Through the Eyes of a Military Family

Mike Allen of the Journal Commission interviews
Gary & Jeanne Barnes

Editors Note:
For this “Serving Military Families” issue, we thought it would be helpful to talk directly with a Catholic couple who has experienced the military’s affect on family life. Gary and Jeanne Barnes of Gulf Breeze, FL, have seen a broad spectrum of military life. Gary spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired in 1993 with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Their daughter’s husband is an active Marine (deployed in Okinawa, Japan).

Mike: What are some of the challenges to marriage in the military?
Jeanne: First of all, just the separation. Gary was also in special ops, which meant that we didn’t know when he was going, for how long, and where he would be. The balance of power that goes back and forth was hard. When he’s home we share power, and then when he leaves, I would do it all my way (laughs). It was hard to readjust to that.

Gary: The military, for me, was exciting. I enjoyed the travel…though I don’t like to tell Jeanne that (both laugh) – but I could see the problems with the children. When I did come home, it was like “Dad’s home, he’s the #1!” And Jeanne would always feel like, “What
am I, chopped liver?”

I didn’t worry about dying –maybe Jeanne did – it was the uncertainty, the constant deployments, the movement, not being really a part of the kids’ lives that was hard. Now, as I look back, there were things that I didn’t do, didn’t have the time to do, or didn’t choose to take in – ball games, birthday parties, anniversaries.

Mike: Gary said that death was not on his mind. Jeanne, how about for you?
Jeanne: Yes, I always had it in the back of my mind. Gary’s very first assignment was at Westover, Massachusetts, where there were lots of bombers shot down, so I was familiar with the official car and the chaplain coming by and telling the wives. It was always, “Thank God it’s not me,” and then, “Oh my gosh, it’s my friend,” and then the guilt of “What can I do for them, because I feel so bad that it’s them and not me.” But our church family was always very close, so we could minister to one another. I was in a women’s group where we talked about those things, so just knowing that the other wives were feeling the same thing helped a lot.

Mike: What are some of the other challenges children face when a parent is in the
military?
Jeanne: It was more an issue with discipline in our family. We have three daughters, and in my eyes, they could do no wrong, and in Gary’s eyes, they could do no right, so we were a good team (laughs).
Gary: The moving all the time – every two, three, or four years – was extremely hard on the kids. In fact, our middle daughter had written that they were so scared to go to school the first day, that they went to bed together and held each other’s hands.
Jeanne: But as traumatic as it was, all three say today that it made them stronger. They are very independent, strong women, and they do credit a lot of that with having to be the new kid.

Mike: As for the ministries on military bases, how were those helpful?
Gary: Our first real experience with military chaplains was on Guam. We would have a new priest every year. In three years, we had three priests. We’ve been lifelong friends with two of those priests; they come and visit us almost every year, and that was thirty years ago.

We were lucky that we had the Church. We found out from living in Guam, that since you’re thousands of miles away, the church is family. It pulled us together, and I think we are so much stronger for that experience, because of that isolation and the Church filling the need for family.

Jeanne: Gary was gone a lot, and the priests would come by and check – I had little children at the time – to see if everything was OK. They were just friends. Growing up in a Catholic family, if my mother had the priest over for dinner, it was linens, china, fancy stuff. So when our first priest stopped by, I thought, “I’ve got to do all this.” But as we got to be friends, it was “Here’s a paper napkin, just sit down and have a glass of beer” (laughs).

Mike: What are some things that local parishes could do to be helpful of military families?
Jeanne: Our church now has a lot of retired Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, but not so much active duty. One thing I appreciate is a book we put on the altar every Sunday that has the names – anybody can write in it – of any military person or family that is deployed. It’s a symbol of how important it is to pray for our military families.

Another thing is just getting the families or spouses of deployed soldiers together. When our daughter’s husband went to Iraq, it was hard for her to meet other wives whose husbands were deployed. If the Church set up coffees, little gatherings, or something where they could initially get together; then they could take it from there. You need the support of someone who is going through the same thing.

Gary: It depends on the community. If you have a lot of families of deployed, you can do a lot, but if you have five families out of 800, they tend to fall by the wayside. We pray for them every Sunday in our intentions, and the book is there; but outside of that there wasn’t anything for them.
Jeanne: Something our priest does is when soldiers attend Mass, he takes time at the end to welcome them, and the church gives them a standing ovation. Our son-in-law laughs about being embarrassed, but it is good for the family and the children to see that the community appreciates what their dad does.
Gary: We always concentrate on the deployed, and pray for them, but we really need to establish a constant prayer for the ones left behind, because they need our prayers every bit as much.

Jeanne: A lot of enlisted personnel and their families really struggle financially. They may have enough money to live month to month, but their refrigerator goes out, and they don’t have anything extra. That’s another thing the Church can do, if you get to know the families.

Gary: It’s sad in America that our young airmen, in the first five ranks, are on food stamps.

Mike: What about childcare – just watching the children for a few hours – could that be helpful?
Gary: In most daycares, there’s no room for the two hour drop-in. That’s a big deal, if our Churches could step up, just that two hour “go get groceries”

Elizabeth Ministry – A Healing Response

Member, Mike Allen, interviews Jeannie Hannemann

Families in trauma benefit from peer ministry, in which parishioners who’ve experienced healing lend support to those enduring similar struggles. This “wounded healer” approach, to borrow a phrase of Henri Nouwen’s, is a hallmark of Elizabeth Ministry International, whose mission is to “offer hope and healing on issues related to childbearing, sexuality, and relationships.”

I recently talked with Jeannie Hannemann, co-founder of Elizabeth Ministry, which has
registered over 700 Elizabeth Ministry Chapters on six continents offering support for the joys, challenges, and sorrows of childbearing.

Why the remarkable growth of Elizabeth Ministry?
Many areas we address, such as infertility or miscarriage, seldom get parish support. Therefore, when people discover Elizabeth Ministry, they will say “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I had to do alone.” They want to start an Elizabeth Ministry Chapter.

Clergy and Family Life ministers support formation of Elizabeth Ministry Chapters because they are aware of the need.

What makes peer ministry so effective to persons and families in this kind of trauma?
Unless you’ve had a miscarriage, for example, you don’t know the pain of someone going through that experience. You can be compassionate and caring, but you don’t really understand.It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy.

What makes peer ministry especially important in today’s parishes?
Greater mobility has added to the isolation of families; they often don’t have family nearby. So the church has to step up and provide compassion and practical help.

Say a woman is put on bed rest—what is she going to do if she has a two year old? Some of our chapters have stepped right in, providing meals, childcare etc. – to fill in for extended family.

One of the challenges in larger parishes is that people can feel isolated, especially facing a
traumatic event. With our clergy stretched so thin, how can peer ministry principles facilitate a deeper sense of community for those who are suffering?
As churches have increased in size, it is difficult to create a loving environment. Informal
support provided in small congregations can happen in a large parish when programs are
established to identify needs and response. Parishes that use our Rosebud Program are able to locate people who could use personal contact. This individual attention provides a close knit feeling even in large communities.

You have a new development within Elizabeth Ministry that you are excited about, a resource for couples and families dealing with pornography and sexual addiction. Tell us more.
Elizabeth Ministry’s primary focus was forming chapters to provide maternal mentoring. But as scientific and technological discoveries transformed experiences of fertility and pregnancy, and our promiscuous society created new medical, social, and spiritual issues, we began receiving requests for trainings and programs on sexuality and relationships.

Our newest program addresses pornography addiction. Elizabeth Ministry partnered with
Candeo, to create RECLAIM Sexual Health, a professional, science-based online Catholic
program to overcome pornography and other unhealthy sexual behaviors. Over 5,000 struggling individuals in more than 75 countries have been helped with the secular version of this behavioral change technology. Now it is available with a Catholic format!

Leading researchers, scientists and psychologists have partnered with Catholic scholars
combining The Brain Science of Change with Theology of the Body to create a different and breakthrough approach to addiction recovery.

We have developed peer-ministry aspects called St. Michael’s Men, St. Monica’s Missionaries and parish programs. For more information, visit www.reclaimsexualhealth.com or contact Elizabeth Ministry International at 920-766-9380 or www.elizabethministry.com

Helping Families When Sexual Abuse Is Disclosed:

Recommendations for Ministry Leaders
by Dr. Joseph White

When sexual abuse is disclosed, either by a child or by an adult who was sexually abused as a child, there is always pain – first on the part of the victim of abuse, but also on the part of those who love him or her. For this reason, a disclosure of sexual abuse can be particularly devastating to families, whether the abuse occurred within or outside of the family context. As ministry professionals work with families in a variety of contexts, they might sometimes become aware of situations in which a disclosure of abuse has been made. The following are some suggestions for ministry leaders:

Listening is key. Sometimes when someone is dealing with a traumatic situation, we are at a loss for words. But persons facing difficult circumstances often need to be heard by us more than they need to hear something from us. Empathic reflection is most important initially. As difficult it may be to hear about someone else’s trauma, remember that as ministry professionals, we are the face of the Church. Make sure to send the message that we have time to listen, and we care about what they are going through.

Believe the disclosure and encourage parents and family members to do the same. Only an estimated 5% of allegations of sexual abuse are false, and these usually occur in very specific types of circumstances.

Reassure parents that what happened is not their fault. Because parents know that they are their child’s primary protector, parents often feel enormous guilt upon hearing that their child has been victimized. Tell the parents that you know how much they care for their child and that you are certain they would have done everything they could have to prevent the abuse if they had known.

Make sure the abuse has been reported. As professionals who work with children, we are
obligated to report abuse if we become aware of it. In most states, the criterion is “reasonable suspicion.” We don’t have to decide whether or not allegations of abuse are true. If we have cause to believe a child has been abused, we must report and leave it to the authorities to investigate as necessary. The obligation to report child abuse exists even if the abuse is reported after the victim has become an adult. We can never know if the perpetrator might still have access to children or might abuse a child in the future. For this reason, a report should always be made.

Advise parents to avoid leading questions and allow professionals to investigate the abuse.
There have been cases in which perpetrators have been acquitted because a child was
inappropriately questioned and asked leading questions when the allegations have been made. Encourage parents to listen emphatically and attentively and to reassure the child of their love and protection, but advise them not to ask questions about the abuse until a trained professional has all the facts.

Encourage parents and families to seek therapy. Sexual abuse can be extremely stressful for children and teens, and the emotional damage does not simply disappear when the abuse ends. To help prevent long-term negative consequences, encourage the parent to make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in working with children (or, for adults remembering abuse, encourage them to see a therapist with experience in treating post-traumatic stress). Counseling can also be beneficial for parents coping with the stress and grief associated with their child’s victimization.

Dr. Joseph White is a Clinical Child Psychologist and is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

NCCW Works To End Domestic Violence

By Cathy Jarboe Domestic violence is largely a women’s issue – 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. In fact, every nine seconds a woman is beaten in the US. Thus, since you began reading this, […]

Stress and Family Life

By Tony Garascia The Nature of Stress and Trauma Stress is an everyday part of life. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, from the relatively small stress of making sure our children have their homework done to the much larger issues surrounding watching a parent who is in the military deploy to a combat […]

Beyond “Bless Us O Lord”, What Does Family Prayer Look Like?

by Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck

Our nine-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son had been having a terrible weekend together. Liam was annoyed with Teenasia’s constant singing. Teenasia said Liam was chewing with his mouth open on purpose. Liam took more than his share of chips for lunch; Teenasia allegedly never got in trouble for anything. Their list of complaints became shriller with every passing hour. Finally, on Sunday morning, my husband and I left them unsupervised in the mudroom to put on their jackets for Mass and a screaming match ensued. Mass would begin in ten minutes, and we were already a couple minutes behind. But as I looked at their angry faces, I knew I couldn’t ignore this moment. I told Liam and Teenasia to join hands with the other kids and we were going to have a quick family prayer. In the prayer, I thanked God for sending Liam and Teenasia into our family. I said there was a reason God had chosen for them to be brother and sister and prayed that both of them would be open to God’s grace to be the best big brother or younger sister that they could be.

Once the family was loaded in the van, I said we were going to drive to church without talking, so that Liam and Teenasia could both pray the Hail Mary silently.

Parents who integrate prayer into daily life give their children the gift of a relationship with God that is constant and accessible. Praying about regular life problems and successes helps children to form a context for a faith that could otherwise feel removed and mysterious. For Liam and Teenasia that particular day, my husband and I noticed that each of them made a conscious effort to stop the bickering after church. Later that night, Liam approached Teenasia and said he’d read out loud with her before bed. Will this be the end of sibling rivalry for them? Certainly not. But hopefully, having them pray together in difficult times is laying the groundwork for an understanding that all relationships are gifts from God.

Looking for ways to build more prayer into your family’s life? Here are a few ideas:

• Create a tradition that incorporates prayer: “Each year, during Lent, we do outdoor Stations of the Cross with another family,” said Jamie, father of four. “We either have a picnic or go out for a fish fry afterward. The kids love that it’s a tradition unique to our family.”

• If it’s an important day – pray for it! “When a child has an important day in our family, we gather together in the morning, put our hands on that child and each person gives a blessing,” said Jen, mother of three. “Whether it’s a big test or tryouts for a sport or a birthday, we begin the day by talking to God about it.”

• Road trips start with prayer: “Once the van is packed and everyone is buckled in, we say an Our Father or a Hail Mary for our trip,” said Bill, father of four. “My wife or I will pray out loud for safe travels and also for the people we might be going to visit, or that we learn something from the trip.”

• Service can be prayer in action: “We serve at a meal program once a month,” said Henry, father of three. “When we do this, our kids are taken out of their comfortable world and get to experience living the Gospel values.”

• Jump-start your own prayer life: It’s difficult to pass on a spirit of prayer if that’s not where you are personally. If you feel that your whole family is lacking spiritually, begin by giving prayer a place in your own life. Children will learn by osmosis. “I can tell when I need to pray more. I become more irritable and worried,” said Amy, mother of three. “When my children see me taking time to go to daily Mass or Adoration, or reading spiritual books, they recognize it’s important and it makes a difference.”

The Importance Of Couple Prayer

By Fr. Tom Vandenberg

Why should couples pray together? Is it to deepen their unity as a couple or to seek God’s help in dealing with problems in their family or even in their own relationship? The answer is yes to these and countless other such questions. However, the overriding motive for a couple called to the Sacrament of Matrimony to pray together is their vocation to be a living sign of Jesus’ love in the Church.

Like the Sacrament of Orders, the Sacrament of Matrimony is ultimately for the life of the
Church. That is what distinguishes sacramental marriage from all other marriages.

In addition to faith in each other, it requires faith in God and the desire to live in the Spirit
of God’s love as their way of life – not just for themselves, but also for the People of God. Because of their baptism into Christ, a sacramental couple’s vocation is to make love itself real and believable in the Church, for, where love is, God is. Sharing a relationship with God through prayer bonds the couple more closely together and supports their vocation
as a domestic church.

As a living sacrament, a couple calls the Church to that unique way of life Jesus referred to when he said, “By this will they know you are my disciples: your love for one another” (John 13:35). Not only do our sacramental couples show us what Christ-like love looks like, they actually bring Jesus’ love to the community of the Church. Sacraments confer what they signify. They make Jesus’ love real! And in so doing, they help empower others to have a real depth of love for one another as well.

The Sacrament of Matrimony exists in the dynamic power of the couple’s
relationship with each other. The home they create by their love is the most important
school for learning the ways of love that their children will ever experience. Calling on the
power of God’s love through praying together strengthens this extraordinary call from
God.

When living in the Spirit of God’s love, rather than asking for Jesus to help them with their daily challenges, they may ask instead, “Jesus, how can we help you today? How can we make your love present in us more obvious today? What should our love look like right here, right now?” This all requires that a married couple surrender themselves to the Spirit of God’s Love who empowers them to fulfill their vocation. This begins by worshiping together at Mass when they surrender themselves as they are, in union with Jesus, to the Father. In this way, their hearts open to the transforming grace and love of God, so their hearts will more clearly reflect the heart of Jesus. United in divine love, they then can let the Spirit guide their private prayer together.

The One Necessary Thing

By Bob Ovies

The American Bishops issued their Pastoral Letter on Marriage for reasons marriage ministers are all familiar with. Marriage, whether sacramental or civil, is the choice of a shrinking percentage of couples who decide to express their love for one another by living together in an intimate committed relationship. And among those couples who do celebrate marriage, the difference in the divorce rate of Catholic couples and those of the general population is negligible.

But for all of this, there is still a “critical something” that has yet to be extensively pursued in marriage support ministries at either diocesan or parish levels, even though it’s foundational to Catholic life, it’s proven to be easy to teach, it’s been clinically demonstrated to dramatically strengthen virtually every factor known to be essential to the well-being of the marriage relationship (Rushnell and Duart, Couples Who Pray , 2007),
and, of all the collates known to contribute to happy and healthy marriages, it’s been identified by researcher Fr. Andrew Greeley as “the most powerful we have yet discovered.” (Andrew Greeley, Faithful Attraction, 1991).

That “critical something” is shared “couple prayer” – close, honest, personal prayer shared by a husband and wife on a regular basis.

Jesus tells us in his encounter with a busy Martha and attentive Mary that drawing back from the busyness of life The One Necessary Thing in order to focus on His company, to tell Him what’s in our heart and mind, and, very importantly, to listen to what He has to say to us, is the “only necessary thing.” (Lk 10:42) What an incredible revelation!

Married couples obviously have all kinds of important things to deal with, some of which are even critical. But married couples (like individuals, congregations, whole parish communities and the entire church) have only one thing that is “necessary” – prayer.

Yet most married couples are not praying together as a couple; not just the two of them coming together for that specific reason, and not with anything even remotely approaching a regular basis.

As a diaconal couple, my wife, Kathy, and I have been blessed over the past nine years to personally help some 1,400 couples embrace the “only necessary thing” more deeply and consistently as married couples. We’ve learned over that period of time that the overwhelming majority of couples – including even those who express a genuine desire to be able to pray together on a regular basis – are not in fact doing it, citing either or both of these two overriding reasons:
1. We don’t know how to go about it.
2. We wouldn’t feel safe. We’d be too vulnerable.

No other reasons come even close to being as significant as these. Think about that.

It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth, died, rose from the dead, and sent the Holy Spirit. And yet, today most married Catholic couples (and other Christian couples, too, across the denominational board) are not praying together because of the above reasons.

There is very good news, though, and that is – both of those issues are teachable. They are learnable. They are achievable – and achievable more easily and more quickly than most couples might even imagine.

Couples can learn how to pray together in secure and successful ways. They can learn whole menus of solid ways to pray, within which they can closely and supportively pray together in their own most personally comfortable ways.

Couples can learn how to create a safe environment for themselves and their spouse, one in which sharing the intimacy of their personal relationship with God becomes an abiding comfort to them, not a threat. In fact, they can learn how to pray together comfortably in just a matter of weeks.

Here are some things we’ve learned that we hope will encourage you.
• It doesn’t take long. Couples won’t get there with just a strong homily or an evening in the parish center, but in just a few weeks they can be well on their way. Psychologists tell us that it takes approximately forty days to make or break a life-pattern, or habit, and we’ve found that that’s a very comfortable time-frame for husbands and wives to begin sharing daily couple prayer with as much faithfulness as they now brush their teeth, check their e-mail, go on the web, watch TV, or do any of the other hundred things that they now consider so important that they take time out for them each and every day.
• It’s accomplished successfully when it’s approached in gradual stages, with the first and most enduring stage being simply learning to start thanking God openly and honestly with one another. As David said, “Enter the gates of God with thanksgiving…” (Ps 100:1, 2)

Giving God thanks is not only a foundational and eternal response to God’s goodness to us, it is a wonderful starting place for any couple’s shared-prayer journey. There is little personal exposure in thanking God together,which in turn provides a greater sense of security, which in turn allows a higher degree of trust. It is trust that opens the door for intimacy and it’s intimacy – close, loving, enduring, personal intimacy with God and one another – that’s the most abiding of our longings and the highest goal of our prayers.

From that beginning point of helping couples learn to share open and honest prayers of thanks together, helping them pray comfortably together for a lifetime is simply a matter of supporting them through even more open, trusting, and intimate levels of “the only necessary thing.”

For example,
• from thanking and praising God in simple and heart-felt ways together,
• to asking God’s help together,
• to sharing personal insights and personal prayers about scripture and other resources together,
• to blessing each other and their children together,
• to sharing devotions together,
• to the deepest intimacies of forgiving and the highest intimacies of
worshiping God together –praying as a married couple may truly be the
most intimate act between husband and wife that any marriage can offer.

It is, after all, all in God’s plan, which means it’s already planted in the hearts of the next married couple we will get a chance to help, just waiting to bloom. The more we encourage prayer as a marriage support ministry of the highest importance, the more we will see marriages, and therefore families, and therefore the church herself, genuinely renewed.

Prayer Ministry With the Engaged

By Steve & Kathy Beirne

Our prayer ministry for engaged couples began about ten years ago when we started providing the UNITAS program in our parish. That program runs for seven weeks. Our intent was to involve as many parishioners as possible in preparing couples for their marriage, so that it would be apparent that the community was supporting their entry into this important sacrament. We had couples acting as sponsors, others providing a meal, and still others serving the meal. Others gathered door prizes for each evening’s meeting – but core to the entire effort was the prayer ministry.

Forms were distributed in church prior to the program asking who would be willing to pray for an engaged couple as they went through the program. Each person (or couple) was assigned one of the engaged couples to pray for. We sent a picture of the couple with their first names and wedding date, and asked that they pray for them until their wedding.

In addition, we gave names of the couples to the children in our parochial school, also with a picture. The photos were posted in each classroom, and the children prayed for the couples daily. One year the pastor had the children make placemats for the couples with their advice for marriage. The drawings and the sayings touched the couples, and the children told them, “Don’t fight.”

The prayer ministry is an important one from both sides. Knowing that they have the support of others in the parish is a comfort to the engaged. It makes them feel part of something larger than themselves. From the other side, those who are prayer partners feel involved in the important work of getting couples ready for a Catholic wedding and for the work of living out a lifelong, happy, healthy, holy marriage. The first year, we had a 100 year old woman who offered to be a prayer partner. The couple she got to pray for were getting married on her own wedding anniversary. You can imagine how meaningful it was for both parties to have that connection.

Recently we have begun asking the prayer partners to write a letter to be given to the couple on the last night of the program. This strengthens the awareness of the engaged to the love and concern that enfolds them.

We now have one volunteer who takes charge of this aspect of ministry to the engaged, from collecting the forms with the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the prayer partners to assigning them couples and making sure they receive the photos. We ask that the letters for the couples be left in the sacristy toward the end of the program so postage is not involved.

Having had this ministry for ten years we now see it as integral to our marriage preparation program. Many of the couples attending the program are only tangentially related to the parish – it is the parish they grew up in, or they have recently moved to the area. This program connects them in a positive way to the larger community.

TRAIL MAP TIPS FOR STEPFAMILY SUCCESS

1. Understand two critical realities. Making a stepfamily work well is a process. It also takes time.

2. Take time to live alone as a single after divorce or the death of a partner. Develop and maintain a solid network of family and friends. Start school, move into a new job, or do whatever it takes to move toward a long-awaited dream you’ve always held. Take risks that lead to restoring your ability to trust others. Beware of that first intense relationship and realize that, quite likely, this person is your transition person and not necessarily the one you’ll end up marrying. However, it can be a vital relationship for rebuilding self-confidence and selfrespect, as well as learning how to b ewith someone again.

3. Take time before you commit and prepare wisely. Resolve and heal former relationships. Learn information about stepfamily living. Help your children grieve their changed family situation with family discussions and therapy so they can better adjust to stepfamily living.

4. Clarify your relationship with your former spouse. Peaceful relationships help your children move between two households. Effective coparenting and minimizing loyalty conflicts for children only works when the original relationship is reasonably healthy.

5. Dealing with discipline will be your greatest challenge. The first hurdle is dealing with discipline, so that you can present a “united front” to the children as soon as possible. Examine your parenting styles. Perhaps take parenting classes during courtship. Seek out skills and communication classes. Agree on approaches that respect everyone.

6. Examine and clarify boundary issues early. Time, space, chores, and authority are issues to sort out early in the stepfamily journey so everyone is on the same page.

7. Disclose and discuss finances. Money discussions are best done before remarriage, because issues around money and other economic considerations are the second greatest challenge in the stepfamily.

8. Reduce children’s anxiety. Kids worry about their roles in the new family and may be confused. Many are angry about all the changes. Reduce their concerns by talking with them openly. Yes, they still have a good relationship with their other parent without it upsetting you or your new partner. No, they needn’t lose touch with their grandparents. Yes, they can they still see their old friends? Clear answers provide the reassurance youngsters need. New stepparents can assure children their intent is neither to replace their biological parent nor interfere in those relationships. Ask them how they view your role in their lives, listen well for guidelines, and watch for opportunities to build good relationships with them.

9. Participate in stepfamily education or counseling. Because stepfamilies differ from other families in so many ways, the more you learn in advance, the fewer struggles you’ll face later. Attend a stepfamily education class. Visit a therapist who’s savvy about stepfamilies and is trained in family systems – especially before marriage and in the early stages. It’s a
healthy family that seeks help to strengthen its family life.

10. Celebrate with a creative ceremony that includes the children. At the cutting edge of tradition, stepfamily weddings can help create a storehouse of memories that provide a strong foundation for your stepfamily. Everyone who wants to take part in a meaningful way can be encouraged to do so. A child might want to play the piano, sing a song, read a poem, or manage the guest book. Encourage your children to be a part in the ceremony but no one should be forced. If there’s resistance by a certain child, talk about it calmly to get to the bottom of what the child is feeling – it is usually unresolved divorce issues. A creative and joyful ceremony heralds your new beginning to friends and family and provides a positive start to what lies ahead.