How Much is Too Much?

Happy New Year, my dear friends! 2020 is here, like it or not. I hope you are growing closer together and looking forward to being more happily in love with each other throughout the next twelve months.

Two couples are weighing heavily on my mind this morning, as I pull myself into a new day, week, month, year, and decade; both couples’ families are facing a rough new dawn.

TOM AND MEL

One couple, Tom and Mel, (names changed, as well as some of the more identifiable facts below) first came to our weekly stepparenting support group classes around nine years ago. They weren’t married yet but she was helping him raise his two pre-teen children from a previous marriage. The battles with his ex and the conflicts between Mel and Tom’s children were putting a serious strain on their relationship.

They continued attending classes weekly while looking for ways to deal with their problems. Eventually, I began seeing them privately for couples’ mediation sessions and we were able to settle the dust. His children grew older; things evened off a bit between Mel and Tom’s kids; the couple settled down and had a baby of their own, which helped solidify the new family as Tom’s daughter fell in love with her new stepsister.

As with most couples, Tom and Mel had ups and downs. His kids grew up and became quite a bit better; Mel and he had a second baby of their own; they moved to another state and we lost touch. I recently got an email from Mel saying that things had worsened to the point that Tom finally moved out saying he didn’t love her any more.

Mel stays in touch via Facebook, and I watched her struggle through a Christmas and into this new year alone with her two young kids. Both Tom and Mel are broken hearted and alone and wondering what went wrong – but they both agree they don’t feel like trying any more.

DREW AND ANNA

About the same time, another couple — Drew and Anna — began attending the group classes. He was a local man who was engaged to a younger Russian woman after exchanging letters and emails for a few months. They were attending our support group, like Tom and Mel, to prepare for the daunting prospect of joining two touchy situations into one more touchy situation. He, too, had two children from a previous failed marriage.

Like the first couple, Drew and Anna struggled with not only the same, common stepfamily conflicts – kids, an ex, and new relationship upsets – but with the extra frustration of different culture expectations. I met with them privately some over the years and together we managed to find the patience, understanding, and love to push through together.

They had a baby boy whom they were both crazy about, and life spiraled on through the ups and downs. At one point, Anna contacted me and asked for help with some tougher-than-usual conflicts during which Drew had moved out. But, in this case love won out, and they got back together and moved on in love.

Then Drew had a slight health complication which, suddenly, lead to his totally unexpected death. Anna and their grade school age son were crushed. We all felt the shock as the joy of reunion was followed so quickly by tragedy.

Today, through her postings on Facebook I see Anna recovering from her loss and blooming again with their son. Of course she longs for her sweetheart, but Anna has the comfort of beautiful memories of his love and their happy time together before he was gone from her.

TWO VERY DIFFERENT NEW YEARS

And now, in this turning over of a year and lives, I watch these two families — one broken and alone, the other alone but still full of love. Neither knew what the future held for them. Neither could have anticipated the unexpected turns their lives would take in 2020.

NOW my friends, which future will you choose for your own family to experience in a year or a decade? Will you give up and submit your children to broken hearts and a future of watching Mom and Dad bicker and play tug-of-war with them, teaching their children lessons of warfare and how to hurt someone you once loved?

Or will you look beyond the petty arguments that attack every stepfamily, choosing to teach your children, like Anna is doing, that love goes on beyond disappointments, and even beyond death?

Yes, both mothers are now raising their children without their partners, but — oh! — what a difference stubborn, determined love can make! One household filled with warmth and sweet memories versus another filled with ache and bitterness.

You have the choice. During every fight, every upset, every disappointment, you get to choose your future. And please remember, not only are you choosing your own possible future, but you are consciously deciding what you want to demonstrate to your children.

Step carefully, my friends.

Stepcoach Bob Collins

P. S. If you appreciated this insight onto other couples’ rollercoaster of stepfamily lives, 1) let me know and 2) if you have a story of survival or of loss tell me so I can share it.

And, if you let me know you liked this article in the comments, I’ll give you another picture of possibilities and eventualities in families like yours.

God bless your whole family!