Notes From a Single Mom: Second Chances—Like Avis, Stepfamilies Have to Try Harder

Lynn Armitage
11/24/12

I can’t think of a better time than the Christmas season to talk about stepfamilies. After all, Jesus grew up in one. While we never heard much about His stepfather, Joseph, he gets my vote as the patron saint of stepfamilies. Imagine spending a day in his sandals trying to co-parent the Son of God.

Lynn Armitage

Someday, I plan to ask him about that.

I’m not part of a stepfamily . . . yet. But I do have some inside knowledge. Two of my sisters and my own children have fallen in step, so to speak, with “blended families,” the popular catchphrase. And guess what? They’re happy, despite the odds that two out of three stepfamilies eventually break up, according to stepfamily.org.

Not real encouraging news for single parents, like me, who are hoping the second time on the marriage-go-round will be a charm.

Pay no mind to that silly statistic. I know plenty of people who are happily remarried, blended and frapped. You do, too, I’m sure. Being in a stepfamily might not be someone’s first choice. But for parents who got the marriage-thing wrong the first time, it’s sometimes the better choice.

Rebuilding a family structure is a daunting task, but an important one, nonetheless, so hats off to every stepfamily out there. It can’t be easy juggling visitation schedules, dealing with difficult ex-spouses and establishing new roles for everyone in the family . . . all in the name of newfound love. It’s a crazy dynamic for sure, but one worth investing in, especially when “more than half of all Americans have been, or eventually will be, in one or more step situations during their lives,” claims the National Stepfamily Resource Center.

On the upside, stepfamilies can influence children in a positive way, making them stronger as they learn important interpersonal skills they wouldn’t learn otherwise. “They are often more tolerant of others’ differences and well-equipped to negotiate stressful times,” says the Christian Science Monitor.

Children in blended families also benefit from extra parental support and encouragement—more fans in the baseball stands, extra roses on opening night. They get three, sometimes four, parents for the price of one divorce, and that can be a good thing. (By the way, some stepfamily groups despise the term “blended families.” If one is determined to use a cooking phrase, they say, “try ‘combine or fold gently.’”)

While I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity yet to “fold gently” into a stepfamily, I welcome this second chance one day. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that nobody’s perfect and no situation ideal. I look forward to the bumps and missteps that come with a stepfamily. In fact, I expect them. That’s just life. Mostly, though, I’m eager to share a bounty of love with my stepchildren-to-be because loving all children, biological or otherwise . . . well, that’s just over-easy.

Stepfamily Survival Tips For The Holidays:

1. Develop new traditions.

2. Make small changes to start with; plan ahead and keep it simple.

3. Be civil and respectful toward the ex.

4. Include all children in the festivities.

5. Be flexible with timing of celebrations, how you celebrate and who is involved.

6. Develop balance between partnering, personal and parenting time.

7. Understand that it takes time for stepfamilies to blend smoothly. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Source:  Stepfamily.org; Debra Brown and Lillian Steinmann, Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Professional Life Coaches

Freelance writer Lynn Armitage wishes all families a happy, blended, joyful, sizzling, frothy, whipped-up holiday season.

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