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.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

New Stepfather blog

This could be a promising new blog. It has just launched and will chronicle the life of a new stepfather.

Go check out Stepdaddy blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How do you do time?

How you do time may have a connection to how you do stepfamily life.

Here is what I mean: Some people have beliefs about time such that enormous amounts of things can be accomplished in small amounts of time. If you can write it in your daytimer or PDA, then it can be done.

Write a novel between 8 and 10 PM fits in the slot, but there is no chance that such a thing could happen.

Other people rarely know what time it is. The dont' wear a watch, the do not carry a cell phone or any time-keeping device. They approximate time and depend on others to do their time keeping. Some of these people have really good internal clocks while others are always way late or way early. Time never really seems to apply to them.

Certainly there are extremes to the various ways people do time with lots of people landing somewhere in between the extremes. But whatever the case, you have a time style.

Knowing what your time style is importnat because it probably has some parallels with how you do stepfamily life. It is important to know how you do time. But it is also important to know how each family member does time.

Knowing that your way is not the right way, but that it is your way is importnat because you want other members of your family to respect your time style. Respect theirs as you would want them to respect your.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Stepfathers must resist a certain temptation that is almost certain to come their way - stepfather must not be the HERO.

When the confluence of a struggling bio mother, her angry or hurting or grieving child, a newly formed romantic relationship, and the seemingly inherent male desire to fix problems come together you have yourself the potential for a serious temptation.

It is tempting for the stepfather to come in, take charge, and make everything right. He'll soothe his new wife's pain and sadness and feelings of failure, he'll straighten out the child, and he'll bering order to the lingering choas.

The problem is that he not only won't end up doing that, he is not even capable of doing it. A couple of things are going to happen if stepdad tries to be the hero. First, he will set himself up for disappointment. He will taste failure as it is forcefed to him. The other thing that will happen is that he will create more distance between himself and the stepchild. In his effort to make everything all better his will require more loyalty adn compliance from the family than he is entitled to.

Stepdads, rather than clearing house and taking charge of the family, enter the challenging situation as an opportunity to be a helpful consultant (not the CEO). Resist the temptation to seize control ofn the family. Rather, offer some of your skill and power to the family.

Over time, you will not be tempted to ceize control of challenging situations because you will be invited to share yourself with the family. The less you force it the more likely you will be invtied into it.

Stepfathers should work hard to be an aroma that smells so good that the rest of the family cannot resist. Let your goodness shine adn force nothing.