Step by Step

Step 1: We can have lots of fun
Step 2: There’s so much we can do
Step 3: It’s just you and me
Step 4: I can give you more
Step 5: Don’t you know that the time is right 1

 

Relationships according to New Kids on the Block seem pretty simple, don’t they? But what if this isn’t your first twirl around the dance floor? What if you are embarking on a second or third relationship?

I recently discussed the concept of stepfamilies with a group of students who agreed that in order to be considered a “stepfamily,” a person with children had to enter into a new intimate relationship residentially re-partnering with another person (who may or may not have children).

The Brady Bunch ideal seemed a bit archaic as students acknowledged many parents choose to cohabitate with a new partner vs. remarry and that re-partnering may occur multiple times across the lifespan.

 

One student mentioned how complicated traditional families could be when you consider all the experiences and perceptions of each family member. Then, as a class, we illustrated what the family system of a stepfamily might look like. Needless to say, it took up the entire chalkboard and then some.

Off the top of our heads we came up with at least 11 different relationships contained within the stepfamily system.

Once an original union dissolves, particularly when children are involved, things are never the same. As diverse as stepfamilies can be, the following dynamics are common among almost all of them 2:

  • A relationship has been lost, whether a parent or partner and whether due to choice or tragedy
  • Every member of the stepfamily system has a unique perception of their past, present, and future
  • Parents and their biological children were a family before the new couple relationship was formed
  • There is a non-resident biological parent out there somewhere, even if only existing in memory
  • Families are often binuclear3 with children having multiple households.

 

I won’t elaborate on Anderson and Sabatelli’s developmental model of re-partnering here, but the first stage, “Courtship and Preparation for Remarriage,” is highly relevant to divorcing couples as a key task is resolving the prior relationship. As couples navigate the separation process, it is important for them to be mindful of what lies ahead.

Although their legal union may dissolve, their family union endures and can only become more complicated with time as subsequent relationships develop. Each step away from a relationship should be thoughtfully made as the nature of that separation has important ramifications for future happiness and well-being of each partner, any children they may have, and future partners and their children.

You’ll find I’m quite fond of quotes and when I reflect on ADR and what it means for families, I remember this excerpt from Ursula Le Guin in The Farthest Shore:

“Try to choose carefully…when the great choices must be made. … Each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.”

Perhaps the process of resolution you’ll experience with Grossman & Grossman P.A. will be the space and time needed to move toward your future simply, mindfully, and without adding stressful complexity to the lives of you and your loved ones. In the words of NKOTB, “Step by step, ooh baby, I really think it’s just a matter of time.”4

 

  1. Lyrics to Step by Step were obtained by watching YouTube videos of the song being performed by New Kids on the Block; all viewings were for professional purposes only and Amanda Williams received no personal gain or enjoyment from the activity nor did she neglect any other work requiring her attention.
  2. These stepfamily commonalities were delineated by Visher and Visher (1982) as cited in Anderson, S., & Sabatelli, R. (2003). Family interaction: A multigenerational developmental perspective (3rd ed.), pp. 306-320. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon
  3. Binuclear is a term used in Ahrons (1995) book titled, The Good Divorce.
  4. Lyrics to Step by Step were obtained by watching YouTube videos of the song being performed by New Kids on the Block; all viewings were for professional purposes only and Amanda Williams received no personal gain or enjoyment from the activity nor did she neglect any other work requiring her attention.

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