My Spouse or My Kids?

My Kids or My Spouse?

You married for love. You married forever. But you never expected your marriage would involve having to choose between your new spouse an...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Stepdad's Christmas Gift

by Bobby Collins
© 2012

<NOTE: this true story is taken from our lesson book, Responsibility of A Lifetime.>

It was a common enough story. The young man had already fallen in love with 
the girl, they had been seeing each other for awhile, they had even made 
plans to get married. Their future looked perfect.

Then, not too long before their wedding, she told him she was pregnant. He 
was stunned. Not just about the unplanned pregnancy, but mostly because the 
two of them had not ... done anything yet. Both had agreed to wait until 
they were officially husband and wife. So, whose was the baby?! He knew it 
was not his. But she was turning to him to help her solve her problem.

His first thought was to save himself - just cut her loose, that was what 
his friends said. She could tell her family whatever she wanted. It was none 
of his business. She had gotten herself into this mess, let her get herself 
out. He had his whole life (not to mention the reputation of his family!) to 
think of.

But the more he thought about that, the more he realized he could not just 
leave her to face it alone. She was really special -- and he was really in 
love. Something about her touched his heart in a way he had never been 
touched before. And he was afraid he would never feel this way again if he 
let her go.

So, against all advice and common sense, he decided to stick around - at 
least long enough to help her get through the pregnancy. Some of her family 
(and most of her friends) had decided that she was a slut and did not 
deserve to have their friendship and help. One by one they turned away from 
her in disgust, some openly, some by just insisting they were constantly too 
busy to see her. Finally,  he was her only friend, her only support.

Of course, it meant more difficulties, since they had not planned on it. 
Neither of them had any money for a baby - they barely had enough for the 
two of them. And still, always in the back of his mind -- it was not his 

The birth was difficult, but he was there to help. He never left her side as 
she birthed someone elses baby. After the baby boy was born, his feelings 
for this girl were even stronger. Plus, since it was part of her, he had 
already started caring for her baby.

As the little boy grew by days, months, and years, the man never tried to 
say he was his dad, even though he felt like it more and more of the time.

So, this stepdad moved unofficially into the position of daddy to the little 
boy. He helped him when the baby took his very first steps. He taught the 
boy the important things in life:  how to fish, how to throw a ball, and how 
to spit without getting yourself wet. He showed him the beauty of a sky full 
of stars, a sunset over the lake, and a flower in the grass.

He also taught the little boy to know the difference between right and 
wrong, to be respectful of his elders, and to be fair when he played games 
with others. And he taught his stepson to be nice to ladies and girls and 
those littler than him.

The stepdad showed his wife's son what it means to be committed to someone, 
even though you might not be responsible for them legally. He loved the boy 
no matter how he acted. He never turned away from him.

He also demonstrated how a real man should love his wife - tenderly, 
unselfishly, and unconditionally. The boy saw his stepfather loving his 
mother in many ways: by speaking respectfully to her, by helping her with 
the household chores, by opening doors and holding chairs for her, and by 
giving her his full attention.

He showed his stepson how to work hard, but still make time for important 
details like the boy's sports and school events. He took his family to 
church to show them the importance of worship and gratitude for being part 
of a family. He laughed and he cried with the boy, and he helped him grow 
into a good man because a good man cared.

And when the young man had grown and was ready to leave home for a life of 
his own, the stepdad lost part of his heart. Even though the boy was not 
really his own. Because thats what stepparents do.

And because this unselfish man was willing to take on a family that was not 
really his; because he looked beyond a girl's shame and into her heart; and 
because he gave the best years of his life to love and guide and care for 
someone else's son ... because he took on the Responsibility of A Lifetime as a 
stepparent, his stepson - Jesus - passed on to us many of the lessons he 
learned from his stepdad, Joseph.

MORAL of the story:

Your stepchild may not turn out as perfect as Joseph's did, but every stepchild - even yours is as important to God as Joseph's was. Look for the good in your stepchild. Nurture that spark of divine. Bless him or her as though he or she was that Christmas stepchild of Joseph's. 

You don't have to be a Joseph - or a Mary - to be a vital part of your stepchild's development. Give your heart. Give your time. Give your mate all of you, and your stepchild will see and learn about love from you. You can be the most important contribution your stepchild receives.

Friday, December 14, 2012

For the Conn. Families ...

My dear Stepfamily friends,

Please stop and pray for the families of the children and teachers killed and injured in Connecticut today. The pain they will go though this holiday season makes even our stepfamily issues seem small and trivial by comparison.

Take time to pray for and appreciate your children AND your stepchildren. And, as you try to explain to them what has happened, and how it could happen, be sure to remind them the the Lord loves them no matter how much craziness is in this world. His mercy and love is everlasting.

I hope you will take this sad experience to heart and, if you've been angry or dissatisfied in your marriage and stepfamily, you will reconsider your stance. Consider, instead, embracing them (even the stiff, cranky, or rebellious ones) with a love that can melt the distrust. Love them MORE than you would hope to be loved were you in their shoes.

I will be sending out another regular newsletter this weekend. Until then,

Go with God,
STEPcoach Bob

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You & Your Stepkids

For good or evil, more than likely the people in your stepfamily that get the most attention are the ones you weren't even thinking most about when you decided to get re-married.

You and your girl-or-boy friend sat holding hands while dreamily playing what-if about being together all the time in your home, and —almost as an afterthought— how nice it would be for the kids to have a "real" home again.

Also more than likely, your kids were either pretty positive about the upcoming marriage, or at least they didn't raise too much dust...until the wedding was over. Following the wedding, most stepparents are shocked to see a rapidly escalating roar of rebellion.

Angry statements like "You're not my dad!" "I don't have to listen to you!" and "I hate you!!" come out of nowhere. And suddenly what was supposed to be Heaven with your new family takes a downward turn.

What went wrong? And more importantly, how can you fix it?

Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is there are ways to make your home much happier. The bad news is it's gonna take work—from everyone, especially you. But before we start fixing the problem, we need to get an idea of why there's a problem and what the problem is.

In his book, Stepparent is Not A Bad Word, David Nowell states,
"[stepkids]feel the nervous excitement of the upcoming [wedding] ceremony, the final realization that Mom and Dad are not going to get together again, the joy of seeing a parent really in love, jealousy at that same love, budding affection for the new stepparent, ... add to the mixture a few adolescent hormones, and it can become too much to handle."

Re-marriage isn't even easy for the husband and wife, and we're adults who are relatively experienced with handing stresses. To a child who's had to experience a death or divorce and the subsequent adjustment to life with a single parent, the introduction of a new "family" is often too difficult to grasp.

Puppies and Kittens

When they are faced with a new authority figure and competitor for their parent's affection, many stepkids will react in one of two ways. I like to think of it as either a "puppy" or a "kitten" reaction.

Let me explain, if a puppy is placed in an unfamiliar environment and suddenly confronted, he will probably tuck his tail, let out a whimper, and head under the sofa. On the other hand, if a kitten is placed in the same environment and scared, she will probably arch her back, lay back her ears, spit, and strike out in self-defense.

And most stepkids will react one of these ways depending on their personality and recent experiences. A "puppy" will withdraw from family functions and pull into himself. He may speak civilly to both parents, but inside, he is resentful of both their parts in the upheaval of his world. Eventually, a puppy will explode...either in anger and rebellion, or in escape and possible self-destruction.

If you have a "kitten," though, she probably wasted no time telling you exactly what she thought of the new arrangements! Fur flew and claws were used freely. But these often aren't healthy ventings of feelings, rather they are indications of fears and betrayal that will only get worse until they are dealt with properly.

Your Important Decision

Understanding the problem is one thing. Remembering those reasons in the midst of a screaming match with a wild-eyed teenager is another. But that is just what you have to do. Someone has to act like an adult, and you are the most likely prospect.

As I said earlier, this is going to take a lot of work, especially from you, the stepparent. And actually, that's not really unfair. She's just a kid, after all. You, as the stepparent, are the one who has entered their world. And although her parent is happy with the new set up, your stepdaughter feels like she's lost her best friend and her place as number one in her parent's heart.

The most important thing a stepparent can do for their family's peace of mind is to improve your memory.

  • Remember who's supposed to be more mature, and act like it. 
  • Remember what all they've been through, and try to imagine how you'd feel going through the same messes (maybe you even have!). 
  • And remember that you will be held responsible for how you teach them and react to their challenges. Not officially, not by the courts or the police, but your spouse and your own heart will tell you that you had a hand, even if it is secondary to the bio-parent, in how they turn out.

That last may not seem fair, especially when the kids are older and were raised by someone else during their formative years. But nonetheless most folks will, to a certain extent and perhaps just in their minds, judge you by how they grow up. So you might as well do your best to steer them right.

Because that is your purpose in life.

What did you think it was? Working harder than the next person? Having the most and best toys? Looking your prettiest longer than your friends?

Of course not. None of those things matter. They will all pass away at your death. My mother had a poem hanging by her fireplace that says:

Only one life--
T'will soon be past.
Only what's done
For Christ will last.

That's true. And it especially applies to your stepkids. You never planned to be raising these children — someone else's children. But you are.

You have been given the opportunity to dramatically affect lives that otherwise you may not have ever come into contact with. And what will you do with this opportunity?

I know one stepdad in our area who's solution to a rebellious, smart-mouthed teenaged stepdaughter is to just shut her out. He never gives her any affection or any attention other than to tell her what to do.
His defense is solid: "I give her a roof, a bed, clothes, school; and what does she give me in return? Backtalk and disrespect. I've turned my life upside down for her and she hates me for it. Fine. I'll keep her alive until she can move out. Then she can go to Hell for all I care!"

As a matter of fact, I know several stepparents who are giving up like that. And it is easier than the options. But at what cost? What have you taught in this rare opportunity? That no one can be trusted. That no one cares about them. And that there's no reason to hope. ... And the suicide rate holds steady this year again.

NEVER give up. Never quit saying —and meaning— "I love you."
Be an adult about it. They need love. They need you.
You, working with their parents, are their best, perhaps their last, hope for a good future.

Only one life
T'will soon be past...
What memories of you do you want to last?

STEPcoach Bob

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Stepparent's Responsibility

Dear [stepparent],

Regarding your question about your particular responsibility about your husband's kids, here's how that lays out:

1) the stepparent is not legally or morally or physically responsible for their stepchildren. If a child gets into some sort of liable trouble (causing expensive damages to someone else's property, for example), the biological parent is legally responsible for reparations for that damage. Not the stepparent. Morally, God places responsibility for raising a child and teaching that child how to be an adult on the biological parent. Not the stepparent.

2) The stepparent has the opportunity to bless the stepchildren; to teach them by example how to be a kind, loving, forgiving person. The stepparent also has the opportunity to demonstrate to the stepchild how to react, in a Christian manner, if they are insulted, ignored, or even harmed by the stepchild. The stepparent does have the responsibility to show the stepchild Christ in a very real way through daily living and lovingkindness (just as any child or person).

Yes, this can be hard. I remember when my own stepdaughter slapped me in the face in public, (once physically and many times with her mouth and hateful attitude to embarrass me and to challenge me). As a Christian who just happened to be married to her mother, my responsibility was to demonstrate to her how a Christian would deal with a personal attack like that. (Remember what Jesus said to do if someone slaps you on one cheek? Forgive and get over it and love them)

So the stepparent, you and I, has no legal responsibility over the stepchild - but the Christian has an opportunity to witness Christ's love and forgiveness to everyone, ESPECIALLY those in our household.


One more point; although a stepparent does not have the responsibility for their stepchild, they are still family. And, as family, they have a relationship with those stepchildren. You and I, as family members to our stepchildren, must be careful not to shun those children, but to reach out to them as family members. When Dad and the kids are doing something, a family member should show an interest and care about that they're doing. If the stepkids reject your attempt, that shouldn't make any difference in your actions.

We are still family members with those children of our spouse, and as such we need to show the same care and consideration as we do toward our spouse's parents, brothers and sisters, or their grandparents. Reach out with patience and love and respect because of who they are related to … our sweetheart.

It is a balancing act: love without having to, care without being forced to. But so is every other relationship we have - with our spouse, our parents, our siblings, etc, etc. It may not be the easiest, but it's the right thing to do.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Helping stepfamilies succeed since 1996 - STEP-Carefully! is just for you!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Christmas (Talk) In August!

In our local support group this week we happened on a ripe topic. (And when I say we “happened” on it, I mean that literally. Sometimes I have no idea where God will lead us until we get there!) We fell into talking about Christmases past and to come. In particular, what we had all spent on our kids and families last Christmas. Many were not proud!

One couple said they fought so badly she asked to be let out of the car on the way to a family gathering. She just sat at a gas station until he and the kids were through and came back to get her! They both seemed unhappy about that event.

Another guy told of how his family tradition was to just buy for the kids and maybe a gift or two for another family member; however, his new wife’s family tradition involved expensive gifts for each member of a large family. They also held Christmas gatherings and dinners at several houses … where more gifts were exchanged! He still sounded stunned by it all.

How many gifts did they give out? “Way too many,” seemed to be the consensus. One couple looked at each other, counting to themselves and came up with “50 or 55” gifts per child! Good grief!

Why do we do this? Most said they just got carried away with sales and last minute ideas. But one dad admitted that part of his over-gifting was to make up to his kids for their not having such a great life since their parents’ divorce and Dad’s remarriage. Most of the others either nodded agreement or just stared at their hands.

So I asked them, What do you think is a proper number of gifts for a child to receive for Christmas. Not your child, but an average child from an average family in our socio-economic neighborhood. … No one volunteered for what sounded like a trap, so I went around the table and ask each person. The general average seemed to be four or five gifts per child was fair.

Why numbers of gifts per child instead of amount spent, one mom asked. Because most pre-teen kids seem to be more interested in how many packages they have to open and the gifts they walk away with, than how many dollars each item cost.

One dad said they’d settled the issue last year by reading the Christmas story, then pointing out that since Baby Jesus (whose birthday this is supposed to be about) only received three gifts, wasn’t it fair to limit the kids to only three gifts? Nice idea!

We wound up all agreeing that it might be a good idea to set goals or budgets for this year’s holidays. Our homework for the next week will be for each couple to come back with their set plan. It can include only the kids, or be for the kids and all the adults. It can be about numbers of gifts, or about budgeted dollars, or both.

I’d like to propose this same project for your family. Sit down together, you and your sweetie, and decide now – while it’s still hot and very non-Christmas-y – what your goal (or your limit if you’re more comfortable with that measure) will be for your family this year. Write it down and keep it where you can find it again around the middle of November. And then see what you think of it come January.

Please write me and let me share with our other families your ideas. I know they will appreciate hearing from you – we all need to share ideas, don’t we? 

Oh, and … Merry Christmas!

STEP coach Bob

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Voice from Theater 9

Marie, who wrote this blog post, was one of the unsuspecting innocents sitting in theater 9, in Aurora, Colorado when the gunman opened fire. Here is her take on what happened and why it happened. BTW, just for the record, I agree with her wholeheartedly.

STEPcoach Bob


(Maybe, just maybe God spared my life because He loves YOU and wants you to hear this..He wants you to believe that He loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son that if you would believe in Him you would have eternal life.)
So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.
Yes, I do indeed.
Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.

In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.
Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark Night Rises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of our own home…where I can use subtitles and get a foot rub. I don’t like action movies. And I don’t like midnight showings.  But, as I wrote in my last post, parents sometimes make sacrifices for their kiddos and I decided I would take my fourteen year old and sixteen year old daughters who were chomping at the bit to see this eagerly anticipated third movie in the Batman Trilogy. Twice I had the opportunity to back out and twice I was quite tempted. But something in me said just go with your girls. I did.

So I was there with them, fidgeting in my seat, some forty or  fifty feet away from the man with the gun. It’s still a bit surreal, but I do know that when the seemingly endless shooting started, as my girls were struggling from whatever gas or chemical had been released, and we figured out what was happening, we hit the floor. I threw myself on top of my fourteen year old who was on the end of the row, straight up the aisle from the shooter.  In that moment, as the rapid-fire shots continued, I truly thought I was going to die. And I realized that I was ready. I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of my soul, and there wasn’t the slightest doubt that I would be received into heaven, not because of any good thing that I have done but because of His merciful nature and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, as I lay over my daughter, I began praying out loud. I don’t even remember what I prayed, but I don’t imagine it really matters. I’m sure it was for protection and peace. It drew me closer into the presence of God. When there was a pause in the shooting, people began to clamor for the exits. The girls and I jumped up and joined the masses. We had to step over a lifeless body, not knowing where the shooter was. We raced to our car and I dumped my purse, frantically searching for keys, looking all around, prepared to hit the ground. I yelled at Michelle to call Matthew and find out if he had made it out of the theater next door. She did. He did. We booked on out of there.

Why would you think such a tragedy would make me question the goodness of God? If anything, both of my girls said it made Him a much more real presence to them; the youngest shared this verse: Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being caught.

He is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil.  It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act.  Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.
We have not yet slept, so the girls and I are overtired and a bit emotional.  But overall, we are praising God and resting in His Goodness.  

I love this word of wisdom and encouragement from a former pastor of mine:
Up to this point I haven’t had words to say that would matter. Of course we are all glad that you and the family are safe. Of course we would all state the obvious that this is horrific and senseless. But those words still don’t carry weight that remain in the midst of the questions. Then it hit me… Do you know what the difference was between Job and his wife in their response to the tragedy of losing everything… Job 1:20 Job was the only one that worshiped in the midst of it. Marie, I know your heart and I’ve seen your worship lived out before your family. Before the weight of this becomes unbearable… worship. Your profile pic was not coincidence, not by accident that you changed it on July 15th, but a beautiful foreshadowing of your need to hear the cry of your heart and give Him praise.  
Though we don’t have all the answers, we do indeed listen to the cry of our hearts: When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What  can mere man  do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

God is always good.
Man is not.
Don’t get the two confused.

We will continue to praise and worship our mighty God, anticipating that He will bring beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

If you want to know how to pray for us: first and foremost, we need sleep. Somehow our bodies seem too wired. We also want the life that God has graciously allowed us to continue to live to not be a gift given in vain, we want our lives to draw others closer to Him. We do not want fear to dominate, for God has not given us a spirit of fear. We want His joy to be seen and experienced in all that we do.
Pray for the families who lost loved ones, and for young people who witnessed such horror. Pray for this to be an opportunity for God to manifest Himself in mighty ways.

As for you…we will pray that YOU might know His goodness.
Still grateful for this wonderful life,
Original blog post:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest Post: Playtime!

This is a very nice borrowed-with-permission article that I couldn't resist sharing with you. It originally appeared in Simple Marriage blog at Stepfamilies are all parents - otherwise, you'd just be a couple. And I have been hearing so much lately about issues and clashes between husbands and wives about the kids, that I am pretty kid-minded. So when this post came my way I grabbed it to share with you. Enjoy. And let me know if and how this applies or helps your family.



Post written by Dr. Corey Allan.
Play has become a lost art in the adult world.
Perhaps even in the kid world … play is not be what it used to be.
Gone are the days of tag, chase, tackle the man with the ball, dodgeball, and the like.
Also gone are the “dangerous toys” like the metal Tonka trucks that are indestructible, the monkey bars that tower into the air, the tree house built way up in the tree with a homemade zip line going into the garage, and the metal slide that’s 4 stories tall with no side-rails and several bumps on the way down. Okay so the last one may be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not far off.
Play serves a great purpose.
Remember when you used to call up your friends or head over to their house and greet them with “wanna play?” It didn’t matter what you played, you’d make it up.
Today it seems that play is all but dead. Especially in the adult world. Even parenting has been impacted.
Parenting often becomes more about the child’s achievement and directing towards goals – be it the child’s – or far more likely the parent’s goals.
Schools are doing away with recess in the belief that giving up play time will allow more time for study. Even preschoolers are not immune to this shift.
Through the 80’s and 90’s a 4 billion dollar industry sprang up … tutoring. With 26% of it being devoted for 2 to 6 year olds. Babies … who should be spending more time in imaginative play than structured learning.
Play develops a child’s cognitive skills.
By play, I mean true child directed play: free, unstructured play where the kids invent the activities that reflect their own curiosities and interests.
Too many children are parentified, or expected to become adults too fast. And too many adults have added too many stipulations and parameters to play – in short, they’ve lost the art of play.
Play is critical in a child’s life. According to David Elkind, play is vital in teaching a child how to control himself and interact with others.
But play is also important in the adult world.
It opens to door to new solutions and creative sparks. It adds passion and energy to life and marriage.
Researcher Jaak Panksepp believes play turns on hundreds of genes in the brain. Specifically, play stimulates neurogenesis to hasten the development of the frontal cortex in the brain.
Play is vital to the development of our children and the health of our families, but it is also vital to us as adults.
So what can you do today?
  1. Encourage your kids to play with other kids. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t seem to happen that often. Many parentified children would rather play with adults than other kids. While this may seem mature and grown-up, anytime a kid plays with an adult, imagination and leadership skills are stifled. Adults often take charge or limit the imagination because we can’t compete with a child’s imagination level. When you do play with a child, let go of your imagination restrictions and let them take the lead. When they want you to be a princess or a prince who helps tame the nice dragon so you can fight the mean one, do it!
  2. Play with your kids everyday for at least 30 minutes. Spend time as a family playing. One of my favorite times each day is the wrestling time I get with my daughter and son. My son, before he could even talk, would walk over to the floor and point meaning “it’s time to wrestle dad!” Before long, my daughter and my wife would be in the mix. Now that he’s 5 he just runs and jumps on me anytime I’m within range. It’s a great bonding time as well as a testing of my children’s strength and abilities.
  3. Take your kids out of school for a day. You don’t have to do this too often, but take your kids someplace instead of school. You could even incorporate some learning opportunities into this. Visit the zoo, the aquarium, local museums, or galleries. You could even go to the park. Give them an unexpected break from their normal structure and spend the time together.
  4. Play with your spouse. Pull out the games after the kids are in bed, or go outside ride bikes together. Build a blanket fort in the living room. Point is, you don’t have to be structured in every aspect of your life … just play.
Now … off you go. Have fun storming the castle!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why can't most people be satisfied in married life?

As a teacher and mediator, I am often compelled to chime in on discussions online, in public forums, and sometimes just sitting in a coffeeshop eavesdropping. This column consists of one of those times I couldn't resist giving my opinion on what I feel is a very important question - why do people divorce so much? I hope you enjoy my answer - and I hope you will let me know what you think of my ideas. I welcome all comments and questions!

This is my answer to a question on the Quora website. Quora is a website of questions and answers to some of life's most difficult ... and sometimes silly ... questions. I responded to this question because I thought the reasons for the high levels of divorce are very important to our society, our families, and the children who will make up our future. You can find the original posting of this question and answer at [ ]

Question: Why can't most people be satisfied in married life? Why are divorce rates so high around the world?
My answer:

I've developed my answer to this particular question over 16 years of intensive work with divorcing couples, dissatisfied married couples, and re-married couples ("blended families"), as well as my own divorce and second marriage. I honestly believe that some couples should not have married in the first place. I agree, generally, that marriages are entered into too lightly, with too little clear, logical thought.

Marriages like these are NOT true marriages, they are couples playing house on a temporary basis.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment. A sincere, legal, moral, and often religious vow is taken to never leave or forsake each other through any difficulties that may arise. If this vow is not a flippant lie, divorce is impossible. I've never heard vows (though I'm sure someone has made up some) that allow for escape possibilities - "till boredom do us part," "as long as you remain interesting to me," etc.

Divorce is always damaging. Period. Even when the couple "is cool with it." To have failed at a solemn vow degrades the personality and the soul. It makes the vow breaker think less of him/herself and makes all future commitments much weaker. When there are children involved, divorce is akin to abuse. Ask any child whose parents have divorced and they will tell you they wish their parents had resolved their differences and  remained married. The statistics of what damages are done to children of divorce are many, and all tell of children whose quality of life and happiness has been severely reduced.

But, the question is why people can't be satisfied in marriage (someone said correctly that divorce rates have dropped in the US dramatically in the last decade). My understanding, again based on 16 years of working intimately with divorced, divorcing, and remarried families, is that their understanding of commitment is flawed, often by parents who taught them and society which reinforced that they could have whatever they want, they have an innate right to be absolutely happy all the time, and because they have selfish desires for new adventures despite what effect satisfying those desires will have on others.

Unpopular ideas, I know ... but I've had far too many divorced/remarried people tell me those ideas are correct to doubt them. We want everything perfect and when our marriage relationships or home situations are not, we whine and run away. Society supports this dangerous behavior because the majority of society wants to keep that same option open for themselves.

Should some marriages be ended? Yes, but very few. I have successfully helped many, many couples rehabilitate their relationships who had experienced what society calls "deal breakers" - adultery, drug addiction, abuse, and betrayal of many sorts. These are only deal breakers if one or both sides are determined to give up and run away and abandon their vows.

Christians, in particular, have very few true reasons for divorce, and those are still excuses to lie. Yes, yes, yes, a woman (or a man) who is consistently abused by their spouse should get away from him and protect herself. But there are often alternatives to divorce. When children are involved, they must certainly be protected, but divorce of their two parents is not always the best, and certainly not the only solution. I've witnessed far too many families brought back to peace who were convinced divorce is the only solution.

... Now, if you'd like to see a few responses to my answer and my replies to those responses, visit the original Quora link at the beginning of this column. And, if you have any questions or comments for me, please just reply to this email message and I'll get it and reply as quickly as I can.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Friday, May 18, 2012

Who Should Apologize First?

Once again, studying in a coffee shop leads me to surprises ... and insights.

Overheard from two young ladies chatting over lattes: "Well I really think he ought to apologize to me! He's the one who started it!"

"Do you think he'll apologize to you?"

"Oh, I doubt it. He never says he's sorry about anything and I'm getting tired of it. He always thinks everything's my fault. But this time, I'm not going to be the one who apologizes first!"

Who should apologize first? I get asked that a lot in therapy sessions. Individuals - ladies or men equally, it seems - are adamant that they shouldn't have to apologize unnecessarily. They will argue and rationalize  endlessly to protect their right to NOT apologize to their spouse. Amazing!

What is behind this passionate desire to not be found wrong? Only one thing fits that bill - pride.

In my pride, I will not admit that you were right ... or that you were even a little more right than I was. How many families has pride broken up? How many hearts has it broken?

The bible is pretty clear about God's view of pride:

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." James 4:6
"Pay back to the proud what they have coming." Psalms 94:2
"I will not put up with anyone with a proud heart." Psalm 101:5

Not good. Why does God hate pride so much, do you suppose? Well, let's look at the lady at the coffee shop. She was so determined that she would make her husband apologize, she was forgetting all about their relationship of love in order to beat him at a contest of pride.

Pride makes us try to hurt others so we can feel better about ourselves. In essence, pride makes us god of our lives and our world, rather than lovers and partners with our mates. Pride will eventually destroy relationships as you become jealous of your partner every time you don't "win." Being right becomes more important than your love for each other.

Q: Who should apologize first?
A: The first one who realizes they have caused pain to their partner should apologize first - and then not care whether their mate apologizes back.

Love doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry, as the movie line went. Instead, love actually means being willing to do whatever is necessary - including apologizing - in order to bless your sweetheart. Apologizing first is a win-win proposition. You apologize, they feel better, you feel better, everybody wins!

Do everything you can to keep your love alive and well.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jumping Off the Cliff

What lead you to get married again? After being burned so badly by your previous divorce(s), why did you - many of us very quickly - run back into another marriage?

Most of you will answer that you fell in love and hoped this time would be different and better. That this adventure into matrimony would not only work, but repair the harm from the last one. But, how could you bring yourself to walk back over that cliff?

I know that in my own case, I didn't walk, I sprinted toward my second marriage. I remember thinking a good three months before our wedding was scheduled to take place, "Why should we wait? Why not just get married TODAY?! We're in love, we are ready to start over, let's go!" I was held back only by the plans that were in place and the deposits that had been paid for the scheduled date. I was so much in love, I couldn't wait to start being happily married. Again.

As some of you probably know from our working together, the first two years of my new marriage was less blissful than expected. In fact, it was horrible. We jumped into it far too quickly and far too soon after our previous divorces. In retrospect, we should have spent a good two years (bare minimum!) learning about each other and figuring out how to blend our lives together - especially regarding her teenaged daughter's impact on our marriage!

If I'd paid closer attention in my university classes on psychology, I'd have seen that others had already studied this phenomenon of blindly walking off cliff walls. Back in 1960, two researchers named Gibson and Walk constructed a table to test depth perception in animals and babies. The table, as illustrated below:

was made of clear plexiglass under which was one half a table surface, and one half a drop off to the floor. In the experiment, very young babies - first animal then human - were placed on the "safe" side and encouraged to cross the glass table to the "unsafe" side. Animals almost never crossed, and many babies would not cross. But some babies were so focused on their parent's facial expressions that they happily crawled all the way to her. They were more interested in Mom's or Dad's smiling, encouraging faces that communicated it was OK to cross the divide than what their eyes told them.

Now "the Visual Cliff", as this experiment has become known, has real application in helping us understand why so many people ... people who are generally pretty clear headed ... will stumble out of the smoking wreckage of a horrible divorce, right into another relationship as quickly as they can find one.

We, like those trusting babies on the glass table, are so focused on the smiling, happy, beguiling faces of our new love interests (or other body parts besides their faces!), that, although we can see the drop off, we don't heed our body's natural warning responses.

"Dude! Stop! Can't you see you're leading us off a huge cliff, just like what we just fell from a few months ago? STOP!" To which we reply dreamily, "I can't stop. Sorry. Her ("eyes") are just so big and pretty and she keeps smiling at me and making me feel all warm inside," or "Don't be silly, Self! Can't you see how strong he is and how much he loves me? I just know it will be safe" ... to blindly crawl out into blank space where common sense tells me I'll crash to the bloodied rocks below, just like last time!

And off to the races we go!

Relationships, then, are clearly more important to us than safety, sight, experience, or common sense. Statistics tell us that our hearts will lead us where our eyes should force us to not go. Second marriages experience two divorces out of every three attempts, while more than three out of four third marriages fail. Got that? Two out of every three second marriages end in divorce!

The cliff is real! But we just keep on crawling. Why?

Because we NEED love. We need to have someone we can share the joy of life, as well as the fears of facing the world alone. And we are happy to ignore our brains to listen to the hopes of our hearts.

The bad news is that the odds are against you if you're in a stepfamily.
The good news is there is hope.

Yes, we need love; we need a partner to walk beside us. And that love is possible. Your marriage doesn't have to turn into a warning sign to others. It is possible to turn back from what may be looking like a disaster in the making. You just need help.

In sixteen years of working with stepfamilies, we've had OVER 90 PERCENT success helping you guys beat the odds. I'm still amazed at that number. We're not magic. What I teach isn't some arcane secret. I just help couples see the land mines clearly, then understand the best ways through the toughest times.

"The heart wants what it wants," as Dickinson said. Almost 100 percent of people who divorce get married again. We love that cliff.

If you're over the cliff, fearing that you've made a big mistake, and especially if you have children involved - don't give up. Don't freeze up and just wait for the drop to another crash. Get help. From me, from someone else, within yourself, wherever, just don't give up. Especially if there are children involved. Don't drag them into that abyss again.

Hold on and get across this time.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mediation/Coaching Is...

Some of you still wonder how I can help your family, your marriage.

I've explained my program a few times before, but here is a little video excerpt from a movie that pretty much shows what I do for my couples. Whether you're in a painful relationship or muddling through the difficult mission of parenting together after a divorce, I help with that.

In this video, I am the coach, and the two young athletes can represent any couple I work with - married, divorced, or just trying to keep life together.

If you need help getting your relationship and family running smoothly ... or just running again, email me. I'll be happy to talk to you about your situation.

I am open for any and all questions after you watch this.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Friday, April 6, 2012

Words That Damage

[NOTE: This is a short excerpt from my guidebook for divorced parents, "Guiding Your Children Through Divorce;" full information is HERE

[Page 20]
Expressing anger felt toward the other spouse,
that is, criticizing, cutting down, attacking, or disrespecting the children’s other parent, either directly to the children or where they can overhear you talking to someone else or to the other parent. Problems caused by one parent attacking the other parent can go deep; and usually leads to the following effects:

1) It Causes Confusion — This is harmful first because it confuses children about which parent to believe (“Daddy says Mom is a liar and mean, but when I’m with her she seems so sweet and kind, so who’s lying, Daddy or Mom?”). Once a child’s innate trust of a parent is gone, it is hard to rebuild.

2) It Causes Loyalty Conflicts — which parent to support. Children have a tendency to see things as black or white, good or bad, his side or her side. Due to this viewpoint, when a child sees his parents separating in a divorce, he immediately perceives a two-sided issue. Which means the child is either on Mom’s side or Dad’s side. 

This mentality can cause a excessive stress for a child who wants the love and approval of both his parents. All to often, these children begin to show signs of feeling pulled apart and torn between two “sides” in a conflict. The child feels they must choose between Mom or Dad, which leads to internal conflicts of being “against” the other parent.

3) It Causes Authority Damage — causes children to disrespect the attacker. As we’ve seen before, a child resents anyone who attacks her parent, even her other parent. Criticizing or badmouthing your ex damages your own standing in your children’s eyes, causing them to lose respect in your authority.

So, what's the solution: determine to never fight again in front of children — The obvious solution would be to never, ever be guilty of attacking your children’s other parent. Unfortunately, due to emotions and a lack of self-control, many divorced parents find they don’t have the will power to behave in an intelligent, mature manner toward the person their children loves. In some cases, these parents honestly try to control their words and behavior, but are simply too weak to do so.

In most cases, however, parents who belittle and criticize the people their children love are simply unconcerned for their children’s feelings. They plead they are “just too mad” at their child’s other parent to choose to control themselves. They act out their selfish needs to retaliate and ruin their relationships with their own children, and often damage their children in the process. Some feel that ignoring the needs of their children is child abuse. 

[NOTE: This discussion is continued in "Guiding Your Children Through Divorce;" full information is HERE]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A STEPparent's Job

Dear [stepparent],

Regarding your question about your particular responsibility about your husband's kids, here's how that lays out:

1) the stepparent is not legally or morally or physically responsible for their stepchildren. If a child gets into some sort of liable trouble (causing expensive damages to someone else's property, for example), the biological parent is legally responsible for reparations for that damage. Not the stepparent. Morally, God places responsibility for raising a child and teaching that child how to be an adult on the biological parent. Not the stepparent. 

2) The stepparent has the opportunity to bless the stepchildren; to teach them by example how to be a kind, loving, forgiving person. The stepparent also has the opportunity to demonstrate to the stepchild how to react, in a Christian manner, if they are insulted, ignored, or even harmed by the stepchild. The stepparent does have the responsibility to show the stepchild Christ in a very real way through daily living and lovingkindness (just as any child or person). Yes, this can be hard. I remember when my own stepdaughter slapped me in the face in public, (once physically and many times with her mouth and hateful attitude) in front of others, to embarrass me and to challenge me. As a Christian who just happened to be married to her mother, my responsibility was to demonstrate to her how a Christian would deal with a personal attack like that. (Remember what Jesus said about if someone slaps you on one cheek? Forgive and get over it and love them, He said)

So the stepparent, you and I, has no legal responsibility over the stepchild - but the Christian has a responsibility to witness Christ's love and forgiveness to everyone, ESPECIALLY those in our household.

One more point; Just because a stepparent does not have the responsibility for their stepchild, they are family. And, as family, they have a relationship with those stepchildren. You and I, as family members to our stepchildren must be careful not to shun those children, but to reach out to them as family members. When Dad and the kids are doing something, a family member should show an interest and care about that they're doing. If the stepkids reject your attempt, that shouldn't make any difference in your actions. We are still family members with those children of our spouse, and as such we need to show the same care and consideration as we do toward our spouse's parents, brothers and sisters, or their grandparents. Reach out with patience and love and respect because of who they are related to … our sweetheart.

It is a balancing act: love without having to, care without being forced to. But so is every other relationship we have - with our spouse, our parents, our siblings, etc, etc. It may not be the easiest, but it's the right thing to do.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blessings of Being A Stepparent

1) I married my high school sweetheart after we'd both been divorced upon by our spouses, so new life, new hope;
2) she brought a daughter, sort of a curse AND a blessing;
3) she then had a son, my step-grandson - a definite blessing!

Here is a journal entry I wrote about a day with my grandson, back in 2002:
February 2002

What a perfect day with Michael!
I never could have believed (and now I speak with faulty memory, because his presence has altered my mind so much) that I could be so completely taken by a baby boy! I think of him far more often than anyone else, and wonder about him whenever he is not with me. When he runs to me and wraps his arms around my leg, either to hug me or in an attack, I just feel all poured out for him. What I mean is that he seems to take over my full emotions. To make him giggle or even to scream with delight makes me feel like the most successful man in the world.

Today was a Monday, which means that I have promised to set all else aside to care for Michael. It’s definitely a foolish thing by the world’s standards, but I’m afraid I’m completely foolish when it comes to this little boy. After dropping Jo (Nana) off at her job, I came back home to find Jennifer almost ready to leave for her job and Michael still asleep. I puttered with home chores – dishes, trash, etc. – until I heard him call o ut. I called to him, “Hey Buddy, Grandpapa’s here.” In a few minutes, he toddled into the living room, tilted his head ‘way to the side and grinned at me.

We spent the morning playing and watching some cartoons, then while watching Bear in the Big Blue House, he started getting drowsy, so he got up and stumbled over to the couch, climbed up, and scooted over onto my lap! He laid his head back on my chest and stuck his bottle in his mouth. He could only sit still for so long, lest he fall asleep. So he hopped down and sprawled on the carpet, propping his chin on his fist, while his feet were propped up in the air. I couldn’t resist ... I laid down beside him, adopting the same pose. He snuck a look at me out of the corner of his eye, then got up on his knees and flopped on my back to watch TV from there. I rolled over so that he fell off giggling, and got on my hands and knees looking at him. He charged toward me, butting me in the head with his head. I dropped my head and burrowed into his belly. He squealed and grabbed my shirt, wrestling with me. I fell back on my back and he pounced on me.

We wrestled like that until we were tired (really I tired much more quickly than he did!) and we sat back on the couch. His mommy came home then for lunch. He had a sandwich with her, and when she left I laid him down in his play pen with a bottle of milk for a nap. He never made a sound, just looked up at me with sleepy, bright eyes. After his nap time, I had gotten us ready for a trip to town, so I went in to wake him. I leaned over his bed and whispered, “I love you. I love you, Michael.” He slowly opened his eyes and then jumped up when he saw me, and held out his arms to be picked up. I got him dressed and we left the house.

We then went to Wal-mart. I took Michael in to get Jo’s medicine refilled. After getting the pills, we played some. I’d push the cart out in front of me, crouch down and growl, “I’m gonna get your belly!” while running up on the cart and tickling his tummy as he squealed. We did figure eights, and drove through the too-tightly-packed clothing aisles, the shirt sleeves ticking his face. If anyone was paying attention, surely they thought I was nuts! Or maybe they envied me getting to play with such a wonderful baby. We bought some supplies for my new office and check ed out.

Then we went to get Jo. I took Michael upstairs to let her show him off. As we started in the front door of the clinic, I said, “Let’s find Nana, OK? Nana?” He perked up and said, “Nana? Nana! Nana!” looking around for her. In the elevator, I sat him down and he walked out, holding my hand. Jo was delighted to see him (of course!)

After we dropped Jo off at college, Michael and I went by the office to get a phone number about tomorrow’s appointment. Michael again captured everyone’s attention. He sat on my lap at my desk ... and knocked pictures off the desktop. Leaving there, we went back to my dad’s apartment.

Michael picked up a package of gum Dad had laying on a table. Dad said, “Oh no, Michael, let me have that before you lose it.” Michael grinned and took off with the gum! I said, “Oh you little fart! Gimme that gum!” He fell on the gum and hung on for dear life. I pried his little fingers off the now crushed gum sticks and started chewing on his belly. He just flopped back and grinned at me as if to say, “Go ahead, Papa, get me. That’s why I started the trouble anyway.” So I picked him up and (carefully) tossed him on Dad’s bed, then dove on top of him, pinning him under my chest. He screamed and started kicking. I got up and he charged right at me, hitting me in the chest with his head. I tickled his back and knees as he tried to squirm away.

We left Dad to get Jo from Westark and head home. I laid down for a much needed nap. When I woke up, it was to a happy little boy laying across my chest, hugging me awake. Before he went to sleep that night, in bed with his mama, he leaned up from the covers and patted me on my arm, his way of saying, “Thanks for a good day, Papa. I love you.”

What a great day!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making Memories

Have you heard of Spotify? I have recently discovered this gem on the web - all the music in the world (they claim) to listen to for free. I've created playlists of my favorite 80s hits (ELO, Huey Lewis, Starship), Rocking Country (Sawyer Brown and Kentucky Headhunters), classic gospel (Keith Green and Amy Grant). It makes for great background music. But just today I remembered my very first love ... The Archies! I checked and sure enough - there it was, my first album - Everything's Archie. Wow.

As I started listening to Melody Hill, Kissin', and, of course, the staples: Sugar, Sugar, and Jingle Jangle, my mind was rocketed back to days when I was a little boy, listening to The Archies on the stereo (think of an antique CD player) while laying on the couch or dancing in Mom's living room. I could feel the water cooler (an early air conditioner) blowing, smell Mom's burgers cooking in the kitchen, and I was there.

All the memories came rushing in - sweet Summer days with Mom and Dad at the lake, building G.I.Joe and Tonka cities in the back yard, my first dog, Tippy, and the sense of belonging and peace. The funny thing is, home wasn't always very peaceful.

Try as she might, Mom had a tough task making a happy home with Dad's penchant for drink (sure, and we ARE an Irish family!) and Mom's absolute disdain for drunkenness. There were many long loud nights when I would lie in my bed, fearing the worst as they fought out their bitterness. I was terrified they would hurt each other or Dad would leave again or that he'd stay and they'd never stop fighting.

Memories are a mixed bag for most of us - some beautiful, idyllic scenes of being a relatively carefree kid, mixed with being a scared little kid who had pretty much no control over anything in my world. But one thing seems to be true for all kids I've talked to or read of: they love having family and being part of a home. Doesn't matter if that home has periods of yelling and anger, it's still Home.

Yes, many families fight a lot. But most kids - after they've grown and can look back clearly - admit they loved their parents no matter how they acted toward each other. The excuses I hear for many of the divorces I mediate are that the parents are convinced their own marital dissatisfaction is making their children miserable, too. Study after study show this to be false. Kids want Home.

Back to memories (The Archies are still playing in the background) - why do I automatically leap to the happy memories of my long-past youth? There were plenty of sad/angry/scary memories, too. But we lean toward the happy memories. Most of us do, anyway.

So my question to you is, what kind of memories are you building for your own children? What about your stepchildren? What memories will a song bring back to their minds someday, complete with sounds, smells, and emotions of these days? What are you planting there?

I teach consistently that stepparents are not responsible for their stepkids - that's the job for the biological mom and dad. And the bio-parents will build most of the good and bad memories of their own children. But you and I have a hand in our stepkids' present past, too. We have the opportunity to help these tender hearts grow into sensitive, loving, understanding adults. (Yes, even the surly teens have tender hearts!)

Every time we yell at their parent; every time we sulk and withdraw to "punish" them; every time we make demands out of a sense of responsibility that isn't ours instead of accepting and guiding them, we are making memories that will shape their whole lives. Because, you see, WE are teaching them about love and forgiveness and patience and kindness in ways their own parents cannot. Mom and Dad "have" to love them ... it's their job. But when we overlook the snotty attitudes, the shunning, the rudeness and love them anyway, we have made an impression on that young heart that will never be forgotten.

Well, my album is ending, so I need to get back to the present. But please think about the impression you are making on your stepchildren, who are yours by the grace of God and the permission of their parent you've married. You and I really can be heroes if we take the challenge to plant good memories in our stepkids.

God bless your whole family!

STEPcoach Bob Collins

[Here's my Archies playlist: The Archies – Everthing's Archie]

Show your STEPfamily Pride!