THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Transcripts: 547.2 and 547.3

Week: 547.2 Guest: Taube Kaufman, Therapist, Author of The Combined Family, a Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships Topic: Kids problems in creating a new family- Part One of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: After going through the trauma of break-up and divorce, it's sometimes hard for parents to see how getting involved in a new relationship can affect their children. Author Taube Kaufman is with us today, to talk about the issues contained in her book, The Combined Family, a Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships.

KAUFMAN: The Combined Family was written in response to what I perceived as the terrible need for information on how to put together a family that had some biological ties, but no ties between step-child and step-parent, except the legal tie caused by the marriage that also ended if the marriage ended. I had remarried in 1980 and ran into the problem of thinking I was going to get grandchildren from my husband's children, and instead I got step-children...something so shocking to me, and to me, as a therapist, that I didn't know I was going to get into all of this...and how yucky it could get...so, I set about founding the Combined Families Association and gathering groups of people together to discuss what goes on in step-relationships.

NEMA: It seems that the confusion and strife that occur in these situations can come primarily from the roles and responsibilities of the parents and the step-children....do kids expect bad things to happen?

KAUFMAN: Let me answer you by talking about the connotations that the word step-child' has in our society. Cinderella was a step-child, and so was Snow White. So, you have the issue immediately where the children are afraid they are going to be rejected, neglected, cast out...they're frightened when they hear the word step-child'. They had all their mother's time, now they're going to have to share that....or all their father's time, and they're going to have to share that with a stranger. They can't get what they want, which may be for the parent not to marry, and loyalty conflicts galore between the parent that they're going to get, this person, and the biological parent that filled that role originally. Or the conflict within the child, if the child really likes the step-parent, of having somebody that he's living with...that he likes, yet there's this parent on the outside saying, "How could you call that man Dad"? And if you have a child calling a step-mother Mom", most of the Moms I know just go out of their skin.

NEMA: What are the things parents can do to make a child feel better about all of these changes and new relationships...?

KAUFMAN: Putting children in control of whatever knowledge the parent has. Parents can start out, when they're dating, to let the children know that adults have certain needs for adult companionship, and then if the parent meets somebody, and gets to thinking seriously about this kind of somebody being important to him or her, if this other person has children..to take their children out with your children, and get them to know each other - there is no history between these people. And the history is built hour by hour, day by day, into a pattern.

NEMA: Constant reinforcement, making sure your kids know you love them, is a key. You can also stress that a new family structure also means new grandparents, more people to love them. Our thanks to Taube Kaufman...her book: The Combined Family, A Guide to Successful Step-Relationships. I'm Steve Girard.

Transcripts:

Week: 547.3 Guest: Taube Kaufman, therapist, author of The Combined Family, a Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships Topic: Step Relationships from the parents side, Part Two of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: It's difficult for parents and children to go through divorce, and it can be just the same trying to create relationships between you and your kids and a potential spouse and his or her kids. Therapist Taube Kaufman's book is called, The Combined Family, A Guide to Creating Successful Step- Relationships. When does a parent, or potential parent, realize that the step-situation is serious enough to go to a professional to seek help in getting on the right track...?

KAUFMAN: I think that the situations that I've seen that become horrendous are the ones where the children block every possible effort between their parents to see one another. And even if the future step-parent doesn't have a child, the kids throw one thing after another into the path of the couple...but they can see an end, if they're parents can just hold out, where they can spend their lives without a step-parent, and then their parent can go and do anything they want to do. And sometimes the parents and the step-parents will say to each other, "yes, we love each other, yes we're going to remain committed to one another, but we are not going to move into each other's households and we will marry when they are out of the house". And these, I've seen work quite successfully. But in our jump to want immediate gratification and wish fulfillment to happen now, too many adults are not willing to wait and give their children the time they need to adjust.

NEMA: Are there good signs where a parent can say, "Well, the kids are handling things pretty well, they seem to like my girlfriend, and it looks like everything will go okay, or at least on the right track...?

KAUFMAN: Going along the right track? Yes... Okay? Wishful thinking. Going along the right track, there are always signs that things are going along the right track...Your kids have been gradually introduced to their step-parent...they've been allowed to form some of their bonds, their personal ties...

NEMA: ...and what happens when you decide you want to spend more time, get serious with this person...?

KAUFMAN: .. and then the kid will probably get an immediate loyalty conflict, and then want to back off...but the loyalty conflict can be expected and it must be built into the wanting to remarry' parent's plans. but you give the child as much control as is possible, so the child doesn't feel powerless, and doesn't think you don't love him or her anymore.

NEMA: I would guess that one way to blunt the effects of the relationship complexity and the fears it can cause in your kids is to have a good relationship with the ex-spouse, so that person can help...even in a situation where there is a new, potential partner.

KAUFMAN: A living former spouse can make room for a child to have a step-parent, or pose an insurmountable barrier...where it's impossible for the child to ever, ever get close or like the step-parent. This is the reason I wrote The Combined Family, because there are ways to make the situation better. And if parents would start looking at their own difficulties in living together, and say well, those people are going to be involved in our children's lives, and we have to make room for them...and we have to not be jealous...because it's in the best interest of our child.

NEMA: According to therapist Taube Kaufman, these problems with trying to set up a new family will happen...and people who think, "my kids are smart, they're different...I won't have any problems", are setting themselves up for disappointment and disaster. Keeping your eyes wide open, expecting these problems, and being ready to handle them is the best way to serve this new family unit. Ms. Kaufman's book is: The Combined Family: A Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships. I'm Steve Girard.