Can Families Really be Blended?

In a day and age of fifty percent divorce rates, affecting those in the church as much as society in general, more and more families are struggling with issues of his, hers and ours—children, that is.

Unfortunately, while more and more people are facing issues with “blending families,” few are actually prepared for the rigors and trials of step-parenting. In fact, this is perhaps the greatest issue facing blended families: a lack of preparation, training and understanding of the issues they will be facing.

Consider the situation. A man, previously married, has developed his own parenting style with his children, and the children are familiar with what to expect from their father and are loyal to him.

Meanwhile, a woman, previously married, has developed her parenting style with her children, and they know what to expect from her and are loyal to her.

The man and woman fall in love and plan a life together, but forget that their children will join them in their new union. Often not thrilled about this prospect, children bring hidden loyalties, hurts and challenges with them.

Believing love should be enough to hold their family together, many stepparents forget to prepare for the challenges of raising each other’s children. Caught in the delight of a loving relationship, couples assume that blending a family should come naturally, and quickly. Failing to understand and manage stepfamily difficulties can lead not only to significant frustration, but in extreme cases can threaten the integrity of the marriage as well. Consider this woman’s story:

Hi. I need to talk to my husband about parenting. We are a blended family and have problems with rules with the children. We have argued many times over this issue. He thinks that I don't discipline my children like I should and I think the same about him with his. I almost feel as if he hates my children, and his daughter gets us fighting all the time. What can I do to get a common ground, and have a more peaceful household?

While there are no easy answers, there are several issues to discuss with your husband.

First, you are on the right track to talk to your husband about your feelings and perception of the problem. Nothing gets solved by keeping your feelings to yourself. Create a environment where you will always share your heart safely with one another.

Second, stop arguing. While this advice may sound simplistic, agree to share perceptions in a way that won’t blame or attack your mate. A perception is just that—a unique point of view. You should not expect that you will see things exactly the same way.

Third, be careful with criticism about each other’s parenting styles. While it is important that you agree on a consistent style of parenting, remember that you’re different people who have come together with different styles. It will take time to meld your different styles together, and in some cases, may never agree completely. That’s why we call the process, blending.

Fourth, be careful about allowing the children to be caught in the middle, or to put you in the middle. It is important that you spend time away from the children, reinforcing your relationship, so that you can be unified for the children. They must not be allowed to manipulate you, as children are inclined to do. It is not only destructive to them to have such power, but destructive to the integrity of your marriage and family.

Fifth, discuss rules and consequences as a couple, developing a style of discipline that you both agree to—a common ground. Be careful to allow the other parent to have input into how your children are disciplined, even if the biological parent assumes primary responsibility. While it never works to be overly critical of the other’s parenting/ discipline, your mate’s observations can be very helpful in pointing out blind spots.

Sixth, while it may take time for the stepchildren to love the stepparent, (and sometimes this never occurs) you must insist that the children always show respect for the stepparent. Showing respect for parents is a basic requirement for all children, and will help develop consistency and stability in your family. Children should never be allowed to put their parents down, attack them or abuse them in any way.

Finally, go slowly, and allow time for a positive relationship to develop being children and stepparents. Love cannot be forced, but more often than not, over time, with the right conditions, very positive feelings usually develop being stepparents and stepchildren. Remember, also, that if positive feelings fail to develop, and tension heightens, you should seek professional help. This is not a sign of failure, but rather of strength and wisdom.

Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor

Dealing with Preteen's Growing Anger

Q: I am the step-mom of an 11 yr. old boy whom will be turning 12 in 2 months, I have been raising him since he was 2 yrs old, and have seen to all the duties of teaching him to speak, potty training and all the other stuff that goes along with child raising. My husband and I went to court for custody of the little boy and won. The mother of the little boy has always made promises to him and never kept them; birthdays, Christmas, the whole lot.

When we brought my husband's son to live with us he was living with his grandparents because the mother was 16 and unable to care for the child and provide a stable home for him. Many years have come and gone and for the last 2 years my step-son has heard nothing from his mother Our phone number and address have been the same for the last 7 years.

My problem is this: For the last year my step-son has been showing very difficult behavior in school, getting kicked out, and now recently he has started not doing his chores, which are keeping his room clean and helping bring in wood for the fire place.

He has also started going into our bedroom and going through our drawers and lying about it and breaking Christmas lights all over our yard and lying about that also. Things in this house have gone missing and when we catch him doing these things he states "I was not. You're lying, that's not what I was doing." We have tried everything with him, grounding him, talking to him, we had even set up a punishment jar which his counselor had suggested we work out together and that didn't work. Now our son has been leaving school and going directly to his friends and not saying a thing to his father or me, and when we ask him why he says "I just wanted to." This has been going on for 2 weeks and his father is out of town working and I am left to try and straighten this out and I don't even know where to begin??????

Any advice you can give would be a great help.

A: Your stepson does have reason to be angry and adolescent hormones and changes may be bringing past emotional pain of all kinds to the surface for resolution. Still, he has learned patterns of lying to get around situations and is challenging the authority figures in his life to a self-defeating battle. He did not learn these coping patterns in a void.

It is possible that your stepson "got away" with breaking rules from an early age. Feelings of guilt or sadness for his plight with his mother may have encouraged his father and yourself to compensate by allowing him to "get around things" instead of working through problems. It is also possible that his behavior reflects the patterns of his mother, who clearly ran away from her own parental responsibilities. Somehow, he learned that it was possible to use "lying" as a means of dealing with conflicts. Either way, it is not too late to reinforce which patterns work in the world and which do not.

The emotional meaning of his "battle with authority" and other outrageous behavior is no doubt a cry for help. It is likely that his externalized conflict reflects his anger at his mother who is nowhere around to receive it. Repressed rage often surfaces for healing during adolescence. Attacking the Christmas lights may indeed be a sign of retaliation against an absent maternal force. And it is true that it is most difficult to express and resolve anger at someone who is not there. Still, it is possible to help him tame this dragon instead of be consumed by it!

The nature of his actions echo a young "out of control" part of him, very much akin to the two year old who was abandoned. It would be wise to secure the guidance and treatment of a child psychologist who specializes in teens. Perhaps with your support and professional guidance he will be able to confront his painful experience with his mother in a more direct and productive manner.

Though it is difficult, safe containment is possible with angry pre-teens. It will require teamwork and a dedication to believing in him. It will be necessary for you and his father to work together, and for his Dad to take the lead in setting clear rules, expectations and consequences for "breaking" rules.

Talk with your husband to establish clear rules and consequences. At the same time, his father should set up some activity time to share with his son, regardless of what else is going on. In other words, if your stepson is not allowed to go out with friends or watch TV for several days because he did not follow house rules, it should in no way interfere with his father-son activity.

Relating time should be kept sacred between father and son, as well as any family time that the two of you share together or as a family group. Sports activity, going to a movie and taking a walk afterwards should be times that allow for interaction between father and son. Even a weekend away could set the mood for sharing and relating about the past, the present and provides an opportunity to absorb your stepson's anger in the consistency of a loving and caring parental-child relationship. Do not let him "win" by pushing you away. Set limits. But show him that he is still cared for, not abandoned. Providing a safe container for the expression of his anger is the key to taming the angry two year old inside.

Increasing his father's involvement by no means implies that you as his stepmother should disappear! It does mean that if you have stepped forward to fill the "mother" role, it may be wise to take a step back and take a break from this position. It may be time to revisit the past by reaffirming the original father-son bond. Doing so may provide opportunity for your stepson to process unresolved feelings about his mother.

Still, you remain a parental team. It is important that the two of you decide on actions and that you are backed by your husband in all ways that revolve around the care and interactions with your stepson. Attending family and individual counseling sessions for working through feelings may prove helpful at this time. However, individual counseling for your stepson should in no way cause your husband to retreat from engaging his son in strengthening their relationship.

Filling the role of "Mom" may be particularly thankless during this period. Garner your husband's support and understanding through this trying time. Establish a safe plan for your stepson to confront his feelings about his mother in a more tangible manner. Working through his grief and abandonment is a natural part of his development. Support your stepson to confront his demons instead of run away from them!


Marriage and Parenting: How to Find Unity Parenting a Blended Family

Do you know parents in blended families arugue over discipline issues? Both partners come into the marriage with their own parenting styles, and these styles can be very different. However, when the couple works together they can blend their individual styles to create the best way to correct the children. Read on to discover communication tips on how to find unity parenting step-children.

The following question is one of the most common that I get from parents of blended families.


My wife and I have been married for two years. She has a son by a previous marriage. We argue frequently about how to discipline him. I think she is way too lenient and she thinks I am too strict. How do we resolve this?


This is a common scenario. One of the most important principles is to present a united front to the child. Any disagreements you have about disciplining the child should occur behind closed doors, not in front of the child.

Try to negotiate and find a common ground before the discipline is given. Remember your spouse is not the enemy; you are parenting partners. As a couple, you may want to read some books on discipline together. This may help you come to an agreement on how to handle discipline issues.

There may also be underlying issues contributing to your disagreements. For example, the lenient parent may be feeling guilty about his or her previous divorce.

On the other hand, the stricter parent may be insecure in establishing his or her authority. He or she may think that by being overly strict that they can gain better control over the children.

If you are continuing to fight over discipline issues, then consider seeking professional counseling.

by Jeff Barnet

Article Source: EzineArticles

Wedding Flowers for Blended Families

Weddings for blended families present challenges unique to them. There are many things to consider when planning these weddings and couples have to know from the start that there will be added stress that wasn't present the first time they both got married. While your own extended family may have gotten smaller if you divorced, your children's extended families is about to double in size. This wedding is not just about you and your future husband. It's about your children too.

If your darling little ones will be acting as flower girls and ring bearers, you have to consider inviting at least part of your ex's family and perhaps even your ex-spouse. Grandparents usually don't want to miss out on this event in their grandchildren's life and they very well might want to be there. Of course, if there's still a lot of bitterness and fighting, then it is best to keep everyone at the proverbial arm's length!

Since it's obvious that there will be additional stress involved with this wedding, why not eliminate some of it by ordering a silk wedding flower package? This can be done from the convenience of your home or office and the selection is fantastic! You can order silk wedding flower sets that include the bridal bouquet, as well as the wedding bouquets that your bridesmaids will be carrying. Boutonnieres, corsages, flower girl baskets and ring bearer pillows are also part of the package, which can be customized to match your individual needs. By choosing to order silk wedding flowers, you eliminate the last minute panic as you wait for the florist to arrive with your flowers. There won't be any mix-ups that can't be corrected, no broken off blossoms and no pre-wedding anxiety over whether or not you'll actually like the flowers. Besides, this is a new beginning. If you carried a fresh bridal bouquet in your first wedding, then now is the time to carry silk! Besides, your fresh wedding bouquet died, right? Silk will "live" forever, just like this new marriage of yours!

If this second marriage does include children, a beautiful symbol of the blending of these families would be to add a birth month flower for each child to your bridal bouquet. For example, suppose you have two children, one born in May and the other in June. Your groom has three children, with birthdays in January, March and August. This blended family bouquet would include lily-of-the-valley, a rose, a carnation, a daffodil and a poppy. Now let's assume that the wedding is in November in Connecticut. Daffodils are out of season, as are lily-of-the-valley. Poppies don't hold up well in wedding bouquets no matter what. The solution would be to use silk wedding flowers and add them to the bouquet. If you use a silk flower for each of the months, then you could pull the appropriate flower out of your bridal bouquet and hand it to each of the children before you leave for your honeymoon. This would be a special way to recognize each member of your new family.

Author Resource:-
Bonnie Goodwin Ray has more than sixteen years experience in the wedding industry. She is the author of Wedding Planning Made Easier and has become a leading expert in silk wedding bouquets design.

Blended Family Problems? 21 Ways Counseling Can Help

As a psychologist and counselor practicing in the Woodstock-Cary-Algonquin-Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills areas of Illinois, I find that there are 21 essentials you can expect when receiving counseling for problems in your blended family.

But first, what are the signs of blended family problems?

1. Conflicting parenting practices between biological and stepparents

2. Child rejects the stepparents disciplinary practices

3. Biological parent foments dislike for stepparent

4. Biological and stepparent compete for power and control

5. Conflict develops among the children in the blended family

6. Ex-spouse interferes with the blended familys lifestyle

7. Childs behavior problems become personalized by the adults, causing fracture within the family system

If this sounds like your family, you should seek counseling. But when you begin treatment, what will your counselor do? How does marriage and family counseling for blended families work?

1. Your therapist will help you to identify the positives and negatives of the stepparents disciplinary procedures..

2. You counselor will create a neutral zone so family members can express themselves without fear of retaliation.

3. Your therapist may train you in certain communication skills to build the relationship between relevant spouses.

4. The marriage or family counselor will likely facilitate a healthy dialogue among disgruntled children and any step or adoptive parent.

5. Your family or marital counselor will likely help the children explore any feelings of conflict or disloyalty regarding biological parents.

6. Your psychologist or counselor will probably facilitate a healthy release of any of the childrens fear of abandonment or displaced anger that may be inhibiting acceptance of their stepparents directives.

7. Parents will be helped to identify and resolve conflicts between themselves in parenting strategies.

8. The stepparents disciplinary strictness or rigidity will be assessed as to whether it may be creating resistance on the part of the child.

9. Your therapist may assess the degree to which an ex-spouse may be unfairly blamed for parenting problems existing within the blended family.

10. The counselor will help the parents identify and resolve any insecurity or jealousy regarding warmth displayed between a parent and stepchild.

11. Your psychologist may invite a former spouse or biological parent into a joint session with other biological or stepparents in order to discuss and resolve differences in parenting philosophies and techniques.

12. You may be asked to consider any potential manipulation of the child in playing one parent against the other for territorial or power advantages.

13. The children will likely be reassured that they are not responsible for their parents conflicts and that these conflicts do not reflect adversely on their parents love for them.

14. The children may be asked to express directly or through a letter the foundation of their feelings for being treated unfairly by a stepparent.

15. You may be encouraged to negotiate with the children as to actions that they may perceive as fairer to them.

16. Your therapist may suggest a list of special activities that the parent and stepchildren can do to reduce any feelings of alienation.

17. Parents may be encouraged to behave assertively toward children from whom they are afraid of receiving a negative response.

18. The therapist may help you to identify self-defeating patterns relevant to your parenting skills that may exist in your blended family and suggest ways of modifying them.

19. The therapist may prescribe psychological testing for some members of the family, children or parents, to expose any factors that may be neglected in isolating the causes of the family strife.

20. You will be helped to identify sources of ongoing support and reassurance to effectively improve and hone your parenting skills.

21. If you are engaging in any unusual parenting strategies, their methods and effects will be reviewed to be sure that they are contributing efficiently to the well-being of the family.

Author Resource:-
Dr Shery is in Cary, IL, near Algonquin, Crystal Lake, Marengo and Lake-in-the-Hills. He's an expert marriage counselor and psychologist. Call 1 847 516 0899 and make an appt or learn more about counseling. Article From Articles On Tap

Stepmoms step up to the plate

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Many women dream of becoming moms. Few dream of becoming stepmoms. On their good days, stepmothers think of themselves as bonus moms or mentor moms. On their bad days — and that often includes Mother's Day — they believe they are thought of by stepkids and ex-wives as something just above pond scum. Or not thought about much at all. Those who monitor the family say stepmoms need to be thought about. New research shows they do not often fare well with their stepchildren.

Yet many experts say stepmothers have a key role in making a blended family work. And they note that the blended family — whether the parents are married or just living together — is the family form of the future.

More than half of all Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be in one or more step situations, says the Stepfamily Association of America. About 30% of all kids are likely to spend time in some sort of "stepping" arrangement. And those kids are increasingly likely to be spending more time with a stepmom as courts begin favoring joint custody that increases the children's time with dad.

Many stepmoms are reaching out for help and finding innovative ways to succor others, particularly through Internet support groups. Most of those on the front lines do have battle scars. Kristin Lee Mead, 34, of Alexandria, Va., has stepmotherhood down quite well now. But at times being a stepmom has made Mead feel "lost inside my own head, with no idea how to make it work."

For a variety of reasons, not all stepchildren hold their stepmoms dear to their hearts. A growing body of disturbing research documents that the myth of the "evil stepmother" dies hard. Her new husband's children may simply never truly accept her, a woman they see as an interloper.

Among recent findings suggesting that stepmoms are often not cherished by stepchildren:

  • Only about 20% of adult stepkids feel close to their stepmoms, says the pioneering work of E. Mavis Hetherington involving 1,400 families of divorce, some studied almost 30 years. "The competition between non-custodial mothers and stepmothers was remarkably enduring," she writes in For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered.
  • Only about one-third of adult children think of stepmoms as parents, suggests Constance Ahrons' 20-year research project. Half regard their stepdads as parents. About 48% of those whose moms had remarried were happy with the new union. Only 29% of those whose dads had remarried liked the idea of a stepmom. Ahrons is a sociologist and senior researcher with the non-profit Council on Contemporary Families.

Stepmoms, Ahrons says, tend to get overly involved in their stepchildren's lives, whether the kids actually live with them or not. Stepdads often back off and stay out of the fray. Stepmoms need to approach the stepkids "very, very slowly. The women want so badly to be part of the family, and they tend to come on too strong too soon."

Huge numbers of stepfamilies are making it, melding successfully. But others fight jealousies, unrealistic expectations of instant love, the financial demands of child support, ill-defined roles and a constant undertow of tension.

Married two years, Tammy Matthews, 30, of Montgomery, N.Y., still struggles. Being a stepmom "has been tougher than I thought." She is lucky, she knows. She has two prime ingredients of a sound stepfamily: a supportive husband and "great" stepdaughters, ages 7 and 11. The girls spend Wednesday nights and every other weekend with Matthews and their dad.

Still, "I have no children of my own, and to have, poof, like an instant family, just add water, was a difficult transition."

New stepmoms can quickly feel overburdened. The stepdad tends to rely on his new wife to be the emotional glue that holds the new family together. Even if his children don't live full time with her, she tends to be deeply involved in their lives.

"Women are still socialized to care for the kids," says James Bray, author of Stepfamilies, based on nine years of government-funded research. "And men will let women do that. Unfortunately, men will dump the care of the children on the stepmom."

She may tire of the kids' hostility, the lack of involvement of her well-meaning husband, the resentment from an ex-wife who will never accept her right to love the children.

Many stepmoms will throw in the towel, leaving kids to go through a second parental divorce, says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. The role of the stepmother "is pivotal in the redivorce equation. That is true whether you are rich or poor, black or white or green. This stepmother thing is across the board."

The statistics are not encouraging. While the divorce rate is leveling off, it is still worse for second marriages than for first-timers. About 48% of second marriages fail, while about 40% to 43% of first marriages do. Approximately 65% of remarriages involve children and create instant stepfamilies.

Stepmothers come to Sollee with amazing stories. "A stepmom will tell me that the biological mother is a drug addict, that she beats her kids, but the kids still love their mom and won't be nice to me."

To make these often fragile blended family arrangements work, stepmoms are attending workshops and conferences, clogging Internet chat rooms and message boards with plaintive requests for help, joining real-life and virtual-support groups, starting associations, drawing on a growing cottage industry of books and reaching out to other women who understand.

They are very creative about how to find and give help. Stepmom Katherine McMillan, 30, of Oshawa, Ontario, will celebrate Mother's Day in cyberspace. She and about 30 friends from StepTogether, an Internet support group with 700 stepmoms, have partnered up two by two to exchange little gifts, running maybe $10.

"It's our own way of recognizing what we do," McMillan says. "We can celebrate each other."

Then in June she and a gaggle of stepmoms, including Tammy Matthews, will take a step past virtual friendship. They and others will host what they think is the first widespread series of small, weekend retreats for stepmoms who want to weave a stepfamily together. Confabs are scheduled on various dates in Oshawa, Ontario; Norfolk, Va.; Indianapolis; Mahwah, N.J; Detroit; and Houston.

Others take alternative routes to helping beleaguered stepmoms re-establish their sanity. Mead is starting a Northern Virginia chapter of the Stepfamily Association of America after spending some time on the Internet with

"Just entering a room with a lot of stepmothers, that feeling you are accepted and welcomed is something you can't find anywhere else," she says.

In the words of the stepfamily literature, Mead's family is now "stepping" well. She lives in a sophisticated apartment with her husband of four years, Luis Albright, 47, and his 15-year-old daughter, Sarah. His 14-year-old daughter lives nearby with her single mom, while his 20-year-old son, who lived with them earlier for two years, is in the process of setting up housekeeping on his own.

Albright, whom Mead calls "very grounded," does the lion's share of the daily work of parenting Sarah.

Over time, Mead has figured out the answer to the question virtually every stepmom must face: "Where do I fit in?"

Her job in this family, she says, "is to listen, to provide that communication. Let the biological parent parent. If you want to be a mother, then have your own baby."

She and Sarah are totally "on the same wavelength," Mead says. But still, "this is someone else's child. She has both a mother and a father."

The ability to detach takes practice, she says. "What woman can detach from a child who is in her care? It can be heartbreaking."

Sarah declares her stepmom "cool" and quite spontaneously gives her a hug.

"You have to be mindful and respectful of your stepparent," the teen says. After all, "she is married to one of your biological parents."

These two have bonded. But the experts say the relationship between a teenage stepdaughter and stepmother can be truly horrific.

"This issue is just huge," says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Second Wives. Her next book will center on the struggle. A daughter is already competing with her mother, and then this new woman comes along, Barash says. And the stepdaughter becomes "keenly aware of what the new woman does for her father that her mother didn't do."

There have been and will be problems, this Virginia family acknowledges.

"There has been a lot of stuff I have held close to my heart," Mead says. "I didn't want to feel that way, and I didn't want to inflict those feelings on my family."

Overall, though, she says her steps have enriched her life.

Sarah "has given me access to younger parts of myself. She has brought out my sense of play." Being a stepmom has "caused something excellent to happen to my life."

By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY

Stepparenting: Punishment May Differ in Each Parent's House

When biological parents have joint custody, the children will quickly realize that just as the rules may differ from house to house, so does the punishment. One parent may use "time out" while the other believes in spankings. One may take away privileges such as television watching or playing on the computer while the other just lectures or yells. While it would be easier on the children if the biological parents could agree on the same punishment for infractions of rules, this compromise rarely seems to occur.

In some cases, when the biological parents communicate effectively, each will honor the other's punishment restrictions. "Your father said you aren't permitted to watch television for a week so you won't be able to here until that week is up," a mother tells her youngster. Others, however, argue that each household must enforce the punishment within those confines and not expect the other parent to require compliance in his or her house.

My personal feeling is that as rules differ from household to household, so does the punishment. One parent may call upon punishment for infractions that the other would overlook or consider minor. Unless the deed was truly one requiring a strict hand—such as creating bodily harm to self or another, use of alcohol or drugs, and so on, the punishment should be carried out in and restricted to the home in which the behavior was presented. As with most decisions, however, the final action of this matter should really be determined by the two adults most responsible for the child's well-being, the biological parents.

Ten Rules For More Effective Discipline
Children need discipline in their lives so they know what's expected of them. It is vital for them to have this structure for behavior to make them feel secure, loved, and a valuable pan of their family. These ten rules may help you to become more effective in setting up rules for your blended family.

  1. Explain the rules in a way that is age appropriate for each of the children.
  2. Be consistent.
  3. Lower your voice, which forces them to listen.
  4. Never threaten what you can't/won't deliver.
  5. Let the punishment fit the deed.
  6. Don't name call.
  7. Speak to the act, not the actor.
  8. Teach cause and effect.
  9. Let bygones be bygones.
  10. Stay in the present.

Excerpted from:

Blending Families by Elaine Fantle Shimberg. Copyright © 1999. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Managing Relationships with Your Child’s Other Parent

Divorce is a painful experience. Afterwards, adults may want to forget the past and make a fresh start. When children are involved, former spouses can’t avoid seeing each other. Rather than forget the past, adults need to allow themselves to experience all the feelings that come with a deep loss. Anger, guilt and grief are natural parts of mourning a lost marriage.

Allowing feelings to surface, in a constructive manner, can often help adults cope with them and move on. If former spouses don’t cope with their negative feelings, their relationships may remain tense for years. Strained relations between their divorced parents can be especially painful for children. They can sense hostility between their parents. They may feel stuck in the middle of arguments over child-support, child-contact schedules or child-rearing practices.

Focusing on their children’s wellbeing can help former spouses find common ground. Researchers found that unless domestic violence or child abuse has occurred, children generally have a better adjustment to divorce when they keep contact with both biological parents. It can be hard for former spouses to share children, but the benefits generally outweigh the difficulties. Children should be free to express their good feelings about both biological parents and stepfamilies. Parents often have to work hard at controlling their negative feelings. They must try not to complain about former spouses in front of children. Parents can help their children adjust to new living arrangements by understanding what they are going through. The “co-parenting” relationship will affect children, as will living in two households.

Co-parenting (cooperative parenting)

Former spouses will need to work out arrangements that work the best for them. Some separated and divorced couples co-parent cooperatively. They remain friendly enough to discuss different aspects of parenting. Children will feel less confused when parents can work out agreements about details such as bedtimes or household rules.

Parallel parenting

However, after divorce most people still have conflicts between them. They may find trying to agree on issues such as bedtimes or curfews lead to arguments. This doesn’t help them or their children. These parents can develop a “parallel parenting” arrangement. In this case, parents make decisions only for their own households.

When relationships are tense, many former spouses find it more comfortable to keep their conversations business-like. They only discuss the children, not other aspects of their lives. They discuss disagreements over their children when the children aren’t around. Having disagreements doesn’t mean that either parent is a failure; married couples disagree—so do divorced parents. Even parents who have different rules and styles, however, can both be first-rate parents. Whether they choose to have a lot of contact or a little, former spouses should always communicate directly. Problems arise when adults ask children to be messengers. For example, a father who says, “Tell your mother she’ll have to drop you off early next week,” places his child right in the middle.

The child may accidentally convey the wrong message. Or he or she may get caught in an argument. If this change in plans makes the mother angry, the child may believe, “If it weren’t for me they wouldn’t be fighting.” When caught between hostile parents, children often feel guilty and unsure of their parents’ love.

Adults should work out all the arrangements for young children. If asked to decide about when they “want” to see their parents, young children may feel pressured to choose one parent over the other. A child may not want to spend time with one parent fearing that the other will be lonely. By closely following the predetermined child-contact schedule, parents will be saying, “It’s okay for you to go.” Parents can ask older children to share their opinions about when they will spend time with their parents. Discussing plans with a child before working out the details with the other household is a good idea. Even though the adults make the arrangements, the child will have a chance to state what he or she wants.

Tips for co-parenting

• The state of New Hampshire requires that parents complete a “parenting plan” before they divorce. Instead of seeing this as another hoop to jump through, try and use this time as an opportunity to establish a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent. Your children will be the better for it.

• Try to develop a business-like relationship with your former spouse. Set up a special time to talk with your former spouse about decisions or plans. Transition times can be difficult. For example, your former spouse may come in your house without knocking. He may sit down in front of the television while the kids get ready. If this makes you uncomfortable, find another place to transfer the children. You may feel more comfortable meeting at a neutral place like a restaurant or store. Don’t discuss important issues when transferring children from one household to another. This can cause tempers to flare and upset children. In some cases it’s best to hold discussions with your former spouse over the telephone. This way, you may end the call if necessary. Other parents communicate through letters or e-mail. Keep the communication on track. Stick to discussing issues such as child-contact or holiday arrangements, financial matters and topics related to the children’s school or their health.

• If you are unhappy about something your former spouse has done, approach the subject by discussing the children. Try saying, “Jimmy feels excited when he knows he’s going to see you, but when you’re late, he says he’s disappointed and that you don’t really want to spend time with him.”

• Keep agreements and do your best not to break appointments.

• Don’t discuss personal matters with your former spouse. Keep away from topics such as dating or other intimate details of your lives.

• Focus on what you can control in the situation rather than trying to change your former spouse. If your former spouse calls your house early each school morning, consider what you can control. In this case, you may work together to find a better time to call. If this doesn’t help, you may decide to not answer the phone.

• Don’t make unreasonable demands of a former spouse and don’t allow him or her to expect extra favors from you. It’s inappropriate for a former spouse to expect you to work on a car or mow the lawn. It’s also unfair for you to ask him or her to change plans at the last minute. Both parents must honor commitments about parenting and support the children.

• Remember, always try to be polite.

When co-parenting isn’t working

• Do you worry that your former spouse isn’t considering your child’s best interests? You may feel like making it hard for him or her. If you do, your child suffers the results. The best situation is to have two parents who act in their child’s best interest. The next best situation is having one parent who acts in the child’s best interest. The worst is having two parents who are so angry with each other that neither can keep the child’s interests in mind.

• In some cases you may need to contact an attorney to discuss alternatives. You may need outside help if you fear the current arrangements are harming your child and you can’t work it out with your former spouse.

• Find neutral ways to deliver messages to your former spouse. Try using email as a way to deliver these messages or send a letter through the mail.

• Don’t send messages to your former spouse through your children. It’s equally important to have children speak directly to the parent involved about their feelings and concerns. Teenagers may need encouragement and support to tell a parent why they doesn’t want to see him/her. Remember, your children should be responsible for their own feelings and decisions. Don’t put yourself in the middle.

• Some families find it helpful to involve a counselor, pastor or divorce mediator.

• Know what community resources are available. Tap these resources when you need support. You may feel frustrated when communication with a former spouse is strained. You may need advice or some one to talk to.

Children and adults benefit when co-parenting relationships are successful. When former spouse relationships are strained, business-like arrangements can help adults to work together. You and your spouse also can support one another when working out difficulties with a former spouse. As you share ideas and work together, you will be solving problems and creating a positive atmosphere for your stepfamily. Clear communication and flexibility are key.

Papernow, P
. Becoming a stepfamily: Patterns of development in remarried families, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,1993.
Shared Custody: Increasing Benefits and Reducing Strains, Oregon State University Extension Service.
McKenry, P.C. & Price.S. (Eds.) (2000).
Families and change. London: Sage Publications, Inc.

How to Avoid Becoming the "Wicked Stepmother"

Q: I need advice on disciplining my five-year-old stepdaughter. Her father is reluctant to discipline her and that responsibility falls on me. He says he is going to take an active role in parenting but usually does not. I feel that I am becoming the wicked stepmother. How can I get him to help control her behavior when she acts inappropriately?

A: You are on the road to becoming the "wicked stepmother"! This is a common pitfall for stepmoms. The terrain of the stepfamily needs to be carefully navigated if you are not to make this fairytale character come true. Should you continue to be the disciplinarian in your family your relationship with your stepdaughter will suffer. This should be her father's role, as you suggest and not yours.

One of the strongest predictor's for success in stepfamily development is the relationship between stepparent and stepchild. The second strongest predictor is a good couples' bond. Since the biological bond between parent and child predates the couples' relationship, the need to honor and respect the boundaries of this previous bond is essential prior to fully incorporating a stepparent as a major authority figure. Any shortcuts precipitate problems later.

Oftentimes, because of cultural loading on mothers to be the primary caregivers, stepmothers are susceptible to being placed in this role precipitously. Men more than women, following divorce, tend towards looking for a "replacement mother" to continue the work the biological mother did in the biologically intact family unit. This is a setup for failure and frustration! Do not take this role on. Step back and require that your husband play the "heavy" or you are likely to end up the scapegoat for everyone's negative feelings in the family.

Love includes discipline. Your husband is failing to cope with parenthood. Perhaps the dynamic in his last marriage was to leave this part of the job to Mom and he is attempting to do the same here. This could have also played a part in the failure of the first marriage, if responsibility for parenting was left to one parent! But you are not the parent. Your stepdaughter has a mother and a father.

Tell your husband you do not want to discipline his child, as it gets in the way of your forging a friendship with her. It takes time for a stepfamily to bond. Let him know that his lack of limit setting as a parent is jeopardizing the future of your family. (And simultaneously undermines whatever authority you do muster in the situation) By putting you in charge of discipline, he is setting up a situation in which he is the good guy and you are the bad guy. This void in parenting by him runs the risk of communicating to his daughter that he does not love her enough to do the hard part of the job! And leaving it to you ensures that your relationship to your stepdaughter will become wrought with conflict, before you have ever have the opportunity to secure your bond.

This kind of situation is not fair to any of you. Refuse to take this on, even if it means leaving him alone in the room with his daughter and her out of bounds behavior. Continue to develop a positive relationship to your stepdaughter. Take her on special outings the two of you can enjoy together if possible. But keep it simple and the interaction positive. Try to develop a good friendship with her. However, do not get drafted into the middle between your husband and his daughter. If your husband experiences difficulty developing this aspect of his parental responsibilities, ask him to seek out the advice of other fathers. Refer him to fathering resources on ParentsPlace. Perhaps a fathers' support group could serve to help him reflect on his own relationship with his father, and why this part of parenting is so hard for him. It is his job to do whatever it takes to develop his ability to cope with parenting. Developing his parenting skills is his obligation as a parent. He owes this to his daughter, as well as himself.

Approximately 50% of remarriages end in divorce, in part due to unrealistic expectations for family roles and relationships. Do not be seduced into "mothering" this child because she already has a mother and a father. Try instead to forge a special friendship. Over time, as your bond grows, you may gradually and quite naturally acquire the status of an authority figure who can also discipline. But you will not be filling in for your husband's lacks. With time and patience on your side, you may have the opportunity to grow into a workable stepfamily. Otherwise you may find yourself seeking a divorce as refuge from the "wicked stepmother" you could become.

The Extended Family

The shape of the American family is changing for the better, becoming more inclusive, more diverse, and more extended. Shared custody(both legal and physical) is becoming more the norm, and unlike in the past—when many biofathers left the scene—biodads are often very involved in parenting their kids after a divorce. More involvement means more adults in parenting roles and far more well-combined families.

The only problem with this improved state of affairs is that the more people there are involved in any activity, the more time it takes to plan things and to negotiate through differences of opinion. (Hey, as far as I'm concerned, this caffeine-based, gotta-hurry generation could all use a little more slowing down and time-taking anyway.)

The Value of the Extended Family

Children need other people (don't we all?). Kids do best (and parents, stepparents, and families survive intact) when there's a support network of many people, including relatives, adult friends, teachers, and members of the community.

In any community, the people who live there are mostly luck-of-the-draw; you don't get to pick the residents. You don't get to choose your partner's ex, either, or the family of your partner's ex (nor did they get to pick you!). Nonetheless, all of these people are a distinct part of your community now. Recognize that they are part of your stepchild's (and therefore your) support network, and you are part of theirs. The more you're able to see the wider picture and accept the abundance and diversity of this network, the easier it will be for you to rise above individual disagreements.

You can say it's for the sake of the kids, but the sake of the kids is your sake, too. It's nearly impossible for your stepchild to bond with you when your obvious dislike of her other bioparent gets in the way. She'll feel that getting close to you will hurt her biomom or biodad.

No! You don't have to get all buddy-buddy with the ex now. A working, respectful relationship doesn't mean beer dates, bowling, or heart-to-hearts. Your stepdaughter's soccer coach is also involved in your community, but you don't feel compelled to borrow clothes or tools from her, do you? Work on developing a practical partnership with the ex, not a close friendship.

Take the First Step with the Ex

If things are heating up toward nuclear meltdown, or if the Cold War has been going on for a while, it may be up to you to begin the peace process. Take a deep breath, keep the wide-angle lens open, and begin.

In her book Cherishing Our Daughters, Evelyn Bassoff recommends writing a letter to the bioparent to break the ice. (You could do this over the phone or in person, but it's easier and makes more of an impression when i letter might say something like this:

  • You are there for the child, and although being a stepparent has its challenges and may not have been your first-choice role, you welcome the child into your life.
  • You are not trying to take over her parenting role.
  • You are committed to doing the best you can to try to be a kind, adult friend to her child.
  • You would like to put aside disagreements and put the child's interests first.
  • You are available to talk or correspond any time she has anything to discuss.

For many people, getting over the initial hump is the hardest. Yes, you run the risk of being snubbed, but your efforts may pay off—and if they do, they'll pay off big-time. Think how much easier your life would be if you didn't have that churning anxiety every time you or your partner had to deal with the ex.

The Cooperation Concept

Cooperation and parenting collaboration with the ex will pay off in more than the money you'll save on antacids and headache relief. You can be a better stepparent if you enlist your partner's ex as a parenting ally. Think of the advantages! You can share information and ideas about problems your stepchildren are having. You and your partner are not as likely to be manipulated by your stepkid. And your stepkids will be happier. They won't feel tension in the air, they'll feel more secure, and they'll accept you sooner and with more grace.

Defeating antagonism takes time. Keep trying—it's worth it.

The Other Relatives

Your partner has broken up with the ex and has found fabulous you! Yet, because your partner has kids, there are still more “other” relatives in the picture besides those Other Grands. (Remember them—and see The Rights of Grandparents). Who else is involved? What about your stepkids' aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and third-cousins-twice-removed? Your partner's ex's relatives may very well be a part of your new family's network.

Here's another opportunity to grow your community and incorporate more concerned adults into your extended family. Once again, it may be up to you to take the first steps, especially if your partner's past relationship crashed, flamed, and burned.

Setting Reasonable Goals

In all your stepparenting endeavors, it's vital to keep your expectations in check and to set reasonable goals for yourself and for your stepfamily.

There's a slogan I keep posted on my office wall: “Perfect is the Enemy of Good.” If you try for perfection, you are doomed to fail. Aim your hardest for “good enough.” Do the best you can, and be patient. Change takes time. Be kind to yourself.

Defeating Guilt

“Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Erma Bombeck. Used wrongly, guilt can be a destructive force to you and to others. But guilt can be a positive force when it reminds us that we always have the opportunity to improve ourselves and our actions.

It's hard to read an advice book, especially when it points out things that you've done wrong and suggests ways of doing things that you haven't done. Don't let guilt over your past stepparenting practices freeze you in your footsteps. Don't beat yourself up. It's never too late to make changes, and it's never too late to improve your step relationships.

Source: Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz.

Telling Your Stepchildren About Your First Pregnancy

Congratulations you're going to be a mother! You have all of the emotions from excitment to anxiety to confusion of a first time expectant mom. You have one thing that many first time expectant moms don't have: a stepchild.

You are a member of the growing group of expectant moms who are a part of a blended or stepfamily. You are faced with the unique challenge of having your first baby with a husband who has a child or children from a previous relationship.

Regardless of your relationship with your stepchildren,they may experience jealousy or insecurity that daddy is having another baby.

Dad should assure the children that his heart is big enough to love all of his children and that no one will take their place in his eyes.

Now it's your turn to talk to your stepchildren. What should you say? Consider the following:

Never offer assurance by saying things won't change after the baby is born. A baby brings changes in life. You probably won't feel like hosting your stepchild's slumber party after staying up the previous night with your crying newborn.

Do offer assurance by saying that even though you will have to eliminate some of your activities during pregnancy and after the baby arrives, your stepchild will always have a place in your heart.

Never offer assurance by saying you will love your newborn the same as your stepchild. Even if you believe this is true at the time you announce your pregnancy, don't say it. Why?

As the months progress, you will be taken by surprise at the intensity of love you feel for the growing baby inside of you. Seeing the first ultrasound and feeling the first movements create a bond that develops long before your baby is born. A stepmom usually does not have the opportunity to develop a bond with her stepchild before birth.

The bond of a first time expectant mom can be so great with her developing baby that if she is a stepmom, she often wishes her husband was sharing the experience as a first time dad as well.

Do offer assurance by reaffirming your love or by reaffirming the special place your stepchild has in your heart. Remind your stepchild that the new baby will be a part of him or her.

Being a stepmom expecting her first baby is no easy feat. In addition to the unsettling emotions pregnancy hormones bring, you have the challenges of a blended or stepfamily.

Take time to relax, pamper yourself and talk about your feelings with those you trust. Cherish each day you grow closer to meeting the little one you're carrying. Before you know it one day when you hold your baby, you'll know why mothers refer to their little ones as "the hearts outside of their bodies."

Article Source: Cynthia Wilson James is a childbirth educator, author, a midlife mom of two bubbly toddlers and a stepmom. She gave birth at age 42 to her first child and a second child at age 44. You can reach her at her website

Blending Families Takes Work!

Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor

We live in a day when divorce is much more common than it was twenty-five years ago, and because of this, there are more and more blended families. We call them by different names -stepfamilies, ready-made families, and blended families -referring to families where one or both spouses have been married before and often have children from previous relationships.

Imagine the following scenario:

A woman was previously married for seven years and has two young children from that marriage. The marriage ended acrimoniously because of her ex’s chronic unfaithfulness. There is still a great deal of tension between them and any conversation concerning the children results in an opportunity for ongoing conflict.
After being single for three years, she began dating. A year and a half later she married her husband. He is several years older, and has been married twice previously, with one grown son from his first marriage and two teenage children from his second marriage. He gets along very well with his two ex-spouses.

While this woman loves this man, they are already experiencing some of the typical challenges facing blended families. This is one of many different combinations of blended families; his kids/her kids/ their kids; active ex-spouse, distant ex-spouse; cooperative relationships/acrimonious relationships with the ex, to name a few.

Consider some of these common hurdles for blended families:

• Children having loyalty issues between their natural parents and stepparents;
• Children feeling jealousy toward the other children;
• Entanglements, both positive and negative, with ex-spouses;
• Challenges with including the “new spouse” in decision-making about the stepchildren;
• Jealousy of the stepparent toward the stepchildren;
• Blending estates and finances;
• Blending religious and spiritual values;
• Ensuring the new marriage has appropriate time and attention;
• Guarding against too high of expectations for the new marriage and family;
• Establishing the identity of the “new” family.

With these challenges in mind, you won’t be surprised to hear that counseling those in blended families has been some of my most difficult work. While these families have many positive things to share with one another, they also have struggles not encountered by families without this history.

Here’s a recent Message Board request, suggesting concerns with blending families:

Dear Dr. Hawkins,
I am new at this and I consider myself to be a very spiritual individual, meaning that I do believe that my relationship with God is true. I recently married and now I am separated. To make a long story short, we started encountering problems when my 15 year old step daughter came to live with us. I have a 17 year old daughter who I admire, but I thought if I treated them with the same affection that every thing would be ok. Now he lives with his daughter and I live with mine. I pray daily for us to come together as a family, but it has been 3 weeks now. I want to grow old with my husband, but I don't know what to say without causing conflicts. I know that every thing happens for a reason, I just wish I knew this reasoning, I pray that it is from God and not from my husband’s reasoning. Pray for me because I love him and I want our marriage to work, I'm just at a stand still with being positive right now.

Clearly this woman is experiencing some of the “typical” problems encountered by stepfamilies. While the exact nature of their problems is unclear, it is likely that they, like most stepfamilies, failed to fully anticipate and prepare for blending families. Her note suggests there was conflict between her 15 year old stepdaughter and 17 year old daughter.

It is also quite obvious that she and her husband aren’t problem-solving effectively. They have failed to manage the conflict that is common to blending families and he has chosen to separate rather than continue to struggle with the issues.

What can this woman do now? While I’ll offer a few ideas, I’d love for you to weigh in on this issue. Assuming that the heart of the matter involves tensions between the two girls, and divided loyalties, what can she do now?

One, invite your husband to talk with a third party about the problems. Perhaps your pastor or professional counselor can help you untangle the conflicts and speak to each other in such a way so as to solve problems. Whomever you choose to counsel with, make sure they have some familiarity with stepfamilies and problems associated with them.

Two, use this time to examine your heart and reflect on the issues. While your heart is clearly breaking, the space between the four of you can be used to explore what isn’t working and how to come back together more effectively.

Three, consider family counseling, with a therapist familiar with blended family issues. It is quite likely that in addition to marriage counseling, the teenage girls need to have a voice in the matter as well. Children in blended families have a huge influence on how effectively the blending process occurs. You need to listen to their voice.

Fourth, read everything you can on blended families. I have written a very readable book on the topic: When You’re Living in a Stepfamily. There are many other good books that will help you understand what you’ve done well, and what needs improvement.

Finally, you are right about the separation occurring for a reason—though that doesn’t mean you should passively wait for it to end. Look and listen carefully to your husband to learn about what led him to separate. Listen with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Take what you learn and make healthy changes.


Two sisters, two different moms—TV's 'half & half' takes a fresh look at the blended black family

Take the Carringtons from "Dynasty," add 100 percent more humor and 200 percent more color and you have the Thornes, a family who puts the "fun" in dysfunctional in the sitcom "Half & Half." And while the title sounds like something you put in your coffee, there's nothing halfhearted about the UPN show, which is one of the most popular series on television with Black audiences. It also has earned nods from the NAACP, which honored the sitcom with four Image Award nominations--including one for Outstanding Comedy Series--a first for the show in its two-year run on UPN.

And signs are pointing to a third season of Monday night mayhem for the sitcom, which chronicles the adventures of two adult half-sisters with the same father who grew up in different homes and are trying to bond for the first time in their lives.

There's a lot of reality in the silliness that is our show," says Telma Hopkins, who stars as Phyllis Thorne, the ex-wife of San Francisco real estate mogul Charles Thorne (Obba Babatunde) and single mother to their daughter, Mona (Rachel True). "You've got two girls with just their daddy in common, who really don't know each other. You've got two mothers who are always bickering, who have their own insecurities. The people on this show, as ridiculous as they can be, are still people with whom you can identify since there are many, many broken families out there."

The show centers on Mona, a free-spirited neophyte music executive, and her younger half-sister Dee Dee Thorne (Essence Atkins), a very privileged, very pampered law school student, who become neighbors in the same apartment building, which their father happens to own.

Mona's parents, who met in high school and got married right out of college, divorced after three years of marriage. "One of the reasons Phyllis and Charles split up was because he wanted to pursue real estate as an entrepreneur and she was afraid of backing him," Atkins explains. "He eventually separated from her because he felt like she wasn't being supportive of' his dreams. So they got divorced and he met [Dee Dee's] mother.".

And that's the moment the fireworks began between the two Thorne matriarchs. After all, Dee Dee's mom, Big Dee Dee Thorue (Valarie Pettiford), has been a true thorn in Phyllis' side.

"What can we not say about Big Dee Dee," laughs Pettiford, who plays the woman folks love to hate. "She speaks her mind, whether you like it or not. She's rich, she loves Life, she loves who she is and what she represents, and she loves her family. And believe it or not, she loves and respects Phyllis--that's her sparring partner. She sharpens her teeth with her and she gives as good as she gets."

The cast agrees that their outrageous antics hook the viewers, but the realism of the story lines also reels in audiences week after week.

"I think the show is successful because it's funny, it's positive and it strikes an honest chord with people," says "Half & Half" executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser, who herself has four older half-siblings. "It's an accurate depiction of' blended families, which is how 60 percent of the families in America look today."

In fact, most of the "Half & Half" cast are part of blended families like the Thornes. True's real-life parents are divorced and she has a younger half-sister. Atkins informs that although she didn't have siblings in childhood, she now has a younger half-brother on her father's side. And Chico Benymon, who plays Mona's best friend Spencer Williams, says he didn't grow up with one of his brothers.

Bowser, who also created and executive-produced the top-rated sitcom "Living Single," says that her own experiences as the youngest child in a blended family serve as constant story-line fodder.

"I just basically rip pages out of my diary to tell stories on TV," admits Bowser, who modeled Mona and Dee Dee after herself and an older sister who lives with her. "There's a lot of me in Mona and a lot of me in Dee Dee. These two women are the two sides of sisterhood."

True says she too has a lot in common with Mona, whom she describes as the "everyman of the show." The actress and her alter ego both have a quick wit--although True points out that Mona has a team of writers feeding her those snappy one-liners. And True, like her character, is "a bit of a hermit." True says that she and Mona even own similar pieces of furniture in their apartments, which she swears is a coincidence, and they both share the same "weird sense of style."

"All my life people have said to me, 'Oh Rachel, only you could pull that off.' I knew they didn't really mean it as a compliment, but I just took it as one because I think that being different is a neat thing," says True, who vehemently refuses to give up the Frankenstein boots she rocks on the show. "I know platforms are out--I don't care. I'm 5 feet 3 OK! So with the boots I'm 5 feet 6 and I rule the world!"

Half-sister Dee Dee, on the other hand, is the optimist of the family, Atkins says. "She's the most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed character. It was her idea to move into the building so that she can get to know her sister better. She really has a great amount of hope in all."

Atkins also acknowledges that although Dee Dee is spoiled and very sheltered, there is hope for her.

"She's finding her wings this second season. She's definitely more sensitive and she's also been through more of her own struggles, having removed herself a little bit from the shadow of her mother," Atkins says.

As for similarities, Atkins admits that she and Dee Dee definitely share the same compulsive habit of cleaning things when they're anxious or upset. But unlike Dee Dee, Atkins is more pragmatic than her character and wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

"And it's very rare that you would catch me in a pair of hot pants," she jokes,

Despite their differences, the Thorne sisters and their families always unite when they need to unite--a message the show tries hard to convey.

"Even though they are truly dysfunctional, when push comes to shove, they are a family," Hopkins notes.

Bowser promises fans of the show some big changes in the Thorne clan in upcoming episodes.

"Mona and Dee Dee are becoming more integral to each other's lives," she says. "Of course Big Dee Dee is going to be having her baby and everyone is going to be making adjustments for the new little one in the family. Spencer is going to be making some big moves and Phyllis is getting a very significant man in her life, portrayed by actor Lou Gossett Jr."

But when it comes to the burning question in everyone's minds, will Spencer and Mona take the leap from friends to lovers? Benymon says that fans will just have to wait to see.

"There is some possibility that could happen in the near future," he alludes. "It's definitely a roller coaster that everybody's gonna like."

Reflecting on the show, Bowser says that she hopes to present the many facets of Black life to audiences. "We're not a monolith," she asserts. "We're not always angry, sassy or uneducated. We have many, many shadings, and not just in our skin tone. We deserve to be heard and seen."

The "Half & Half" cast certainly reflects this diversity and strives for it in the show.

"Mona's a weird alterna-chick and we really haven't seen a Black actress play this kind of role," True says. "I love that Yvette breaks some of the stereotypes and has been able to give Black women a strong voice."

Atkins agrees. "I would love for eur viewers to see the grace and the elegance of Black women," she says. "And I would love for them to see themselves in these characters."

by Nicole Walker
COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Remarriage Can Be Magic

Remarriage is tricky. Actually, marriage of any kind is tricky. To have a healthy marriage or remarriage, you need to develop many skills and have great determination to succeed.

Remarriage, though, has far more challenges than a first marriage. The good news, though, is that if you can get past those challenges, remarriage can be magic!

Here are five ways you can create a magical remarriage.

1. Remarriages often don’t work because of all the baggage that the couple brings into the marriage with them. A person who has been divorced usually has more hurt, anger and fear than a person who is getting married for the first time. A person whose spouse has died, has grief and often guilt or anger to contend with. All of this emotion comes into the new marriage right along with the couple.

To have a great remarriage, you need to be aware of the baggage as you go into your new marriage, and you need to accept it. Awareness and acceptance combined have amazing powers to heal. Start with awareness and acceptance, and you can resolve old emotional issues to pave the way for a great remarriage.

2, Second marriages often include children from previous marriages or relationships. These children can cause problems in remarriage, but they don’t have to. Although parenting someone else’s child can be one of life’s biggest challenges, it can be done. And it can also be fun.

The trick is to know ahead of time, before the second marriage, how you’re going to handle the logistics of joint parenting with an ex. Include the children in this discussion. Be clear on what everyone’s expectations are—know what the stepparent wants and can do, what the parent wants and can do, and what the children want and can do. When you lay out a family plan, you can create a wonderful blended family.

3. Ex spouses can be an obstacle to successful remarriage. If a previous divorce wasn’t amiable, an ex-spouses resentment can create all kinds of problems for a second or third marriage. Ex spouses can file lawsuits accusing all kinds of manufactured crimes, they can demand money, and they can poison children with their hatred and anger.

To keep an ex from ruining your second marriage, first, be sure you have the resources to have a good lawyer at your disposal. Second, make sure your new spouse knows what to expect from the ex. Third, do everything possible to diffuse your ex’s anger. Don’t engage in rehashing of your ended marriage. Avoid engaging in shouting matches with an ex. Allow your ex to feel what he or she feels and simply focus on dealing with whatever issue is at hand; leave old issues where they belong—in the past. When you do all of this, you can leave your ex-spouse out of the picture and focus on a great remarriage.

4. To have a wonderful remarriage, you need to keep your focus on THIS marriage, not on past ones. When you’ve been married before, you have a benchmark of marriage in mind. If the last marriage was awful, that benchmark won’t cause much problem.

If your previous marriage was good in any way, however, you might find yourself comparing your new spouse to your old spouse. Don’t do this. Telling your new spouse, for example, that he isn’t as good in bed as an ex is a surefire way of killing a second marriage. Telling a spouse that he doesn’t drive as well, cook as well, think as well, or do anything as well as a previous spouse dooms remarriage to failure.

Don’t EVER compare your current spouse to a previous one. In ANY way. In fact, you’ll do best if you don’t discuss a previous spouse at all unless you mention him or her in passing when sharing a memory of being someplace or doing something. To create a magical remarriage, think only about the remarriage.


Keep these tips in mind, and you can have a happy and successful, perhaps even magical, remarriage.

About the Author: Andrea Rains Waggener is a co-author of A Big Beautiful Woman’s Guide To Great Sex. Her site,, offers over forty love relationship advice.

Mother's Law

As I read Proverbs 6:20, which refers to "the law of your mother," I recall some of my mother's unique "laws" that have helped me many times. The first I call "the law of the warm kitchen." When we got home from school on a cold winter's day or when the holidays rolled around, the kitchen was always warm from baking and cooking that the windows were steamed. It was also warm with a mother's love. A second law I call "the law of a mother's perspective." When I would come to her all upset over some childish matter, she would often say, "Pay no attention." Or, "Ten years from now you'll have forgotten all about it." That helped me put things into perspective. But above all was my mother's "law of faith." She had an unswerving trust in God that kept her strong and gentle amid the fears, pressures, and sacrifices.

I'm so grateful for her "laws" because they have helped me through my difficult days. Christian mother, you too are writing "laws" for your children. Are they worth remembering?

Rights and Responsibilities of a Stepparent

Q: As a stepparent, do I have the same rights and responsibilities as the "biological" parent, who I am married to? Can the other (never married) biological parent legally tell me to never discipline their child? In a custody dispute between the biological parents, do I have any rights?

A: Consult a lawyer for the pertinent family law in your state. However, in general, stepparents do not hold custody rights unless custody is taken away from a biological parent and given by law to caretakers other than biological parents. It is usually the case that a parent's natural rights continue whether or not the parents have been married. Therefore, unless it is the case that the biological father is actually deemed incompetent to parent, (or voluntarily relinquishes his rights so that you may legally adopt) you will fare better to approach this situation with greater cooperation and less "going for the jugular."

Beware of the danger caused by blurring boundaries between two separate households. Taking on a fight with the biological father is not beneficial for at least two critical reasons: 1) there is little likelihood you could ever "win" on legal grounds and 2) more importantly, you contribute to strain, and a conflict of loyalty for your stepchildren. You must make appropriate room for their biological parent that does not invade the boundaries of your home. Reflect on your own tendencies towards creating conflict instead of long-term solutions which truly have their best interest at heart! It is your wife's job, not yours to handle this situation appropriately.

Consider that a part of the solution to your difficulty may lie in creating better boundaries between family situations. Do not discuss parenting with the ex. And any discussion that needs to occur about parenting between your wife and her ex can take place with the help of a family court counselor, or other family therapy mediator. The usual response to parenting differences by the court tends towards support of separate rules in separate houses. Except, of course, in cases of child abuse.

But rest assured that you do not have to account to your wife's ex" for your behavior in your own home! (Unless, of course, you were committing child abuse rather than exercising a different parenting style.) What goes on in your home need not be controlled by the biological parent living elsewhere. By creating stronger boundaries, you will likely circumvent conflict. The biological father will not be able to invade your privacy, once you stop responding to his "knock at your door."

Suggest to your wife that she begin by setting boundaries with her ex about what is discussible" between them. It is between you and your wife to decide what the rules are in your home, including discipline. She should make it clear that her ex is not invited into this discussion. Remain neutral and avoid hostility. But do not engage in discussion that is over the boundary to begin with! It is okay for her to hear his concerns, if she wishes, but it is not incumbent on her to feel compelled to continue to respond to them, once differences are clearly acknowledged.

Maintaining clear boundaries includes staying out of the middle of your wife's and her ex's negotiations. This is not really your battle! Your place of power is by her side in the marriage. This is where the two of you make decisions together about "house rules. It is then her job to set boundaries with her ex that respect the privacy and authority of your separate household. Do not make the mistake of taking on her battles. If she needs help, she should get outside professional consultation to help her establish these boundaries with her ex.

Your wife should simply represent clearly that there may be alot of things that the two of them do not see eye to eye on. And parenting styles is one of them. She may start by saying something like, "I appreciate your concerns. I do not always agree with your parenting style, either. However, I believe it is best to respect these differences. I decide what goes on when the children are with me. And when you are in charge, you decide what rules they abide by. I do not want to discuss this with you any further." In this way, your wife refrains from including you in the discussion and sets clear limits about separate household rules. For further discussion about dealing with ex's and stepfamily development refer to John and Emily Visher's book, "How to Win as a Stepfamily" and my article on "Making Healthy Stepfamilies".

It is your wife who holds the parental authority, as the biological parent. Your power is derived from the relationship with her. You negotiate regarding the agreements in your marriage and household (including parenting). But it is she who must clearly establish what is negotiated between biological parents. The lines of legal responsibility/power do in fact lie with your wife, and not you! Though this may not feel fair to you, it is the case that your place of power and "rights" rests only on your ability to successfully negotiate with your wife. But the good news, is that this does not seem to be a problem for the two of you!

Congratulations on a healthy marital relationship as well as a wonderful connection with your stepchildren. Well placed trust in a good relationship provides greater insurance for negotiating your needs for happiness than any court of law could ever hope to emulate!

by Gayle Peterson,PhD ( see more from this expert)

Wordless Wednesday

A Day for Mothers

To all Mothers in the world...

Chores in a Blended Family

Managing Shared Household Responsibilities

When you have a large family, work must be shared when running the home. No single person can or should be responsible for all of the household chores. This includes stay at home parents, you are the only people who have a job 24/7, and you need and deserve help. Chores should be divided equally among the members of the household according to ability. In addition to being helpful working as a team to keep the house in order helps promote unity and personal pride.

As much as your children may object to contributing to the upkeep and general maintenance of the home, doing so builds a sense of community. Working together to the same end promotes a sense of responsibility to one another. It also helps build a feeling of “home” for any family members that are joining an already established household.

No matter how carefully you try to divide chores you will undoubtedly find that your planning will be thought “unfair” by some of your family members. There are ways to help curb this feeling by rotating chores according to ability. Keeping chore charts or chore cards can help keep things organized.

A chart is a simple way of keeping track of who is supposed to be doing what. Simply list the chores that are to be done and the person who is supposed to attend to those chores. As work is completed it is checked off. Chore cards are a little more detailed in nature and can help ensure tasks are done to your satisfaction. Using 3x5 cards list the chore and any special instructions. For example, a card stating “Dishes” may include wiping down the counter and sweeping the floor after a meal. For children who are not yet reading you can paste pictures of the chores onto a card. An example of this could be a picture of a wastebasket that represents trash duties.

Keep in mind that some children have not yet participated in household chores. They will need careful and patient training on tasks you expect them to work on. Don’t be concerned about a job being done to perfection. Learning to do housework well, like anything else, takes practice. Rotate age appropriate tasks regularly and don’t forget to include outdoor chores such as weeding, washing cars, mowing lawns and pool care.

Whether or not to pay allowance to your children is an individual family decision. Some families choose to offer monetary compensation in exchange for children doing chores. Other families believe that contributing to the household duties is part of being a family and no such compensation is offered. Whichever model your family follows, you are not alone, but in good company!

by Cynthia Peterson

How can a Stepfamily be a Happy One

All families struggle at times to be happy, but blended families often have bigger obstacles to face than others. For instance, the quality of the relationship between the stepparent and the stepchildren has a big impact on the level of happiness in a blended family. Loyalty issues with the biological children and knowing how to discipline also add major complications.

To meet these challenges well, a husband and wife must make their relationship to each other the top priority ( Genesis 2:24 ). All efforts toward a happy home are useless if you don't consider your spouse's feelings and make decisions together. A spouse whose feelings are ignored will begin to feel neglected, insecure, and unloved, which creates unhappiness. It's important for spouses to discuss everything and make decisions only after they have come to an agreement.

It takes a lot of time to build loving relationships in a blended family. Emotional bonds don't happen overnight, and it's unrealistic to think that a stepparent and a stepchild will automatically hit it off. Sometimes that happens, but more often than not, it takes years to develop a more normal parent-child attachment. Be patient when it comes to developing close relationships with your stepchildren ( Proverbs 19:11; Colossians 3:12 ). Also be realistic enough to recognize that sometimes the kind of affection you long for never develops. Nevertheless, stepparents need to respect and accept their spouse's children, not seek to force an immediate close relationship. That respect and acceptance often turns out to be the foundation of the relationship you desire.

As your husband or wife gets to know your children, they will begin to see things in them that you may have overlooked. Be open to your spouse's judgment about your children. You may feel threatened to hear something negative about them, but listening to your spouse shows respect. Valuing these insights indicates that you respect your spouse's important role in the family. Honoring his or her opinion may even help solve some of the discipline or relationship problems you may have with your children. It's natural to feel protective; but those protective feelings could lead you to reject valuable observations, which can in turn lead to heated disagreements over the children ( 2 Timothy 2:22-26 ). When that protective instinct is turned on, admit it to your spouse and talk about it. If you are open about your feelings, you can develop deeper trust and intimacy with your spouse ( 1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4:15; James 5:16 ). Remember that it's not you against your spouse; it's you and your spouse, together, trying to find the best way to raise the children that God has given you (Proverbs 1:8).

Both the natural parent and stepparent are responsible for the guidance of the children ( Proverbs 13:24; 23:13; Ephesians 6:1,4 ). If you love your children (or stepchildren) you will lead and train them. Neglecting to help prepare them for life is a failure to love. Biological parents, in their own way, need to make it known to their kids that the stepparent has equal authority so that there is a strong united front. It's vitally important for the kids to know that there is agreement between you, and that each of you has the same authority over them.

Blended families have just as much hope for happiness through good relationships as traditional families. They need to recognize that their unique situation has unique challenges, and that those challenges are best met when they have built a strong, God-honoring marriage.

by Allison Stevens