COLUMN: Divorce’s potential problem — stepfamilies

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By John Lapp

This may be one of the most difficult situations to address and resolve. It will no doubt take the efforts of both parents to do that, which is in the best interests of the child, and that can be very difficult to manage correctly due to the usual emotional factors involved. The literature in the area of divorce most often presents that children have a desire to see the parents united again, and when presented with the facts of one or both of the parents contemplating getting remarried, many serious problems can erupt and will take a lot of effort, time, and give and take in order to adequately come up with the best plan for the sake of both families.
Much of this is due to the complications of the blending of two complete families, including in many cases several children from both, and many of these children are presented with the task of developing a way of getting along with strangers, none of whom they chose.
What can also happen, even before a parent makes the decision to remarry, is the behavior changes that emerge with the children, possibly because children may be rude to or even develop an indifference to the potential new parent, or more distinct changes from what the birth parent has witnessed with this child.
Another potential problem with which I have been involved in my counseling with “blended” families (two families coming together) is when the child is forced to refer to the step-parent as if the parent was a daddy or momma, and some parents have made the child refer to the new parent with the term that the child had previously reserved for their birth parent only.
As I have worked in several churches with children as a participant in the ministry to children, it is polite and responsible and usually very acceptable to refer to an adult with the prefix of “Mr.” or “Miss,” and followed with the adults given name, for example: “Mr. Scott” or “Miss Becky.”
I have instructed blended family members who have had both a father and mother as part of the child’s original family to reserve the title “daddy” or “momma” for those adults. The exception, however, may be to encourage the use of these words if there has been an absence of a true relationship with the birth parent for a length of time sufficient for the child to have a strong desire to refer to the step-parent as the child’s parent (albeit that this parent is not biological). It is best to not push the child into an unfamiliar role, and let it develop over time.
A word to those contemplating remarrying: take your time, even if it takes longer than you had expected to remarry when you have children who will possibly, even probably, not have the same deep emotional bonds that you have developed for the potential new mate because hurrying along too quickly may cost you some serous emotional problems with the children.
If the adults spend time in some enjoyable activities with the children, that, in the long run will allow you to address some issues with each other before you “blend” your families together.
Other areas that need to be addressed are, of course, the religious training and expectations of each parent because, again, it must take a slow and methodical process to assure that the members of this new family unit is cohesive, relative to spiritual matters.
This can, and has been, a potentially difficult area that could easily destroy a potentially good relationship because people can have strong, even biased religious views and they must be addressed and resolved before you are married.
One final matter to be addressed relates again to the visiting of the children to the birth parent during weekend visitations. A common term used is “Disney World Daddies,” when the child visits with daddy, or even with momma if the primary custodial parent happens to be the father. What the child often experiences when he/she visits the other parent becomes a fun weekend as the parents have the child all to themselves and are going to be an emcee of entertainment, sometimes as a way of possibly developing in the child the mistaken belief that “If I lived here, everything would be a lot more fun,” although if he “lived here,” he would have bedtime hours, homework, some chores, baths, manners, etc.
That is not to say that those weekends should not be fun, but not a foolish over-the-top presentation of “it’s all about you” that the child will expect and the parent may have to always produce.
Finally, although this column today is not a comprehensive answer to all or even most of the areas of stepfamilies, which I have seen become a wonderful blessing in the lives of the children, even the parents, especially if they can remain civil with one another, always wanting what is best for all, not just the children.
God bless you if you decide to join us on Thursday, Sept. 19, for the first meeting of New Directions, a program for divorced, or those who are currently in the actual divorce proceedings, not just separated from husband/wife. This program will duplicate another program that I had the privilege of developing in Jacksonville, Fla., the program running for many years with hundreds of participants in attendance from all over the city.
I will be adequately assisted by a dear family friend, Joyce Nalley, who provides a necessary component to the program because she has been divorced for several years and can lend herself to many attendees, relative to the many areas of concern for the divorced. I have been married to Lynn, my wife for nearly 56 years, and she was my receptionist/office manager for more than 30 years, and is familiar with the areas of those who have been divorced. The facility where we will be meeting has been graciously provided by the Rev. Steve Gettinger and the members of Risen Lord Lutheran Church, located at 5138 Taylorsville Road.
Meeting time is 7 p.m. and will last approximately 60-90 minutes.
There is no cost to attend and the program is open to the public, no matter what age, sex, or religious affiliation. We look forward to your attendance.