Positively Paula

Is Your Stepfamily All-Inclusive or Exclusive?

Thursday, October 28, 2010
The other evening I listened to a live webinar hosted by the non-profit organization, Stronger Families, called "You're Not My Dad." It featured Gil and Brenda Stuart, authors of "Restored and Remarried." Gil and Brenda provided a lot of helpful advice for stepfamilies based on their experience of raising a stepfamily with seven children. And, yes, they are still smiling! It's a joy to listen to them.

Not too many things surprise me anymore about stepfamilies. But, I was really intrigued by something they said.

Gil and Brenda said that a couple of months after they got remarried, one of Gil's children got married, and the adult child did not want Brenda at the wedding. Brenda said she didn't go to his wedding. 

Then another person participating in the webinar noted that they follow a rule in their stepfamily household. If an event is centered around a particular child, the parent and stepparent leave it up to that child to determine whether the stepparent can attend. And, if it is an event that is more of a family event, both parent and stepparent attend.

I guess this really surprised me for a couple of reasons. First, I haven't personally run into any stepparents who have a similar rule. And, secondly, right or wrong, my husband and I have always participated in events in our family together. Obviously, every stepfamily is different and there are a lot of extenuating circumstances.

I decided to contact Brenda personally to discuss this topic. I was curious and wanted to know more about how this works in her family. (By the way, Brenda did grant her permission to share her personal thoughts.) She pointed out that while being excluded can hurt, it doesn't have to offend. I can see her point. Many stepparents take things too personally; I, myself have been guilty of that.

Brenda also pointed out that timing is important. Just two months into her own remarriage and with her family's personal circumstances, it just made the most sense for them. She pointed out that many times stepparents have to ask themselves, "Who is the adult here?" Another valid point!

Some could look at it another way and say, "We are the adults here and we will decide as parent and stepparent what we are going to attend." I'm even more curious now and would love to hear more input! How do you handle who will attend what events in your stepfamily? And, why? Comments are most welcome.

Note: The video broadcast, "You're Not My Dad," hosted by Stronger Families featuring Gil and Brenda Stuart will show again on November 1, 2010, 7-8 pm PST. 

Stepfamily Name Calling Doesn't Have to Be Negative

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Have you ever experienced learning or thinking about a person, place, or thing and then suddenly it pops up everywhere around you? That's how I've been feeling since I wrote about stepfamily terms. There is yet another aspect of terms and naming in the stepfamily experience - what to call extended family members. The sooner you tackle this topic, the better! Even seven years into a remarriage, this little, but sometimes awkward situation arises!

I remember the first time my new in-laws visited our home after I was remarried. My teenage son was standing in the kitchen with my mother-in-law and me and I could see he was struggling to get her attention. It dawned on me that he didn't know what to call her. And, I felt awful that I hadn't initiated a discussion earlier (with my son or my mother-in-law) about what my kids were going to call their new step-grandparents.

I jumped in and started the quick conversation, but it felt really awkward to me. I'm not sure how they felt at the time. But, why hadn't I thought of it sooner?

A few weekends ago my husband, son and I visited my stepson who is away at college. (Or, shall I say "our son?" Again, here I go wondering if it would bother anyone, especially my stepson, if I call him "our son" in public. And, this is STILL after being remarried for nearly eight years!) Anyway, my mother joined us for the trip.

My mom, son, and I went in to see my stepson's dorm room. When we entered, he was the perfect gentleman and introduced us to his roommate. He introduced his stepbrother as his "stepbrother," me as "Paula, my stepmom," and then he just paused when it came to my mom. He normally calls her "Miss Andrea."  Again, a little awkward silence...or, maybe it was just my imagination.

I spoke up and said, "This is his step-grandma, my mom, Miss Andrea." Phew! Having an analytic background, I am well aware of my tendency to overthink. But, really, I've been thinking about how well or not we've covered stepfamily names and terms within our family. I know the bottom line is to have good communication and everyone should do what works for them as a family. But, am I the only one still trying to figure all of this out? And, does my stepson even want to refer to my mom as "step-grandma?" I have no idea, but I plan to find out.


Correction on What Para-Kin Means

Thursday, October 07, 2010
Yesterday, I contributed to some misconception about what Para-kin means. I thank Debra Chernick for setting me straight and apologize for my misinterpretation. According to Debra, "Para-kin is primarily for those adults who are in monogamous relationships, raising children from a prior union but have not chosen or are barred from remarriage."

That being said, I think I'd still like to be called "P-Mom." There's just something about step....

Read more about the Para-kin movement here. It is a pretty novel idea that could help many.


A New Stepfamily Term Beyond Blended and Bonus

Wednesday, October 06, 2010
If you are a member of a stepfamily, you have probably struggled with the much written about dilemma of what to call each other. If you are planning to get remarried, I highly recommend discussing this topic before you remarry. Wanting to come up with some new terms to call stepfamilies, other than "step," "blended family," or "bonus family," I asked our fans on our Remarriage Works Facebook page for some ideas. We got some great ones!

Some terms that made me smile were: "lumpy families," "the majority,""fixed families," and "a box of cereal...a bunch of fruits, nuts, and flakes." On a more serious note, Giselle Minoli, who writes a very insightful stepparenting column on examiner.com, recently informed me about www.Para-Kin.com, a website founded by Debra Chernick, a family court attorney in Rhode Island.

According to her website, "our mission is to add words to our vocabulary and dictionary which will accurately reflect, describe and embrace the evolving family relationships through the promotion of 'para-kin' (which is trademarked by the way) terms." I guess I'd be a "Para-mom," and I like the idea of being "P-mom." It seems like a natural fit with "Paula" anyway.

While some of my stepfamily members may connect me better with the cereal suggestion, I highly recommend you take a look at Debra Chernick's www.Para-Kin website. It definitely provides food for thought.



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