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Stepfamily Evolution

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:

  1. Have patience with step relationships. They take time to percolate and mature.
  2. Respect and appreciate individual differences.
  3. Listen and explore options when asked for advice. The key word here is “listen,” which does take practice.

 

-Susan Wisdom

Successful Stepcoupling: Interview by Neil Sattin of Relationship Alive!

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.

 

Summertime Planning With Kids – 5 Tips To Help

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Susan

FORTY YEARS TOGETHER. WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

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.

Wedding

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.

Nana

September 3rd, 2014
I’m thinking about a very sweet, special person who I loved dearly when I was growing up.  I called her Nana.  She was my step grandmother who married my grandfather after his first wife died.  Nana never had any children of her own.  I never knew any other grandmother. My sister Sara and I spent many weekends at Nana and Grandpa’s house when our parents had other stuff going on…parties to go to and people to see.  We loved her house!  It was big with lots of neat hiding places and even a meandering stream in the back yard.  She took us on fun outings. We were never bored at her house, and this was before TV and computers were invented.

In the summers, Sara and I went to her mountain cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lassen County.  Her house was on a small remote lake where there was no electricity.  We made do with oil lamps, a big fireplace, and an old-fashioned icebox.  We fed the chipmunks and toasted marshmallows.   We swam in the lake and played with the other lake kids. It was paradise! She used to take me shopping to San Francisco, across the Bay from Berkeley where we lived.  We rode the orange Keystone Train across the Bay Bridge.  We always ate lunch at her favorite restaurant.  In those days we dressed up to go to the City.  I wore my fancy shoes, and of course she always wore a hat and gloves. Nana loved animals of all kinds, but she was particularly fond of her two Welsh Corgis, Teddy and Scampi.  She was rarely seen without them.  She walked them in her lovely garden, city streets or a mountain trail depending on where she was.

Nana, my step grandmother and her Corgis

Nana, my step grandmother, and her Corgis

I’ll never forget the phone call from my mother telling me the sad news, “Nana died suddenly on her way to the hospital.  She didn’t suffer.”  She died of an apparent heart attack.  She was 81 years old. I remember her funeral.  It was packed.  The memories people shared, the stories that were told and the tears shed were all chilling and sad, but also impressive!  She was Nana to us, and Aunt Lou to her family of cousins, nieces and nephews.  She was smart, funny, and generous in all ways.  She had so much to give.  I believe she cared deeply for the people in her stepfamily– her husband, my grandfather, her stepdaughter, my mother, and her two-step grandchildren, my sister and me. I still think of Nana.  I’d love to bring her back to be able to talk with her.  I’d love to have her meet my stepfamily.  Sadly I don’t hold a candle to her saintliness as a stepmom and grandmother.  She was the perfect Nana.  I loved her dearly and I miss her still.

Susan Wisdom, retired Counselor and Author September 2014

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