Good News About Blended Families
By Lisa Cohn
Spur Members To Grow Emotionally
Tannenbaum grappled with a classic stepfamily struggle when she
moved from Moscow, Russia to Portland, Ore. and married Leb Tannenbaum:
Her three new stepsons werent very happy to have her in their
earn her stepsons acceptance, she cooked Russian meals, which
the boys rejected. At times, she spoke English and felt as if no
one understood her. It seemed all her efforts to win them over failed,
she realized she had to love herself and accept the fact that her
stepsons might never connect with her, she says. Once she embraced
this philosophy, she began to empathize with her stepsons
point of view, she says. I was able to see what it was like
having me in their life. I realized they didnt always have
it easy, she says.
people in stepfamilies, like Tannenbaum, learn to grow in ways they
never thought possible, experts say.
learn to empathize with their stepchildren, keep their anger in
check, communicate well with their partners and spend time with
ex-spouses they dont really want in their lives. Nothing
will force growth and maturity like stepcoupling and stepparenting
as you go through the adjustment pains and come out the other end,
says Susan Wisdom, co-author of the book Stepcoupling and a licensed
professional counselor in Portland.
Hays, a stepfather in Corvallis, Ore., experienced some adjustment
pains once he became part of a stepfamily. Early on, I tried
to use sergeant/major stuff on my two boys and my wifes
kids. My stepson would fall to the floor in tears. I realized I
had to slow down and change, he says. Men want to be
understood and want people to do things their way. I had to learn
to back off on that. I told my wife, I have to follow your
lead on disciplining and motivating your kids. I had to make
some big changes, he says.
desire to change in order to create a successful stepfamily often
prompts adults to stretch and find ways to communicate better with
each other, adds Joyce Hays, Bill Hayss wife.
marriage is much stronger because my husband and I have to be a
united front," says Mrs. Hays. "My husband and I have
to do a lot of talking about issues before we can talk with the
kids, she says. In a stepfamily, the adults really have
to figure out how to be a much stronger team than in a nuclear family.
You learn emotional skills you thought you'd never learn."
arent the only ones in stepfamilies who stretch emotionally.
Children in stepfamilies must learn to relate to divorced parents,
stepsiblings and stepparents, a challenge that often teaches them
important interpersonal skills, says Dr. Margorie Engel, president
of the Stepfamily Association of America. Children in stepfamilies
learn a lot of interpersonal skills, like fighting fair and reading
peoples faces and interpreting their tones of voice,
they often grow up living in two cultures: Moms house and
Dads house, where there may be very different expectations
about TV-watching, nutrition and staying up late. Those two cultures
often teach children tolerance for peoples differences, says
the Haley house in Portland, Ore., Shauna Haleys stepdaughter,
Madison, has learned to follow a different set of rules than when
shes at her moms house, says Haley. Rather than staying
up late to watch TV, she turns it off and gets to bed early.
good for kids to grow up knowing theres more than one way
of doing things, says Haley.
addition to learning about multiple ways of doing things, children
in stepfamilies are exposed to a broader definition of family and
a place to work on their social skills, says Mr. Hays.
addressing troublesome topics during their monthly family meetings,
the Hays children hone their interpersonal skills by working out
issues at home. A few years ago, Mr. Hayss son, Sam, took
advantage of the family meeting to practice an important social
skill: asking a girl in this case his 13-year-old stepsister,
Megan to stop giving him a hard time at school.
was being silly with her friends," says Mr. Hays. "She
was trying to embarrass Sam at school, and he felt comfortable using
the family meeting as a place to bring up and resolve his concern."
of the Hays family have learned to stretch on a day-to-day basis.
And thats great news. But heres the best news of all:
Over the years, stepfamily members as a group have matured and learned
to stretch emotionally for the sake of the family, says Engel.
do things for the kids that they thought they would never do. And
that makes (being part of) stepfamilies better and easier for the
children," says Engel. "Parents are sitting together with
their ex-spouses at football games and school plays. When divorced
parents are willing to hang out together, they remove a lot of the
children's guilt and worries."
Cohn is co-author of "One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories
and Advice for Stepfamilies www.stepfamilyadvice.com
and co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio, an internet radio show:www.stepfamilytalkradio.com.