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April 15, 1994 - Image 95

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-04-15

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Step In The Right



rom the too-
Brady Bunch to
the horrible plight
of Cinderella,
there is no shortage
of stepfamily myths.
Although most would
agree reality lies somewhere
in between the two stories,
statistics are grim for re-
married couples with chil-
dren from previous
According to data compiled
by Irma Starr, director of
SPACE, a Southfield-based,
non-sectarian peer support
program for changing fami-
lies, 60 percent of these mar-
riages fail, almost half within
the first four years. Of those
that survive, it can take any-
where from two to seven
years for parents and chil-
dren to develop strong fami-
ly sentiments.
"I think the divorce statis-
tics are so high because that's
a long time to wait to feel like
a family," Ms. Starr said.
"Many people just don't want
to wait that long."
Ms. Starr said one of the
most difficult stepfamily
situations is when both
spouses have young children
from their previous mar-
riages, and both ex-spouses
live nearby.
In addition to the multi-
tude of adjustments that any
marriage requires, a step-
family can have its own set of
additional problems: resent-
ful children, hostile ex-spous-
es, added financial pressures,
and complicated custody and
visitation arrangements that
make normal family life next
to impossible.

Some resourceful
stepfamilies have
found their own
ways to stay on the
right side of the
bleak statistics.
Jewish educator
Harlene Winnick Ap-
pelman recalls an
anecdote that helped
set the course for her
marriage to Dr. Hen-
ry Appelman.
When the couple
wed almost 10 years
ago, they had five chil-
dren between them:
two boys from Dr. Ap-
pelman's first mar-
riage and two boys and
a girl from Ms. Appel-
man's previous marriage. To
complicate matters further,
both had joint custody with
the ex-spouses living nearby,
and all four of the boys were
heading straight into adoles-
Realizing there might be
some problems, the Appel-
mans sought the advice of a
nationally known psychia-
trist and family therapist.
"He heard our story and
said he couldn't help us, that
no one could help us," Ms. Ap-
pelman said. "Not only that,
he wouldn't even charge us
for the visit. We knew then
that no one was going to res-
cue us — we would make or
break this on our own."
Ms. Appelman attributes
her family's success to sever-
al factors: resiliency, a strong
marital foundation, good com-
munication and the structure
of Jewish ritual.
"Shabbat dinners and hol-
idays have provided an enor-
mous amount of support,"
Ms. Appelman said. "Fami-

Photo by Dan iel Llpp itt

Despite statistics, blended
families create their own
successful dynamics.

Joseph, Linda, Rachel, Sari and Linle Aviv and Stephanie Etkin: Building a family history.

lies like ours need periods of
structured interaction, and
that's what ritual does. My
stepson recently brought a
girl home for Friday night
dinner — I was really
Ms. Appelman believes
consistency among the mar-
ried couple, shared values, is
Ms. Appelman recalls the
time she and her husband
purchased five bicycles at
once, one for each child in the
"Because it was such a big
investment, the rules about
(spending for) the bikes were
very clear," she said. "My
husband and I were in ab-
solute agreement, and there
was never a problem. We re-
alized that if every issue were
this understood, there would
be no dilemmas."
Ms. Appelman feels that
synagogues should be more

sensitive to stepfamilies, es-
pecially regarding what she
call the "simcha stress" sur-
rounding bar and bat mitz-
vahs and weddings. She
believes that congregations
should develop policies "guid-
ed by good sense and Jewish
morals" that can serve as a
baseline for remarried fami-
"The families should not
have to create all the rules,"
said Ms. Appelman, whose
family had four b'nai mitzvot
in as many years. "And the
kids should be allowed to be
kids. They shouldn't have to
choose which parent plays
which role in the ceremony."
Both Ms. Appelman and
SPACE's Ms. Starr believe
that starting out with realis-
tic expectations is essential
to a successful stepfamily.
"At first the stepparent
should stay in the back-
ground and hope for friend-

ship, not expect instant love,"
Ms. Starr said.
Ms. Appelman agrees.
"We were brutally realis-
tic," she said. "We didn't de-
mand or expect love, we
hoped for respect and peace-
ful coexistence."
The needs of the children
also should be a prime con-
"It's important for kids to
see a united couple and also
for them to have input into
the family," Ms. Starr said.
"If the changes are drastic
for the adults, they're even
more drastic for the children.
It's a very confusing time for
Joseph and Linda Aviv of
Birmingham, remarried par-
ents in a "yours, mine and
ours" stepfamily, are anoth-
er couple proving that a po-
tentially disastrous situation
can work successfully.

STEP page 96




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