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Stepfamilies- Some Alternative Thoughts

I have noticed how the acceptance of stepfamilies has changed over the many years that I have been writing for stepfamilies. There are more articles in newspapers, magazines, books, podcasts, and of course online than ever before. Just like book clubs, there are now stepfamily groups sharing ideas and helping one another. Over the past few years, I have been surprised and excited to see this positive change for stepfamilies in the information and help available to them.

Of course with all this information you need to consider what is being said and take from it whatever works for your stepfamily. Look for the positives and remember that everyone has their own perspectives and their own stepfamily makeup.

While I was reading articles piled up on my desk one day a good friend of mine sent me a very interesting article that I want to share with you.

Sandra Martin is the head of newsroom development at the Globe and Mail. On Sept. 3rd of this year she wrote an article for the weekly newsletter called Amplify in the Globe. It “highlights the voices and insights of women across Canada.”

I was especially interested in this article because it was about another type of family situation that maybe doesn’t fall into the category of “stepfamily.” However, it discusses another choice to consider when deciding on forming a stepfamily.

Let me explain.

Sandra and her partner of two years are both divorced, both have teenage children, both co –parent with their ex-partners 50 percent of the time, and have houses close to each other. Although they have been dating for years, they have decided not to move in together for now and live in two separate houses with their own teens. Her reasons she explains are that she has “ little time with her teens and wants to maximize the 50 percent that she gets” now. She wants her children to talk to her about life’s important matters and she thinks they will be afraid to do so if the house is full of other family members.

She also states that they could not afford to sell their houses and buy a bigger one that would give all the children the space they need. Even if they could, she feels that it wouldn’t be fair to the four teens involved.

In Sandra and her partner’s lives everything falls together very well because their situations are basically the same. That being the same living setup, same visitation times, same ages of children, close houses, ability to see each other a lot when their children are at the other biological parent’s homes and the finances to keep their own homes. They can still vacation together, discuss life issues and take each other to important events. Meanwhile they still have their own space with just their own children. In this case, especially with teens, I think it might work if both the partners are willing to wait. With everything there are pros and cons.

However, don’t think for a minute that this situation is perfect. The choice to live this way would certainly take organization skills and eliminate the chance to have someone help with household issues. Who will help with the teens such as driving and pick up in the wee hours of the morning when you are ill? Finances can be a worry for many and sharing the bills sure comes in handy. Most of all there is the emotional part such as holding each other after difficult days at work or snuggling at night. Also, there must be some sacrifice on those empty, lonely days when their teens are off with their friends, which they often are. Don’t forget that young people come home for four months each year of university and many also come home after university and stay for a year or two while they get their lives and jobs sorted out. It could be a long time for couples waiting for their children to grow up.

One of my first thoughts when I read about this situation was regarding commitment. In this case the partners have been dating a long time. There might be security in the time spent together but not all couples can manage so much separation from each other without some worry.

Couples with small children would have to wait many long lonely years before they could get together. Waiting all those years would be very hard on the partners. There are many advantages to uniting the families with younger children together sooner maybe than with teens. For example, the daily support of a partner is a huge help bringing up young children, and also sharing resources helps immensely in most young families.

(I won’t discuss all of these positives in this blog but by reading my book you will find many listed.)

It is here that I remind you that no family situation is perfect. Stepfamily or not! Believe me, stepfamilies are not the only families with issues.

Couples get together after divorce or death of a partner for many different reasons. Each family is made up of different numbers of people. That is why there are many different types of stepfamilies. There are positives and negatives to each type of family, even as in Sandra’s choice to have parallel families.

Sandra points out in her article that more than half of the stepfamilies in Canada are made up of one partner with children and one partner without any children. (I have not been able to confirm this comment.) She suggests that it would be easier because these children would not have a stepsibling to deal with. Would that be more ideal? Would the partners be more willing to get together even if the children from the one family were teens? I guess it depends on the partner. In some ways this type of stepfamily may have many positives simply because there are less people involved. It could have its advantages for the children as long as the stepparent is willing to spend time and energy with his/her stepchildren. This type of family requires an emotionally strong and willing stepparent. Also, many of these families eventually provide a child for the partner without children. This can be very uniting for a stepfamily. Even with the adjustment to assimilate another child into the family, over time all the family members love the new baby. There is no way to tell if this type of family is any “better” than another. If it works for the personalities involved then it is right for that stepfamily.

Sandra and her partner’s choice not to unit their families is a good one for them. It is an option that is more common than it used to be. I like to think that uniting into a stepfamily can work for all the members of both families. Given time and effort, everyone’s needs can be met including the couple’s needs. However, it is up to the families involved to decide and there are no rules. As they say “ each to their own.”

All the best.




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