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The Five Greatest Challenges for a New Stepcouple

April 26th, 2011

[Continued from the previous blog post, “One Mixed Up Bundle of Relationships”]

Newly married, we had no idea what we were doing or how to do it. Everyone felt fragile and confused…completely out of our comfort zones.

David’s kids and my kids were very clear about who their parents were—the stepparents did not qualify. All the kids’ attention and conversation was directed at their “real” parents. The “steps” were foreigners, and we knew it.

It took a long time for us to begin to feel like a family. And our stepfamily wasn’t alone. We soon learned that everyone feels this way in the beginning of stepcoupling.

Looking back, I understand much better the five conflicts with which we struggled the most.

  1. Transitioning from that romantic twosome to a GROUP AFFAIR. We got married because we wanted to be with each other, but after we married we hardly had time for each other. There was always a fire to put out or a kid who needed something NOW. We just had too much on our plates to be a romantic couple. It made us wonder why we bothered to get married!
  2. Accepting each other’s children. Naively, we thought we’d be able to accept each other’s kids immediately and raise them just as we would our own. We struggled when we realized that there was nothing natural or easy about this. To do it required surviving the long process of opening up, getting to know them, getting over the resentment of having to raise them, and arriving at the peaceful place of knowing that we are a family that belongs together. (There were tons of glitches along the way, btw!)
  3. Learning how to play a positive role in guiding, raising, and coparenting each other’s kids appropriately.
    David & I discovered tremendous differences in our approaches to parenting. We soon learned that neither of us would always be in control or get our way. There were two of us in it together! We had to be open to each other’s methods, compromise, and learn from each other. This was possible only because we each trusted that the other wanted the best for all our kids.
  4. We never had enough time or money…or so we thought.
    We stretched to make things work.  But we had each other.
  5. Baggage from the past.
    We all have it: frustrations, anger, jealousy at the ex, poor coping skills…and on and on. The best tool we had to deal with this was the ear and support of each other. If you’re lucky enough to have a caring and supportive relationship with the love of your life, the baggage can resolve itself as you both mature and successfully deal with challenges along the way.

Do you ever look back and observe that the horrible stuff that used to bother you so much isn’t there anymore, or if it is there, it’s a lot less difficult? That’s the gift of a contented stepcouple and stepfamily—you all grow up together.

Susan Wisdom MA
April 2011

One Mixed Up Bundle Of Relationships

April 19th, 2011

I was a single mother minding my own business when I met David. When we started dating, the relationship was perfectly uncomplicated. He had his place and I had mine.  When our kids were with their other parents, we’d always get together.

One evening, David invited me over for dinner. He cooked New Orleans Shrimp Creole for me, and set the table with candles and flowers. It was divine and romantic—and of course, I fell in love. As we grew closer and more serious, it was harder and harder to say goodbye. We couldn’t imagine not being together.

I was close to my sons, who were then 5 and 7 years old. David had 3 small children and almost full-time custody. All five children were suffering from the shock of their families breaking apart and a parent leaving home. Insecure and angry, none of our children wanted to share their parent with an outsider. And neither David nor I was particularly interested in raising more kids.

But we had no choice. We wanted to be together as a couple, so we did what we had to do: we formally tied the knot and merged our families. That’s when things got messy. The clear division of “David and his kids” and “me and my kids” was gone. We were now a mixed up bundle of relationships.  In the bundle were different personalities and genes, conflicting loyalties, different developmental stages, moods and interests and parenting styles.

What a shock!  We went from a family of 3 and a family of 4 to an almost fulltime family of 7 in one small house. The kids were all under the age of 14.

So how did we do it, despite our reluctance and the children’s resistance? My next article will detail the five conflicts with which we struggled the most, and how we learned to work through them. Check in next week!

Susan Wisdom MA
April 2011

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