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by Becky Breeding, A Chicken Soup for the Stepfamily Soul Contribution

This was it! It was our second chance for happiness. We were going to make sure we did everything right this time. We read every book, newsletter, magazine and article that we could get our hands on about step-families. We learned to take things slow and keep our expectations low. We even planned a small, family wedding ceremony that included the boys. After all, they were getting married too.

After being married for two months, I remember people asking how things were going with our new step-family. We gladly responded, “Great!” “We haven’t had any problems. The boys get along very well.” We even told each other that we must have done things right, because this step-family thing isn’t so hard after all. Well, after a short honeymoon period, we began to experience normal step-family struggles. Although they are normal, they are stressful and emotionally draining to all involved.

I brought two boys into the marriage, Corbin, age 7, and Chandler, age 6, and Mark brought one son, Zach, age 5, into the marriage. Corbin is the most easy-going, even tempered, go-with-the-flow (this trait is especially important in a step-family) child you will ever meet. Although he can be awfully oblivious at times, he is also very smart. He is an honor student and plays baseball and football. Corbin saw the advantages to being part of two families early on (two Birthdays, two Christmases, etc.) which helped his adjustment period. Chandler is incredibly witty, kind-hearted, athletic, and full of life. He does not like change and is very protective of his mom. Chandler is also an honor student and plays football and baseball. Zach is very energetic, caring, generous, and talkative. Zach also does not like change and can at times be sensitive. Zach too is an honor student and swims and plays football. Having three boys one year apart each in age presents enough challenges without adding being part of a step-family to the mix. And having two boys that were very resistant to change didn’t help either since step-family life is full of change.

After about three months, Chandler and Zach realized that this remarriage was real and that their parents were not going to reconcile after all. With the realization that this new life was not going to end, Chandler and Zach seemed to blame each other for their disappointment. We routinely heard “I hate him,” and “He hates me!” They both thought that they were too different to get along. They thought they didn’t like any of the same things or didn’t have anything in common. At this point, Mark and I both thought, “I guess this is what step-family life is all about?” We were confused, but realized that just like every other family, we were not perfect. This is what all the books, newsletters, and articles were talking about. We both felt caught in the middle. You feel your child’s pain like it is your own, but are you capable of making everyone happy all the time? As parents, we feel it’s our job to “fix” everything. But how do you fix broken hearts, disappointments, grief, and feelings of insecurity? You can’t force two people to love and care for one another.

After much, much discussion, Mark and I realized that their problem was not that they were too different, but that they were too much alike. Of course, they didn’t see it that way. They were only focused on the differences that divided them. Mark and I are firm believers in the power of positive thinking and lots of prayer. We know that a positive attitude can overcome anything, so by changing their perspective about their similarities and differences, we felt that we could change their attitudes.

We started by pointing out all the things that they had in common. Some of them were small and insignificant (like the fact that neither of them liked to eat at dinner time but loved to snack or that they usually picked out the same toys) and others were not (they were both smart and in the gifted program or that they shared a lot of the same personality traits). Each day on a continual basis we continued redirect their focus to how much alike they were instead of how different they were. Slowly but surely, they started to find common ground and began to get along. They quit letting their differences divide them and became friends. Now they truly care for and love one another. They would never openly admit it, but what brothers would? We tell the boys that “brother” is something you feel in your heart – not a matter of biology.

The change did not take place overnight, nothing does in a step-family, but the change in perspective that changed their attitudes toward each other has changed our whole family’s lives. Now all three boys, who are currently 8, 9, and 10, get along as well or better than the biological brothers that we come in contact with. I know that this is not the only challenge we will face, but with the power of positive thinking, changing your perspective and attitude, and guidance from God, I know that we will overcome even the teenage years. It won’t be easy, but anything worth it never is.