Stepping Stones Counseling Center Guest Articles

President's Message #10, Spring 2000
by Dr. Marjorie Engel

This is a confusing time. It is an exciting time. And there is no denying the evidence. While it may be a few more years before we have full acceptance of all types of families, the heart of stepfamilies in the United States has begun to beat.

Curled up in my overstuffed office chair during the wee hours of the morning, I'm reading about complicated families. A six-year-old is caught between two countries. His maternal and paternal grandparents and his dad and stepmother want him back in Cuba. Miami relatives want him to stay in the United States. Politics confound the issue.

"Grandparents' rights face high court test," is the headline for a U.S. Supreme Court case that raises emotional questions about the rights of parents and relatives and how the law should respond to evolving notions of "family." In other cases, the non-biological "parent" in separating homosexual couples want the government's help arguing that they have had a parental relationship and should remain part of the child's life. Some family law experts want to focus on who has taken on the responsibility of performing as a parenting. Let's add stepparents to that short list.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump admits that he has failed as a husband but said, "Marriage is not the only family value that matters. The importance you give to your relationship with your kids is a family value. So is your relationship with your parents, your sisters and brothers." Let's add stepparents to his list.

The media has discovered stepfamilies. Print stories are in every newspaper and magazine. Radio and television have added stepfamily segments. The majority of them still grab our attention with some horror tales. Part way through, however, even the sensationalized stories and segments are adding helpful information—how to talk with children about your pending remarriage, tips for creating joyous holidays for "jumbled families," encouraging biological parents to assume the primary disciplinarian role, and how to reach the Stepfamily Association of America for ongoing information and support.

One leading company has stepped forward to support stepfamilies in a positive way. While this company has always offered cards that could be used for stepfamily occasions, Hallmark earns an enthusiastic thumbs-up from SAA for an entirely new line of cards called "TiesThatBind" that are designed specifically for today's non-nuclear families. These TiesThatBind cards are the direct outgrowth of business, trends, and consumer research from Hallmark. The card company estimates that "two of every three consumers who go into a Hallmark store or department are part of a non-nuclear family."

Through their research and development process, Hallmark established that people like to use cards to nurture relationships and express themselves. Their new cards are right for the times. They say what people want to say to and about each other. And card buyers are no longer satisfied with tag lines such as: "someone like mother" or "for Mom and her husband." Hallmark's focus groups strongly discouraged all forms of the word "blended" and encouraged the card company to help people say what they feel and to support establishing and strengthening relationships.

TiesThatBind cards get right to the heart of the matter when they recognize things aren't always smooth in stepfamilies, especially in the chaotic early years —I guess I don't need to tell you that it wasn't easy for me to accept you at first. But with time, I've come to know you better and I've grown to respect you. I'm sorry for the times I've taken my confusion or anger out on you unfairly.

And that connections come slowly and indirectly, but they do exist—You and I share a special bond that comes from loving the same wonderful person. Thank you for all you've done to make my dad so happy. Happy Birthday.

Stymied about what to say to a stepsibling without getting too mushy? One TiesThatBind card suggests—Each year I feel closer to you, more connected... and even more grateful that life has given me a sister like you.

Hallmark's TiesThatBind line has a number of cards that stepparents will want to send to stepchildren. For instance —We don't have the same roots, but I'm glad we ended up in the same family. I would have missed out on a lot of good things if we hadn't. Happy Birthday. These are a few examples of how Hallmark is now helping those of us in stepfamilies to communicate with the important people in our lives. There are 100 more everyday cards in this new TiesThatBind group. Look for them wherever Hallmark cards are sold. Tell other stepfamilies about the cards. Give us your feedback and drop a note to Hallmark with your appreciation for their work on our behalf. (Ms. Rachel Bolton, Public Relations, Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2501 McGee Street, Kansas City, MO 64108 or rbolto2@hallmark.com.)

Dr. Marjorie Engel is president of the Stepfamily Association of America



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