get ready for disappointment. On the other hand, if you see life as a process, then every good thing you do is progress toward success.

The thing about perspective is that you have a great deal of influence over it.