Double Extreme Environments
Additional myths of the Meadow
Two dating single parents go to a boat rental agency requesting a 42 foot two-masted Schooner in order to sail around the islands of the Bahamas for a couple of weeks. They explain to the salesperson that they have never sailed before but quickly add that they’re in love and that their love for one another should qualify them to successfully sail a yacht. The salesperson thinks, “What’s love got to do with sailing a yacht?”
And don’t we all agree? It is not wise for anyone to think that love qualifies a couple to sail such a large yacht. Just as this is true for sailing, it is also true for running a stepfamily. To think that love alone is enough to successfully run a stepfamily will bring that future family into serious trouble. Love alone does not provide the skill or the training or the expertise to operate such a complex family as the stepfamily. Why are stepfamilies so troubled and most fail? Because of the third great myth of the meadow: love equals skill.
Counselors or friends who try to forewarn the couple of pending difficulties and the need for sound preparation find it nearly impossible to get through the couple’s laminate of self-confidence. To the couple, complex family management is overwhelmingly solved by the love equals skill belief. The more the subject is forced the more the couple will dig their heels into the ground. It is this love/skill equality that causes the couple to ignore future difficulties.
Certainly love is the motivator to acquiring the necessary tools and skills but of itself wholly inadequate to manage a stepfamily. To fall in love and to imagine that love will grant the couple the understanding and wisdom and specialized skill to control the stepfamily is a dangerous assumption. The love equals skill myth creates for the couple a paradox. The more they rely on their love to see them through, the more ill-prepared they become.
It is heartbreaking to watch two adults deeply in love find themselves loosing the very thing they thought would hold their family together. To the couple’s deep distress, as their family problems increase, their own love begins to wear thin. The couple feels helpless to stop the difficulties around them which eat at their relationship and erode their closeness.
Which brings us to the fourth myth of the meadow. The myth is this: 1+1=0, or, one difficult environment of one dating single parent plus one difficult environment of the other dating partner equals zero difficult environments or virtually no difficulties at all!
The myth of one plus one equals zero convinces couples that once married their problems should largely disappear. Get
married, move in together, problems solved! The couple believes that any difficulties experienced as a single parent
will now, following marriage, be largely eliminated.
But the truth is that 1+1 does not equal 0 but 2! The reality is that one extreme environment of one single parent plus one extreme environment of the other single parent equals two extreme environments—meaning double the difficulties.
One child custody/support issue plus another child custody/support issue equals two child custody/support issues. Ex-spouse issues with one parent plus ex-spouse issues with the other parent equals loads of ex-spouse issues for both parents. Financial issues for one single parent plus financial issues for another single parent equal a marriage with complex financial issues.
Now add issues of merging two distinct families under one roof, two distinct methods of child discipline and child care, additional cooking and cleanup and laundry, more responsibilities around the house, the lack of thankfulness or appreciation by the children and spouse, children moving in and out of the home, stepparent/stepchildren issues, lack of time for the couple, and lack of time for individual child/parent relationships—and you have what can amount to enormous pressure on a very unprepared and bewildered stepfamily couple.
Looking left to right at the four pictures below, this is how most dating couples consider their pathway back to romance and happiness. The parents were once in a first marriage, on a romantic beach. Something went terribly wrong and the parent ended up divorced, now single on a frozen, high mountain top. But once dating, the parents fell in love and quickly entered into the environment of a lush warm meadow, picture 3. Because of the common myths of the meadow, the parents are convinced that once living together the two will go from the meadow directly to their romantic beach—picture 4—experiencing even an even better marriage and better romance than in the first marriage.
1. beach → 2. mountain top → 3. meadow → 4. beach
This, however, is not what dating and married parents’ experience. Upon blending their families, the parents unexpectedly find that meadows don’t end on romantic tropical beaches. Between the meadow and the beach is a mountain range.
1. beach → 2. mountain top → 3. meadow → 4. mountain range → 5. beach
Typically, once blended, couples are unexpectedly dragged up the side of a lofty mountain range out of their meadow and into the heights of difficulty. Two common statements said among the partners at this time are, “I didn’t sign up for this,” or “We were all so happy. What went wrong?”
What the couple expected was to remain in the meadow, in loving bliss, with little or no difficulties with life moving toward the beach. Their preparation for blending their families consisted of sandals, beach clothes, and sunscreen and beach towels. What couples encountered were the craggy, frozen slopes of a high mountain range. Who would have ever guessed the blending experience required gloves, snow boots, Gortex jackets and pants? With the wrong clothes, the wrong equipment, no mountaineering skills, and no one to guide them to safety, couples quickly run into trouble. Expecting a beach, instead everyone’s struggling in waist-deep snow.
Contrary to what couples might think meadows never lead to beaches. There’s always a mountain range between the meadow and the beach. Always! Mountain ranges exist because of the joining of two extreme environments.
Disaster does not have to happen. With good preparation, the mountain range may be a bunch of low hills, well below the snow line and fairly easy to manage.
Unfortunately, because of the myths of the meadow, parent’s preparation and skill levels are usually quite low creating high elevations with difficulties likely to severely trouble the marriage.
Note to the reader: This is the sixth article in a series of seven articles written to dating parents. These articles are part of a systematic review of why good dating couples are so completely unprepared and so amazingly naive about the complex world of the stepfamily, even a family as alluringly “simple” as a parent with one child marrying a non-parent.
As an adjunct professor teaching this information at seminary level, I allot half my time to identifying the problems and the forces creating the problems and the other half in specific solutions that will carry the dating parent and stepfamily into remarkable health. Both are critically necessary to know, as solutions aren’t really solutions unless the problems are thoroughly understood.
Dr. Donald Partridge’s first marriage lasted thirteen years. Once divorced, and with two very young children, Don lived as a single parent with his children. Later Don remarried and has been in a highly successful stepfamily with seven children for the past 22 years.
Dr. Partridge has committed himself to working full time with single parents and stepfamilies and has written some very helpful books and pamphlets on how single parents can date and remarry successfully, how to build great stepparent/stepchild relationships, and how to insulate your children and raise them to be stable, emotionally healthy kids in the midst of calamity and shifting family systems. Available at www.blendingfamily.com.