The Extended Family

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Take the First Step with the Ex

If things are heating up toward nuclear meltdown, or if the Cold War has been going on for a while, it may be up to you to begin the peace process. Take a deep breath, keep the wide-angle lens open, and begin.

In her book Cherishing Our Daughters, Evelyn Bassoff recommends writing a letter to the bioparent to break the ice. (You could do this over the phone or in person, but it's easier and makes more of an impression when it's on paper.) Your letter might say something like this:

Stepping Stones

Combining and extending is fantastic, but it's important to continue to honor the original relationship between bioparent and biochild. If you're a bioparent, too, spend some special time alone with your own kid.

  • You are there for the child, and although being a stepparent has its challenges and may not have been your first-choice role, you welcome the child into your life.
  • You are not trying to take over her parenting role.
  • You are committed to doing the best you can to try to be a kind, adult friend to her child.
  • You would like to put aside disagreements and put the child's interests first.
  • You are available to talk or correspond any time she has anything to discuss.

For many people, getting over the initial hump is the hardest. Yes, you run the risk of being snubbed, but your efforts may pay off—and if they do, they'll pay off big-time. Think how much easier your life would be if you didn't have that churning anxiety every time you or your partner had to deal with the ex.

The Cooperation Concept

Cooperation and parenting collaboration with the ex will pay off in more than the money you'll save on antacids and headache relief. You can be a better stepparent if you enlist your partner's ex as a parenting ally. Think of the advantages! You can share information and ideas about problems your stepchildren are having. You and your partner are not as likely to be manipulated by your stepkid. And your stepkids will be happier. They won't feel tension in the air, they'll feel more secure, and they'll accept you sooner and with more grace.

Defeating antagonism takes time. Keep trying—it's worth it.

The Other Relatives

Your partner has broken up with the ex and has found fabulous you! Yet, because your partner has kids, there are still more “other” relatives in the picture besides those Other Grands. (Remember them—and see The Rights of Grandparents). Who else is involved? What about your stepkids' aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and third-cousins-twice-removed? Your partner's ex's relatives may very well be a part of your new family's network.

Here's another opportunity to grow your community and incorporate more concerned adults into your extended family. Once again, it may be up to you to take the first steps, especially if your partner's past relationship crashed, flamed, and burned.

Stepping Stones

How the family of your partner's ex feels about you will depend, in part, on how and why your partner's previous relationship broke up.

Don't Be Wicked

“You knew what you were getting into!” Have you heard that? Don't listen, and don't believe it. You can plan and plan as much as you can, but it's impossible to predict the interpersonal dynamics of a stepfamily. No, you didn't know what you were getting into. Nobody does.

Setting Reasonable Goals

In all your stepparenting endeavors, it's vital to keep your expectations in check and to set reasonable goals for yourself and for your stepfamily.

There's a slogan I keep posted on my office wall: “Perfect is the Enemy of Good.” If you try for perfection, you are doomed to fail. Aim your hardest for “good enough.” Do the best you can, and be patient. Change takes time. Be kind to yourself.

Defeating Guilt

“Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Erma Bombeck. Used wrongly, guilt can be a destructive force to you and to others. But guilt can be a positive force when it reminds us that we always have the opportunity to improve ourselves and our actions.

It's hard to read an advice book, especially when it points out things that you've done wrong and suggests ways of doing things that you haven't done. Don't let guilt over your past stepparenting practices freeze you in your footsteps. Don't beat yourself up. It's never too late to make changes, and it's never too late to improve your step relationships.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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