"Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." -Proverbs 12:25

"Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." -Proverbs 12:25
Midnight Blue (1963): Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell featuring Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Major Holley on double bass, Bill English on drums and Ray Barretto on conga. Midnight Blue is one of Burrell’s best-known works for Blue Note Records. In 2005, NPR included the album in its "Basic Jazz Library", describing it as "one of the great jazzy blues records".

He said, She said...

"You are not designed for everyone to like you - Wise Man Phil

FRAGILE: Sting, Yo Yo Ma, Dominic Miller & Chris Botti

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stepfamily (re-post 11.18.10)

Stepfamilies can be confusing... to everyone.

Today I received a beautiful, heartfelt note from a dear friend that I care about very much. We have been friends since high school and though we are very busy and live in different regions of the country, and because we don't see or talk to each as often as we would like we always seem to keep in touch just enough to realize how much we mean to each other. We were our high schools "first ever" prom king and queen and each others biggest fan as she watched me play basketball and I watched her cheer. The only thing more beautiful than her smile and eyes is her spirit and her heart. Below is the note she sent me today:

Hey Shawn, I just watched a podcast from the church I go to here in Atlanta. I love your writing and your love for God so I thought that you might enjoy watching it too. I hope that you don't take offense but it speaks to marriage, divorce and remarriage. I thought it might give you some peace and maybe even inspire you in some way to speak with our next generation. You do have 12,000 visitors by the way! I have two girls and have been through a divorce (my parents') and would so love for them to know more than I did! Please know this is being passed along with a ton of love in my heart for you. PS. I am sending to other family and friends too! I am that person! Here is the link: It is part 5!

So with that thoughtful note I wanted to respond to her small request and re-post a piece I wrote this past November entitled "Stepfamily".

Summer of 2006

My hope is that everyone continues "to hope" and "to believe" that they can make their family as great as they want... no matter the circumstance. -sbb


Blend: to mix (various sorts or grades) in order to obtain a particular kind or quality: Blend a little red paint with the blue paint.


A couple months ago a friend asked me to write a piece on family and ever since that moment the concept of family has been running around in my head. First I must say I was honored this person wanted to read something written by me on this topic and that trying to write a short and concise piece on such an enormous topic isn't the easiest of tasks. There are many different directions and definitions one can entertain, opinions and views one can observe when discussing the topic of family. And though it is my plan to write about the "traditional" family during this Holiday Season I wanted to touch upon the "stepfamily" first for the simple fact there are more stepfamilies than traditional families in America today.

A stepfamily by definition is: 

A relationship that is formed by marriage or long-term cohabitation of two individuals, when one or both have at least one child from a previous relationship living part-time or full-time in the household. The individual who is not the biological parent of the child or children is referred to as the stepparent. Stepfamilies are also called blended families.

It is interesting note that American law has no comprehensive definition of a stepfamily.

When delving deeper into the term "stepfamily" one realizes that the prefix "step" comes from the old English steop-, which meant "related by marriage rather than blood" and is an old Teutonic word denoting bereavement or orphaned.  In Colonial times a 'steopbarin' was a child who had lost a parent and gained a stepparent, and the very gaining of a stepparent was often associated with loss and hardship. The terms connotation is understandable when you realize that from 1658 to 1705 in southern Maryland, 67 percent of the married or widowed men who died left behind a family of all minor children. If the children were fortunate, they'd find themselves in a stepfamily – the product of their mother's quick remarriage. If not, the children could become wards of the state, apprenticed to a tradesman, or even sold as slaves.

Overall, the term "step" denoted a derogatory meaning for many centuries.

As we can see the term "step" struggled in the past to project a positive image and the unions that produce stepfamilies today have done more than struggle; boasting high divorce rates and in many instances providing miserable living conditions.

Statistically speaking, stepfamilies have not fared very well. The statistics concerning stepfamilies in the U.S. are in a word - staggering. Below are some figures supplied by the US Bureau of Census:
  • 1300 new stepfamilies are forming every day.
  • Over 50% of US families are remarried or re-coupled.
  • The average marriage in America lasts only seven years.
  • One out of two marriages ends in divorce.
  • 75% remarry
  • 66% of those living together or remarried break up, when children are involved.
  • 80% of remarried, or re-coupled, partners with children both have careers.
  • 50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent's current partner.
  • Over 80% of women who enter into stepfamilies are career women. These women do not have to endure the unexpected rigors of remarriage.
  • A Boston University psychologist researcher reported that of the career women who had married men with children over 75% said that, "if they had do it again they would NOT marry a man with children."
  • 50% of all women, not just mothers, are likely to live in a stepfamily relationship, when we include living-together families in our definition of the stepfamily." states Professor of Sociology Larry L. Bumpass of the University of Wisconsin.
The reason I share these facts is because stepfamilies are a part of almost everyone's lives in some way, shape or form. In the US today 46% of all weddings are remarriages for at least one partner AND most of these marriages include children from previous relationships. Also, approximately 30% of all weddings in the US give birth to a stepfamily (i.e., are stepcouple weddings), and 60-70% of these "stepcouple" marriages will end in legal divorce.

We as a society are also seeing a higher rate of children born out of wedlock and finding a home with stepparents. Today 1/3 of all children entering stepfamilies were born to an unmarried mother rather than having divorced parents (National Survey of Families and Households) and 40% of unmarried mothers are living with their child’s biological father at the time of birth, but because of the fragility of cohabitating relationships, one in three of these families break up.

It's also important to mention that the divorce rate is 50% higher for couples remarrying that have kids versus those couples that tie the knot the second time without kids... if both come to marriage with kids the divorce rates is over 70%. The divorce rate for first time couples is 50%

As important as the stats themselves are, investigating the reasons why the numbers are so high is paramount. 

There are many reasons why families don't work out but the main reasons that were often cited were:
  1. Undefined role for stepparent, mainly in the area of discipline, as it pertains to the children.
  2. The issue of jealousy on the part of the child, stepparent or ex spouse, or all three.
  3. Financial struggle for the biological father because of alimony or child support, or both.
Also, one can't dismiss or ignore the fact that too many people get married too soon after the last marriage denying themselves the time to heal, learn and grow from that experience and ultimately from that loss.

Now that you are thoroughly depressed and discouraged concerning the prospects of a blended family being successful let me provide some thought, hope and encouragement.

I know...cheesy, but I had to...

Stepfamilies can and do work.

The stepfamilies that succeed are the ones that have the strongest leadership and have members of the family that know when to step in, step back and step up. In these families stepparents realize that they said "I do" to the children, as well as, their new spouse. The biological parent recognizes, realizes and communicates his or her approval that the non-biological parent has a different, but nonetheless important, love and attachment for their stepchildren. 

A stepparent's love is different, and in my opinion, will never match the love of a biological parent and there is nothing wrong with that... it's just a fact.

I know some will have a problem with that comment but it wasn't meant as a criticism, it's just very difficult to love your spouse's child, or children, with the same depth, intensity and resolve that the biological parent does.

In the end, stepfamilies that succeed decide to travel down the road of peace, understanding and love. They don't bash the "other" family verbally for how they do things in their home but address any situations that need to be addressed in their own home. People are different and they realize and accept that. This view point takes maturity and strength of character. The married couple also understands that it won't be "just them" in the beginning and that the "honeymoon" phase will be short lived. For better or worse they accept that they are inheriting an "ex-wife or ex-husband in-law" and that more often than not they will be heard from and that the ex will have a say in certain issues when it is their child that is involved.

To have any other expectation would be foolish.

So with everything you just read take a deep breath and during this Holiday Season take a step back and quiet yourself. Realize that during this time of the year things can go sideways rapidly and when the dust settles what we see in our rear view mirrors is anger, disappointment and hurt feelings. Trying to organize, communicate and pursue a bag full of schedules can be tough on everyone during this time of year. To be a legitimate leader you have to humble yourself; you have to take the high road.

Be understanding. Be thoughtful.

Stepmothers do this when they understand that they are often grief counselors during the holiday seasons, especially if their stepfamily is new and if there are younger children involved. It is very tough on children to "share" their parents and spend time going from house to house; home to home. Stepfathers also play a major role when they realize that it's OK to allow for feelings to be communicated and when they listen more than they speak. Kids just want to know that they are being heard and the quickest way for a stepchild to warm up to a stepparent is when they realize that you hear them. 

Remember, you can't hear with your mouth open.

The greatest gift we can give our blended families this year is a gift of peace. Make this Holiday Season better for everyone involved and for all of those you come in contact with. Make everyone else a priority. Make each member of your "family" a priority and serve them with a smile on your face and love in your heart. If you do this everyone wins.

Everyone has a role to play, make sure you play yours and give the gift of love and selflessness to your family this Holiday Season.

sbb 18.11.10

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