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Starting a Stepfamily of My Own

Stepparenting 101: My Journey to Stepparenting

My own parents were married for 62 years, ending only for Dad in 2005 when he passed away. Mom, however, went on being married. She slept with Dad’s photograph, asked his advice on a regular basis and was convinced his spirit was embodied in a sparrow that showed up daily on her front porch. If they ever thought about divorce they never talked about it. Growing up in the ‘60’s most of my friends and relatives were part of and intact, heterosexual, legal and religiously sanctioned marriage. I had a handful of acquaintances that were not. My parents pitied these poor children from a “broken home”.

Debby and Sherry’s father Lee lived across the street from us. He was divorced from their mother and even though he had a good job with the railroad he lived sparsely in a studio apartment. Lee’s greatest joy was his girls coming to Los Angeles from their home in Indio about two hours away. They did this for six weeks every summer. He had not remarried but he did have a “lady friend” whom we never saw the entire time the girls were there. When I met them we were all in our early teens. Every day we either went to the movies, the beach, horseback riding or the mall. All financed by Lee. The last week was the grand finale: shopping for school clothes. Nirvana for them and a vicarious experience for me. My parents could never buy me a new wardrobe in one occasion! For weeks afterwards I would fantasize that my mom and dad would have some horrible argument and get a divorce. Then they would fight over me and the loser would have to prove (monetarily) how much they loved and missed me. Oh…the musings of a child.

Fast forward to 1988, I am 39 years old and determined to end my current marriage before I turn 40. We have split up several times in our 20 year marriage but always reconciled for the sake of our sons, now 18 and 15. I now had a sustainable income from a good career and my resolve to leave was strong and irreversible. My sons, still sympathetic to their dad’s hopes of trying again, were old enough to understand the reasons and to accept the finality of my decision. They would live with me.

For two years the three of us forged a new family dynamic. I worked; they went to school and we did things together on the weekends. Their dad was barely able to provide for his own needs so the cost of raising two teenage boys (one in college and the other in a private high school) was mine to bear. But I knew this would be the case. He chose to stay in the same town as us so the boys could drop by and see him when they wanted to. In spite of the fact that these occasions were often used for him to lament his meager existence…caused by me, I knew it went with the territory.

In 1990 I met a man at a work-sponsored event. I’d seen him around and thought he was interesting and attractive. I ran into him again in the grocery store a few months later. He was buying snacks for himself and his two daughters who were staying with him for New Year’s. That night he asked me to go to a movie in a few days after the girls went home. The rest of this story is warp-speed. We went to that movie on January 3 and on April 19 we were in front of a justice of the peace in Carson City, Nevada. It was uncharacteristic of me to make such a big leap with what seemed to be total abandon. My parents, some of my friends and of course, my sons…were horrified. My younger son made a dramatic exit from the Chinese restaurant where we were delivering the happy news of our intentions. My father would not speak to me for several months. The truth is I was surprised at myself. I had to acknowledge that worlds were once again being rocked by my actions.

The purpose of this essay is to validate my interest and experience in step parenting. Note that I did not say expertise. As with traditional parenting, I don’t know that there is such a thing as an expert…in the practical sense. For years, my new husband and I pored over book racks and later the internet, in search of guidance. We found the greatest help to be the sharing of stories, experiences, trials and errors.

This year will be our 20th wedding anniversary. Our family consists of our four children, my two sons, now aged 40 and 37; his two daughters, 35 and 33, several in laws…and five beautiful grandchildren. The journey is ongoing. I wish I could say we are all living happily ever after, but then again, it is not the end of the story.

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