Stepfamily Packages

by Carri & Gordon Taylor

Carri's and Gordon's Wedding

Carri & Gordon are speaking at the Better Marriages Conference July 11-14, 2013 in Raleigh, NC

 

Living in any family brings surprises – that’s life. Living in a stepfamily guarantees LOTS of surprises because of the “open” & expanded system it creates. Even in first marriages the package includes many people. Along with our spouse there are our parents and extended families that have had an impact on our lives. In a stepfamily we not only marry a spouse and their extended family (parents, siblings, nieces & nephews), we “marry” their children, ex-spouse, ex-spouse’s extended family, any new spouse their ex-spouse may have, etc, etc, etc. “The package” for a remarried couple can be so big that it has the potential to destroy the marriage before the family even starts to form.

 

Another part of the package includes our accumulated assets, debts, “stuff,” different styles of living and parenting; to name a few. Even though the “Blended Family” is currently the most common model; it can be invisible, misunderstood, and quite a surprise. We refer to a first marriage as an “apple” and a subsequent marriage as an “orange.”

 

Carri:  For me, the surprise began when my 13-year marriage was crashing and burning, never believing I would be divorced. After all, I signed up for life. After being a divorced single parent for five years, I wasn’t surprised that I was remarrying again. By then I had gotten used to the idea and was looking forward to it. I believed this time things would be different and my daughter would have a man to fill the “dad hole.”

 

Another surprise… two weeks after the wedding, my 14-year-old daughter decided we weren’t her family anymore, even though she was for our marriage before the wedding. She believed that everyone had deserted her. My ex-spouse had remarried shortly after our divorce and was absent from her life more than present. She assumed the same would happen with me. Now her friends were her family and in my mind she had sunk to the lowest common denominator and trouble was brewing big time. So much for the “dad hole” being filled, at least for now.

 

Gordon: It was in August 1977 that the inconceivable happened – my 18-year marriage and family broke up. I was divorced! It was shocking to the point that I asked myself if I could still be a Christian? After eight years of self-examination and personal growth, as well as raising three teenage boys as a divorced single parent, I thought I was ready to try marriage again.

 

Carri: Trouble seemed to break out every two years in a big way. In between there were some good times where shared experiences were building the memories on which our stepfamily would find its foundation. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions seemed to get sabotaged. Time alone with my husband was spent strategizing how to handle our children, merge our finances and possessions, and engage our ex-spouses in interactions regarding the children. We were thrown into time alone violently when at 16, my daughter decided to “take off.” She did return in two months after hitting bottom.

 

Working, as a co-parenting team with my ex and his wife seemed to bring up the issues that had led to our divorce, so how could we work together in our daughter’s best interest? The patience it took on my new husband’s part was unbelievable. Thank God I had picked a man that was up for the job of stepparenting.

 

Gordon: My commitment was not to let a teenager with an “attitude” get the best of me if that meant I had to learn new relational skills, communicate, understand stepparenting and change everything about me, including my career – which I did. I’m now a Marriage and Family Therapist.

 

Carri: Then the packages start bringing and creating more packages. Our first additional package was very unexpected. My first granddaughter came into the world quite by surprise. Before she even arrived, we were expecting that this little girl would be given to adoptive parents. I had even met the adoptive parents that my daughter had picked out.

 

We had serious marriage regrouping to do when we first found out my daughter was pregnant. She was 18 and living with us after returning from working abroad for several months in a high visibility career- modeling internationally.

 

She was in therapy where she was grieving the loss of this child and preparing for the adoption process. A month before her baby was born, she asked us to attend one of her counseling sessions. In this session she shared with us that she had changed her mind and intended to keep her child. She asked us how or if we could support her. Now we were regrouping again!

 

My husband and I had actually seen her change of heart coming and had already had multiple discussions on where we would be if something like this happened. However, as in any event, when it did happen, we were thrust into a new reality.

 

We did agree to have the two of them live with us while my daughter regrouped, took some college courses and worked as the manager of a restaurant. My granddaughter had a co-parenting team of three and all of us were bonding with her. The goal was to have my daughter living independently and on her own.

 

About one year into this arrangement she received an offer to re-enter her previous career and go abroad again, an offer she didn’t want to refuse. Her plans were to take my granddaughter with her. This was quite frightening to me and neither my husband nor I thought that would be the productive thing to do for either of them. That began the intense process of working out a “win-win” for all of us. After many discussions, professional advice, deep thinking, lots of prayer, using every communication skill I had ever learned and was teaching, as well as understanding my daughter’s temperament and our history together; I came up with a “legal guardianship.” My husband agreed – both of us knowing and not knowing how that was going to impact our lives. My daughter’s consent took longer, which I wasn’t surprised about, but as all of us considered the stability and best interests of my granddaughter, we agreed as a family to do this.

 

My daughter was off modeling in Asia before our court date, which happened to fall on my husband’s birthday! The gift that keeps on giving……

 

Gordon: Parenting as a stepgrandparent, and actually the “dad,” served to bring out every parenting flaw in me. This was something I certainly hadn’t anticipated or signed up for!  22 years later she has been my greatest relational challenge, personal investment and now joy.

Taylor Daughters

 

Carri: A year after Megan was born, God, in His timing, chose to unwrap another package we weren’t expecting.

 

When I was a senior at UCLA, I was engaged to a Los Angeles Police Officer. He was involved in a head-on collision on-duty and suffered a brain injury (not damage) and almost died. I didn’t even recognize him when his Sergeant called and had me come to the hospital. Now he was sure his career dreams would be shattered.

 

Just previous to the accident, his father and paternal grandmother had died. Plus, there was an incident in my family that caused trauma. Those events had thrown us closer, and now this was tearing us apart.

 

The brain injury caused a temporary personality change. Dealing with all the losses and trying to get through my senior year at UCLA, I broke off our engagement. I’d rationalized sex since he was the man I was going to marry. And now I found myself pregnant.

 

This was 1966 when you either got married, had a backdoor abortion, or went away and had the baby so no one would know. Even though he wanted to marry me and my folks thought I was crazy if I didn’t, I had no peace about marrying. He began putting pressure on me and that made things worse.

 

I ended up counseling with the Campus Crusade for Christ’s Director’s wife on the UCLA campus. As things progressed, she thought it would be a good idea to leave the state and asked if I would do that. I said “yes.” I was in California and she found two places through the Campus Crusade for Christ network: Texas and Oklahoma. I chose Texas and it shut down, so I went to Oklahoma. Her CCC contact in OK arranged the adoption. He found the attorney and the adoptive parents. It was a bitter sweet experience; bitter because I was giving away my firstborn. Sweet because of how the Christians there embraced me.

 

It was a private adoption, so I had no idea who the parents were. I did have peace that God had chosen them and was working the entire situation out. I lived with peace afterwards, no nightmares, no regrets. My story became public and I was able to help people whose lives adoption had touched.

 

So, here I am married to Gordon…..he’s walked with me through my daughter’s teen years and she is 20 years old…..we are Legal Guardians of my granddaughter who is one year old…..this is five years into our marriage……24 year after the daughter I adopted out had been born…..

 

……we found out that the man, who arranged the adoption, had run into this daughter. She had married into a family that knew me, and my first husband and I had even been in their home in the past. I received an unexpected phone call from her mother-in-law which prompted me to put together a notebook with a letter from my head, my heart, her history, and photos. She replied several weeks later and that started a 1 ½ year correspondence (no email, no texts then). We learned a lot about one another through that correspondence. We had a lot in common even though I hadn’t raised her.

 

After that I flew to Oklahoma for our Reunion. For 16 years, we traveled back and forth visiting. At her request, I was present at five out of the six births of my grandchildren. I arrived too late for the sixth!

 

Gordon: As difficult as single-parenting had been, blending a stepfamily was more so. For starters, after three brothers and three sons, it now became all females. I realized this relationship thing wasn’t just going to happen; I had to implement everything I’d learned.

 

Carri: Gordon’s three sons were fearful of getting close to me at first because there was no guarantee I’d stay around. Their Mom had gone through two short marriages following the divorce from their Dad, and not until we hit the 12-year mark did they believe our marriage might last.

 

Gordon: Over the years I’ve been repairing relationships with my three sons because of the divorce and their belief that my new family got the “new improved version” of their Dad. Their Mom, my ex-wife has become a welcome addition to our package – thanks to Carri’s invitation and initiation of a relationship with her. This has been a HUGE blessing to my boys and grandchildren. All three of my grandchildren were born after Carri and I married.

Extended Stepfamily

 

Carri: In 2006 we decided to move out of the busy, busy Los Angeles area and looked around. For fun we went to Oklahoma City and God had another “fun” waiting for us. Through a series of miracles, we ended up moving to OKC with my granddaughter. What a joy to be interacting with the family I may have never known. Gordon has taken them in as if they are his own blood.

 

Over the past 27 years our stepfamily has had a lot to negotiate and collaborate on to keep this situation a win-win. We’ve had painful valleys to find our way through as well as mountaintop experiences. For all of you women reading this you can probably imagine the mother-daughter issues that would have to be addressed for this arrangement to benefit everyone involved. I’m pleased and grateful to say that my daughter and I have and continue to address the tough stuff and have a truly, deep, beautiful friendship.

 

My daughter has stayed in her high-visibility career. She and my granddaughter (her daughter) have developed their own unique relationship. Meanwhile, my granddaughter is 22 years old, stable, doing well in college, managing a young women’s clothing boutique, and has put together in her own mind who she is and where she belongs.

 

Gordon: Are the struggles worth it?  YES! Right now our total package count is five adult children between 41 and 51 years old, and 10 grandchildren from 8 to 22 years old. We’ve lost through death, five of the biological and step-great-grandparents. I know the packages will continue to unfold.  Once in a stepfamily you never get out.

 

We share holidays and special occasions with our ex-spouses and extended families. We’ve had five stepfamily weddings: including one where I walked Carri and my ex-wife down the aisle, and another where I gave my stepdaughter away.

 

Carri: We are truly an integrated family through biology, step-relationships, and adoption. I’ve been a mother and not a parent, a mother and a parent, and a parent and not a mother.

 

Gordon: God hates divorce and so do we! He loves us enough to put the pieces back together again and bring blessings into our lives we never dreamed possible. Our ministry is to help stop the cycle of divorce and re-divorce. How do we do that? We believe education and awareness are the two dynamics needed to understand the stepfamily and that it is an “orange,” not an “apple.” With Christ as the centerpiece we have a source of strength and hope “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

 

 

Copyright 2013. Opportunities Unlimited. Used by permission only. All rights Reserved.

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