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Introduction


W
HEN I BEGAN WORKING ON Stepparenting Without Guilt, I wanted to understand why stepparenting, even more so than biological parenting, felt so daunting and challenging a task. It was (and is) my hope that sharing these difficulties and experiences will help facilitate the process of being a better stepparent for others.

I think one of the main issues that confronts most step- parents is being unprepared beforehand and caught off- guard by how different this type of family can feel and be. It also requires facing the possibility of many personal interac­tions that require unique tools and communication tech­niques. These complexities are of both a prac6cal and an emotionally demanding nature: organizing schedules, nego­tiating visitation and custody rights, planning transporta­tion, caring for the personal belongings of children going back and forth between homes (clothes, toys, notes, etc.)— and dealing at times with ambivalent and painful feelings: anger, jealousy, and hurt along with unresolved grief over the loss of the original family unit. Intact families do not have to address these same issues.

‘To that end, I have formulated a number of stepfamily “rules” throughout Step parenting Without Guilt which address some of these differences. I want to stress here, however, that rules, especially in family life, step or otherwise, can never be etched in stone. One of the hallmarks of stepfamily living is being able to embrace diversity and learning how to negoti­ate in a proactive rather than reactive manner. More than anything else, it is my hope that these so-called “rules” will provide useful guidelines for positive dialogue among step- family members and foster smoother sailing on what at times can feel like turbulent seas.

With divorce statistics seemingly ever on the rise, the importance of sound stepparenting is as important an issue today as sound biological parenting, perhaps even more so. I am happy to say after nearly twenty years on the job that there are rewards to being a stepparent, and I am really quite glad about being able to write that. Yet, as with most achieve­ments in life that are personally satisfying, they require work, patience, and commitment to being part of a family structure that is different from what many of us experienced while growing up.

Chapter One, “Stepfamily Ties and Tribulations,” pro­vides an overview of some of the issues facing stepfamilies, particularly the myths and negative stereotypes associated with the word “step.” Chapters Two and Three, “Life after Divorce” and “Period of Adjustment,” focus more specifically on legal and court issues, scheduling tactics, discipline, and managing the various behavioral responses (from more diffi­cult to easier) between two household families.

Chapter Four, ‘A Mom Who Isn’t a Mom,” focuses on stepmotherhood as that is what I know best, but I also have included material relevant to fathers and stepfathers as well. Chapter Five, “The Emotional Minefields of Stepfamily Life,” addresses some of the more painful emotional experiences of stepfamily life and is applicable to all members of an ex­tended family regardless of role or gender: parent, steppar­ent, or stepchild.

Chapters Six and Seven, “Council and Communication” and “Relationship Saving Suggestions,” offer techniques for dialogue and information on communication skills. I have also included what one might call my philosophical ap­proach to stepfamily and family interaction. I have found it helps to have an overall framework from which to function over and above specific guidelines and rules. Tam the first to admit, however, that when you are in the throes of step- family formation and adjustment it is easy to lose sight of this philosophical blueprint (if it has ever been in sight at all!).

This leads me to a final point:

The word “love” is so overused in our culture today and frequently misunderstood. I do believe, however, that the fountainhead or foundation for success in stepfamily life is just that: love—not as a feeling, for it is easy to say “I love you”—but rather as an act, something which is far more challenging. And while I do not believe a successful steppar­ent has to feel love for his or her stepchildren or for the former partner (or partners) of a new spouse, to act love is another matter. It is also a choice, a very important one at that.

As we are increasingly faced with more and more people, different cultural and political perspectives, alternative ways of doing and envisioning the world, I believe it is vital, if not imperative, that we learn how to honor and respect that which is different from us. I can think of no other training ground better suited to this than being in a stepfamily. To that end, I hope Stepparenting Without Guilt proves fruitful to others who are thinking of embracing or who have already embarked upon this family path.

 

Maurine Doerken

Santa Monica, California

January, 2000

 

 


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