01 January 2005

Single...With Children: Blended Families Require Sensitivity

Single with Children: Blending a family takes sensitivity

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/23/03

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a new friend as she was showing me photos of her recent wedding. To be more accurate, her 11-year-old daughter was proudly showing me the photos.

Kelsey took me through the small stack of wedding pictures and pointed out who each person was. This is when it got a little complicated for me. One snapshot featured two middle-aged men, both of them smiling, proudly standing on either side of Kelsey, who stood in as one of her Mom's bridesmaids.

"That's two of my grandpas!" Kelsey explained. I looked at her mother who said one was her step-grandfather and one was her biological grandfather. The next one featured the bride, groom, Kelsey and two other similarly dressed younger girls who Kelsey announced were her two new stepsisters. She was clearly very pleased to be the older sister.

I was then shown a photograph of even more family members and Kelsey, my ever-patient guide, painstakingly said these were cousins, stepcousins, aunts, uncles, stepaunts, stepuncles and, well, you get the picture! I was quickly losing my way climbing up the family tree, but Kelsey had all the information down pat.

"So, what do you think?" she asked with an adorable smile.

"Beautiful! But how do you keep it all straight?" I asked.

Without missing a beat she said, "It's easy! They're all family." Nice answer.

Now you have to remember that I am the product of parents who just blissfully celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. The only firsthand knowledge I have of this "step-system" is that both of my children have two stepsisters they see only a couple of times a year. They get along fine, but I always wondered if it was because they interact with each other infrequently. In Kelsey's case, she has known these two new stepsiblings for the two years that her mom and new stepdad have dated.

Lest one think that becoming a stepdaughter is relegated to the younger family members, I had a client in town last week and during the course of the day, I learned more about her family as she was helping her daughter find a home to buy while she attends graduate school.

This warm, engaging woman is also the mother of two stepdaughters. She shared her years of experience in handling the role of stepmother. She told me how she had learned quite a lot and like most things in life, much of it had been through trial and error. "Balance" was a frequently used word.

As our conversation expanded, I learned that this mother/stepmother had recently become a stepdaughter herself when her 79-year-old father remarried a year following the death of her mother. She said that she had fully approved of her Dad's remarriage, but that becoming a stepdaughter, even though she is grown with adult offspring of her own, had given her an interesting perspective of what it might have felt like to the children in her blended family when she and her husband had married a few years ago. She confessed that it was definitely an adjustment for her to see her father with a woman who was not her mother.

The present familial landscape seems to have a lot of steps, and we are raising a whole new generation of kids who are growing up in stepfamilies and accept it as a matter of course. Parents remarry, and whether it's because of divorce or the death of a spouse, there are obviously huge adjustments to be made. From what I can tell, if the parents involved handle the situation with a lot of care, understanding and attention, and they take the time to consider what it might feel like to the children caught up in the middle of the birth of a new family, it can be a happy and secure situation for everyone involved.

Some of us in this single-parenting situation know the terrain from having personally grown up in stepfamilies, but it's a foreign land to me.

I have, however, managed to figure out this much: From talking with many formerly single parents who have successfully managed to create happy, productive and rewarding blended families, this foreign land seems to require a passport that is generously "stamped" with LOVE.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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