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Stepfamilies Can Succeed Even When Stepcouples Don’t

When I was a senior in high school, my stepmother took me on a 3,000-mile road trip to visit prospective colleges. From our hometown in Louisiana, Kathy and I traveled to Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and home again. We stayed with friends and in inexpensive hotels, listened to books on tape, and ate lots of questionable food. I’m sure we had arguments (I was 17, after all), but I don’t remember them.

Naturally, the trip was significant for me because I was searching for the place that would become my next home, but it was more significant for another reason: Kathy and my father had recently divorced.

My dad and stepmom were married for about 6 years, from when I was 10 until I was 16 (formative years, to say the least). Our stepfamily was not particularly unique—we had a lot of fun and plenty of fights. Kathy grew to love my brother and me, and we love her.

Her divorce from my father was painful for everyone. My brother and I were completely blindsided, though in hindsight we understand it perfectly. We were simply too young and naïve to appreciate their obvious struggles to make the marriage work, and anticipate that inevitable result.

Such situations are impossible to handle gracefully. There were awkward missteps and hard lessons as we all navigated their separation and then divorce. Kathy and my dad did their best to protect us kids, but we could see and feel their deep sadness.

My brother and I had already split our time between two houses, as my father and stepmother shared joint custody with my mother and stepfather. In addition, we now visited Kathy regularly at her new home, or met her for dinner or a movie.

As an adult, I can appreciate how frightening the thought of divorce must have been for Kathy. She must have feared that the end of her marriage would be the end of her family as well—the end of her role as a mother to two children she raised and loved.

Ensuring that it wasn’t required courage and selflessness from both my father and Kathy; whatever private battles they may have had, they were committed to supporting their children’s relationships with all of their parents. Their determination to do what was best for my brother and me is what got us all through the hardest times.

Some marriages will not survive no matter how much work the partners put into them. In spite of that, a strong family can endure.

Submitted by Guest Contributor, Molly Thurston Parker

December 2011

Molly is an editor, baker, and small business owner. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and her beloved cat.

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