Remarried with Children - 9/15/06

Smartmarriages smartmarriages at
Fri Sep 15 12:31:43 EDT 2006

The Forum (Fargo, North Dakota)
By Mila Koumpilova
September 12, 2006

Sue and Charlie Petry became a Realtor¹s dream 10 years ago.

Both were looking to sell their newly purchased homes. Together, they were
looking to a buy a house with enough bedrooms for their four children from
previous marriages.

Going into what would be a third marriage for both, they were determined
to get it right. They took a stepparenting class. They filled out
worksheets outlining their views on money, discipline and career, and
compared notes. ³We were very scientific and clinical during our
courtship,² Sue says. ³And all that notwithstanding, we were still

Experts say the Petrys¹ methodical approach to remarriage is rare among
couples on the verge of blending their families. Lulled by seductive
visions of Brady Bunch harmony, many underestimate the hard work involved
in making remarriage with children work.

In recent years, marriage experts and counselors have spoken out more
urgently against the denial stepparents-to-be cling to. The National
Association of Social Workers hosts a conference on stepfamilies here this
week, including a workshop Thursday titled ³The Stepfamily Journey: Not
for Wimps,² by author Elizabeth Einstein.

³We think blended is the wrong term,² Petry says. ³It¹s shaken or frapped.
It¹s not very smooth.²

The stepparent trap
Einstein conducts a Cirque du Soleil-style stunt during her workshop that
helps sum up the multiple pressures that can strain a remarriage.

She pulls out a couple from the audience and blindfolds them to convey
denial. She weighs them down with bulky suitcases bearing menacing labels
such as ³fear of intimacy,² ³perfectionism² or ³authoritative parenting² ­
the baggage the partners bring to the new relationship. She ties to them
other audience volunteers to represent children and former spouses. ³Now I
want you to get close and intimate with each other,² she says. Comic
bumbling ensues.

But the humor doesn¹t readily translate to real life. The divorce rate for
remarriages is 60 percent, compared to 50 percent for first marriages. The
majority fall apart within two or three years of the wedding, leaving an
estimated half-million children to cope with yet another split-up.

Yet, despite the prevalence of divorce, many couples still underestimate
the challenges of starting a family ­ not from scratch. Couples often rush
into the second marriage hopeful and unprepared, often ignoring potential
pitfalls for fear they might scare them off remarriage, says Fargo
marriage counselor and conference organizer Tina Johnson.

³That denial is a protective device, a way to face the fear that ŒI¹ll
remain lonely for the rest of my life,¹ ² she said.

A remarriage with children can be a taut tangle of intense feelings and
conflicting loyalties, one that can begin to unravel in any number of
ways, experts say. Parents can be giddy with the new beginning while their
children see that beginning as a loss ­ of a room all their own, of their
parent¹s undivided attention, of the hope their biological parents will
get back together, says Shelley Guida, a Village Family Services counselor
who¹ll lead a blended family workshop for Moorhead Community Ed in

For adults, on the other hand, unresolved hurt and grief from previous
marriages can bubble up and sabotage the relationship.

Ready, set, wed

The Petrys expected to bond with their stepchildren effortlessly, but that
turned out to be a slow, often tension-filled process. The friction became
especially obvious on family vacations, when life-or-death battles would
erupt over trivial issues such as which fast food restaurant to have lunch
at. ³What it was really about was place in the family and control rather
than the food we were going to eat,² says Petry. At home, the children
chafed at even the gentlest criticism from the stepparent.

Discipline is often the most contentious issue in remarriages, experts
say, and it¹s important that the stepparent builds a trusting relationship
with the child before sharing discipline duties with the spouse. It¹s as
important that spouses are on the same page.

Johnson got a troubling preview of many upcoming clashes over discipline
on her wedding night. As she and her second husband pulled out of the
driveway for a short honeymoon trip, her 5-year-old daughter bawled in the
yard. ³You¹ve spoiled her rotten,² her husband said. As they found out soon
afterward, she was on the permissive side, and he believed in strict

Johnson tells her story to stress the importance of preparation for the
success of a remarriage. ³We have the idea that if we don¹t talk about
things, they won¹t be a big problem,² she says. ³It¹s easier to sweep
things under the rug.² She makes couples compile lists of their hopes and
fears for the relationship, then talk about them.

Eventually, says Guida, bring the kids into the process. Get them to talk
about how their lives might be harder (³I¹ll never see my biological mom
again²) and fuller (³My step dad will take me snowmobiling²). Above all,
be patient. ³It takes a good two years for a stepfamily to start
functioning as a healthy family, and anywhere between two and seven years
for the kids to become comfortable with the relationship,² Guida says.

Petry is glad her family stuck it out through the rough patches. In March,
her stepdaughter, Anna, left for Iraq with the National Guard. At a beauty
parlor in Pensacola, Fla., Anna, her stepmom, her mom, Glenda Petry, her
stepsister, Nicole, and her grandma Phyliss treated themselves to
pedicures as part of her sendoff. The pedicurist was confused about the
relationships among the women, but they had a swell time. ³Stepparenting
isn¹t for the faint of heart,² Petry says, ³but the rewards are many.²


If anyone needs classes, it's stepfamilies.  And, we've got such wonderful
resources.  The challenge is leading them to the classes.  Or, getting the
classes and workbooks to them.  To order the recordings of seven EXCELLENT
2 hour workshops for stepfamilies, visit:

These include the workshop by Elizabeth Einstein described above and another
that I highly recommend on Step-Teens.

> 756-209
> The Stepfamily Journey: Not for Wimps
> Elizabeth Einstein, MA
> Learn to provide couples with a trail map to master stepfamily developmental
> tasks. Examine emotional baggage, bonding, loyalty, and discipline.

> 756-609
> Teenage Stepkids
> Elizabeth Einstein, MA
> Stepfamily adjustment is hardest of all for teens - and, for their parents!
> Learn to work with their developmental double binds around autonomy and
> bonding issues - all liberally sprinkled with hormones.

Elizabeth will present at the Denver Smart Marriages conference where you
can spend a full day training with her and qualify as a Stepfamily Journey
instructor.  Save the date: July 2.

And, visit the Directory of programs for a variety of classes and
Teach-Out-of-the-Box stepfamily resources:


And, just to show there is great hope for remarried couples with
stepfamilies, here is testimonial from Joan Liversidge who is affiliated
with both RE and ACME, and who presented at the Atlanta Smart Marriages
Conference - a wonderful workshop on what makes marriage work:

Hi Diane,

Read all of your articles about renewing vows at 50 years and just wanted to
tell you that Rich and I just renewed our vows at 25!  For a SECOND marriage
for BOTH of us we are blessed with 25 years and 13 grandchildren. All of our
children, their spouses, and the grandchildren joined us last week at Sandy
Spring Friends Meeting along with other family and friends.  We credit the
success of our marriage to the skills and support we have received and have
given to others through ACME style programs and events.  An unexpected part
of the worship was many who talked about our support of their marriages -
another fruit of our involvement in ACME and the Quaker couple enrichment

Below is the program for the celebration.

Celebration of Marriage and Recommitment
Joan and Rich Liversidge
September 2, 2006

On December 19, 1981 we asked God to bless and guide our marriage.  Over the
past 25 years, our lives and marriage have enjoyed Gods loving presence and
the care and support of family, friends and our Quaker community.  Our 25th
wedding anniversary seemed an appropriate time to celebrate with a
recommitment before God and the promise of care and support from our
spiritual community.  We deeply appreciate each of you for taking part in
this important event in our lives.

In keeping with Quaker tradition, our recommitment is being held within a
Meeting for Worship, similar in manner to a Quaker wedding.  The Meeting for
Worship will begin with a period of silent prayer and worship, out of which
we will stand and recommit ourselves to our marriage.    The Certificate of
Marriage Recommitment will be brought forth for us to sign and will then be
read aloud. After the reading of the certificate, members of the Friends
House Chorus and Chorale will sing The Soft Eyes of Love.  After that, the
Meeting for Worship will continue. Family and friends who feel moved by the
Spirit to speak may stand and share their messages with all who are
gathered.  Worshipful silence between messages is cherished, as it allows a
time for quiet reflection.

The close of the Meeting for Worship will be signaled by another song from
the Chorus: May the Lord Bless You and Keep You, followed by shaking hands.
After worship ends, all present are invited to sign the renewal certificate
as witnesses to this celebration.   Everyone is invited to join us for lunch
in the Community House.

The roses at the tables symbolize our flourishing family.  At our wedding 25
years ago, each of us and our five children added a rose to a common vase.
Today there are 24 family roses for this celebration.

We respectfully request that no photos or videos be taken during the Meeting
for Worship. 

Joan Liversidge
Columbia MD 

To learn about the dialogue process that makes it all work, order the
recording of session #756-712 ($15) at 800-241-7785:

> 756-712
> What Makes Couple Dialogue Work?
> Jane Ives, MS, Joan Liversidge, MS
> Experience the power of the ACME Couple Dialogue process and use of Quads (two
> couples coaching each other), highly effective in any setting and with couples
> at any stage of development.

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