November 21st, 2016
David and I got a phone call from his daughter the other day. She was upset because her college daughter got arrested during a recent political protest. My son has been complaining to me about the problems his teenage son, our grandson, has had in high school. Another grandson is having difficulty choosing his path in college. We seem to be getting these calls from our children more frequently.
After more than 40 years of remarriage as a stepcouple, David and I thought we had graduated from our child rearing roles. These were our kids that fought us tooth and nail at every turn. They gave us a run for our money! At times they wanted nothing to do with us and visa versa.
Years later, we find ourselves listening to their problems with their own kids, asking us probing questions and exploring options. We rarely give advice unless asked. We practice listening first.
What we find most gratifying is how concerned and caring they are about us, their aging parents. They want to know how we are and what we’re doing. They worry about us. Surprisingly our five kids are now good friends and like to hang out with each other. After all the bickering we lived through, we never predicted that.
We’ve come full circle. It seems that the intensity of yesterdays’ conflicts has resulted in strong and caring relationships now. Our diligence and patience paid off! As they say, “what goes around, comes around.”
From a house full of strangers competing for love and attention, this stepfamily has evolved. We are a diverse mixture of individuals but it is our family, and we cherish it!
As your own stepfamily evolves, here are few things to remember:
- Have patience with step relationships. They take time to percolate and mature.
- Respect and appreciate individual differences.
- Listen and explore options when asked for advice. The key word here is “listen,” which does take practice.
June 20th, 2016
Stepcoupling isn’t easy. In today’s world, balancing the demands of our partners, children, work, life, exes and more can be overwhelming. There is a strategy I’ve used in my own life, and I’ve taught it to numerous Stepcouples over the years as well. I call it the 4 C’s.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed recently by Neil Sattin for his podcast Relationship Alive! We cover the 4 C’s, what they are and why they are vital to your Stepcouple relationship.
The Stepcouple is the foundation of the Stepfamily. You can listen to this interview and gain real-world advice for your family at Relationship Alive!
You can find more information on the 4 C’s and even more help in my book Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family.
June 13th, 2016
David and I have been a Stepcouple for 40 years. In a way, it has gone by in a blink. I remember well when time didn’t seem to move so fast, especially when our children were young…the endless car rides to see friends, to the mall, to sports activities, to the grocery store, to the other parent for visitation time. It seemed it went on and on. There was never enough time. Those days were stressful and they were also miraculous. Each moment was a stepping stone in the development of our stepfamily.
Being in the middle of it all can seem overwhelming. Summer break is here, and I can put myself in your shoes like it was yesterday! I was concerned about how I would keep the kids active and engaged while still having time to work. How would I juggle all the day to day demands, and still have time and energy for my spouse, let alone myself? This was before the age of smart phones and video on demand, which are all too easy to fall back on. I can imagine this makes summer planning even more imperative.
After 40 years of learned wisdom, I can offer you some ways that we got through those summers with five kids. Thinking it through now won’t make it perfect, but it will make it better. I promise you, these are memories that you will look back on often as an aging Stepcouple.
As we know, history repeats itself. How did we get through those summers? This is how:
- Get on the same page. Talk with your partner/spouse about what you want the summer to be like. Make a plan, and then involve the kids. Ask them what they most want from their summer. Share your wishes with them. You’ll be surprised at how they remember, and also want to help you (at times).
- Ask for help. Do you have other mom friends you could trade a day with here and there? Make a list of those you could contact to help when needed. Neighbors, parents of your children’s friends, the other parent, family members, community group members, etc. If you have the option, hiring a babysitter even a few hours a week can make a difference.
- Plan for boredom. Make a list of activities that the kids can do on their own that you can all refer to when you hear the words “I’m bored! There is nothing to do!” (Involve your kids in this if age appropriate.) Having this list ready for the whole family can ease tension and frustration. It will also allow you 15 or 30 minutes of peace and quiet.
- Plan for fun. Choose how many outings you can realistically fit in as a family, and plan for them so you can all look forward to them. Is it a trip to the river? A bike ride? Ice cream? Whatever it is, make the majority of these outings easily doable for you, the parent. The idea is to keep you less-stressed while still making it family-fun.
- Summer day-camps can give you all a break. Resources abound for this type of fun. The kids will meet new people, get some energy out, and you’ll get several hours to yourself. Check your local community center, the school, local martial arts schools, or create your own “camp” with your mom friends, where you trade off.
Yes, we were glad when the school bell rang in September. However, looking back, our summertime memories are happy ones. We spent a lot of time together and it helped us become the stepfamily that we are. Over time, you realize that the little things become the big things.
I wish you well this summer. Stay calm and take breaks for yourself. I hope you can create some happy memories, and even more importantly, don’t dwell on the “not so happy” ones!”
Take good care of yourself.
January 22nd, 2016
We just celebrated the fortieth anniversary of our stepfamily. What a ride it’s been! At the time, little did we know the complicated and often painful journey we were getting ourselves into. Back in the mid 70’s, there was almost no information on the subject. Naively, we knew our love would get us through. And it has…most of the time.
Our wedding day
We each had custody of our 5 children – my two boys and his girl, boy, girl. Our ex spouses moved away to greener pastures leaving us to raise the children. (We got well-needed breaks in the summer when the kids visited their other bio parents). We developed the skills to muddle through. Our new family slowly found its footing. There were days though when bolting seemed like the only way out! We never acted on it, fortunately.
Not surprisingly I developed a deep curiosity and passion for the plight of stepfamilies. I went to graduate school to earn a Masters Degree in counseling. I was prompted by colleagues and clients to write my book “Stepcoupling” based on my personal and clinical experience. “Stepcoupling” was published in 2003 by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House. It has been a category best seller ever since.
I have now retired from active clinical practice and hope to give someone else the opportunity to explore the use of the service trademark, Stepcoupling®, as well as the domain name and web presence. There is a wealth of material for future books and blogs.
Did our particular family ever “blend”? I don’t think so, but we became a more homogeneous mixture over time. We are still evolving as a family. As we shrink our household in preparation for our “golden years,” we can no longer accommodate 15 or 20 for sit down dinner occasions. Our family ranges in age from 6 to 76 years. This year, we rented a cozy commercial space on Christmas Eve for food, drink, and secret Santa presents. We all loved it and we now have a new way to celebrate. Even now, we continue to bond and form our own special stepfamily traditions. It’s been an adventure, and one I’m happy we stuck with together, as a stepcouple.
July 9th, 2015
Happy summer! David and I have been away enjoying the sun. We even went to Hawaii for a week of fun with our kids who live in Alaska. We rarely get to see them. It was wonderful to reconnect in a beautiful place.
As we age, (yes, we are getting older) we think of how far we’ve come from those early years of stepcoupling with five full time kids. My goodness, that was hard! The mix of interfering ex-spouses, demanding kids, competition for attention, hassles at the dinner table, and day-to-day life sometimes felt overwhelming. The kids all took turns at being angry and sneaky. We had a big silver and burgundy colored Chevvy van and I was the chauffeur with no less than 5 or 6 kids wanting to be driven somewhere. There were times I didn’t know if I could survive. I still believe the only way we made it was date night. Love, romance, good food that I didn’t cook, a glass or two of wine, and time for conversation. We always came home rejuvenated.
Now it’s just the two of us. The kids are grown with families of their own. And the best part is that we all get along now. The kids check-in with us often, hang out, share information and stories about their lives. I never believed I would get to this place when we were in the thick of “stepfamily chaos”. We did it though, and I’m grateful every day.
Life is good…very good.
I wish the same for your stepfamily. I encourage you to schedule your date night today and make it a regular time for re-connection. Your stepcouple is the foundation of your stepfamily. Keep it strong!
Have a good summer and a fantastic date night!
Susan and David enjoying a date night in New Orleans, David’s home town.