The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 18, 1997 · Page 13
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 13

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, May 18, 1997
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Page 13
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SUNDAY MAY 18, 1997 THE SALINA JOURNAL Life MILESTONES / B2 ALMANAC / B7 CROSSWORD / B8 B T COMMENT STEPPING STONES FOR STEPFAMILIES SUSAN SWARTZ Santa Rosa Press Democrat A talk with Mom in 2013 High-school junior discusses growing up with elderly parent "You know, honey bun, we're both getting up there. You're becoming a young woman. And I'm practically ancient." "What do you mean, Mom?" "Well, you'll be graduating from high school in another year. And I'm 79." "So?" "When you were born in the olden days, in 1996, the average life expectancy for a woman was 79. Of course, now that's retirement age and people are living longer than ever." "So what's that have to do with us?" "I was 63 when you were born. They called my having you an ethical dilemma. Some people worried I'd have left you motherless by now." "Well, you didn't. The only thing you didn't do was become a soccer mom." "Oh come on, there must be some things you missed because you had your old dad and me for parents." "I guess I would have liked you to be rich. Then we could have a pool. And a horse. I could have bought a lot of running shoes with .that $50,000 you paid to get me." "You mean we don't embarrass you because we look so much older than your friends'parents?" "I notice the difference. But Maria's father is in a wheelchair and she doesn't care as long as he gets to her games. And Jeremy's .mother doesn't speak English, but she's so nice that everyone always wants to stay over at his house." "They said I was too old to have '- you." "I guess you weren't since here I :-am." "But it didn 't matter to some peo- . pie that my body was able to carry y$u and you were born healthy. Wiey didn't like the idea of a post"menopausal woman giving birth." !l?"What about Dad? He was no 'spring rooster." • "But it was different for men. '. Some TV comedian — Litter Man, one of those late night guys — was a real proponent of the double standard. Same week he made fun of me for having you he practically set off Roman candles for a 77-year-old ac- l tor with a newborn." - "But what about real people? Did-they think it was bad, too?" '.,•*''There was a professor of social thought who worried that you wouldn't get to have the freedom of , being a child, that you'd have to 'take care of us." "Lisa's grandparents just came back from hiking in Nepal." "Well, they had limited expectations about what grandparents . fould do back then, also." "Who was on our side?" "Some doctors, a few religious leaders, lots of feminists. Women jand men who believe that pregnancy is a woman's choice." "Do you think some women shouldn't be mothers?" : "Yes, I think poor, scared kids your age shouldn't be mothers. I 'think women should have babies when they feel competent and prepared and have a partner who is going to be fully involved. And the rest of the world should buzz off." "You weren't like other mothers. You were home a lot." "Well, that was one benefit. At 63 I wasn't worried about protecting my career." "And you never panicked about \child care." "' "Did you worry we would die?" "All kids worry about their parents dying. Mimi's dad was killed on the freeway coming home from work. Marcie's mom has AIDS and Kevin's father has cancer." , "Some said I wanted to make history, but I just wanted you." ' "Well, you did end up making a .point for older women, that society better not stand in their way. So what was the worst thing about having a baby at your age?" "Probably getting you in and out of that damn infant seat in the back of the car." + * o Susan Swartz is a columnist for the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif. Photos by DAVIS TURNER / The Salina Journal Troy and Kelly Goth recently completed "Stepping Stone for Stepfamllies," a free home-study course offered through the KSU-Sallne County Extension Service. When they married in March of 1995, Kelly had three children from previous relationships. Troy had one. Together, they have a son, Jackson, 10 months. Pictured (clockwise from top right) are Troy, Joseph-Ryan, 5; Kamber, 9; Kelly (holding Jackson) and Katharine, 7. Remarried with Children Free home-study course highlights challenges many stepfamilies face By BECKY FITZGERALD The Salina Journal F ortune may have smiled on Salinans Troy and Kelly Goth when they wed two years ago on St. Patrick's Day, but the pair quickly realized they'd need more than luck and love to keep their marriage together. The children of divorced parents, Troy and Kelly both had youngsters from previous failed relationships when they met. Joining the two households — considering their needs as well as those of their children and the children's other biological parents — proved to be more soap opera than Brady Bunch. "My family pretty much accepted Troy, but Troy's family automatically got three stepgrandchildren," remembered Kelly, 26. "You just think everybody's going to mesh together, and it doesn't happen." That truth is one of the many realities of stepparenting addressed in a home-study course available in 14 Kansas counties through the KSU- Saline County Extension Service, 300 W. Ash, Room 111. "Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies," a free pilot program available in Saline County until the end of June, addresses the challenges common to many blended families. Each of the six lessons offers concrete ways to translate theory into practice, said Sherrie Mahoney, extension agent in family and consumer sciences. Mahoney mails one lesson each week in an effort not to overwhelm families with too much information at once. So far, only four families have taken the course, but Mahoney believes it would benefit far more. She recommends the information to those considering remarriage as well as to couples and children already in a stepfamily. "Families who are doing pretty well don't think they need it, and for families in crisis, it's hard to sit and read something and think that would help," she said. "But if they could just get one idea that would help them communicate better, it might be a way to get started." Participants fill out surveys before and after taking the course to determine if their ideas about stepfamilies change as a result of studying the material, Mahoney said. Feedback from the extension agents and the participants will be considered before the material is published in a final form that will be introduced to all Kansas counties in October. Troy, 28, and Jackson play in the yard of their Salina home. The Goths would like Jackson to be close to Troy's son, Colton, from a previous relationship. Colton lives with his mother in Concordla. Charlotte Shoup Olsen, assistant professor and extension specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, prepared the course at the request of extension agents. It was supported by a grant from the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund in Hutchinson. "There was a need for educational material to help couples understand that what they are facing is a normal part of stepparenting development," said Shoup Olsen in a telephone interview. 9,000 stepfamllles formed weekly National statistics speak to the widespread nature of stepfamilies, she said. For example, 9,000 stepfamilies are formed each week in the United States. It's crucial for adults and children to realize that it takes time, often as long as four years or more, for members of the stepfamily to trust one another and work together, becoming a family in their own right, Shoup Olsen said. "Instant love is not going to be a reality in most cases," she said. Through death or divorce, there will always be stepfamilies, Shoup Olsen said, but it's her desire that "Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies" can help couples have long-term stability. She applauds the Goths for reaching out, for seeking to prevent another disruption in their lives. Kelly Goth, who married Troy in 1995 after dating just three months, said their chaotic backgrounds produced a turbulent first year of marriage. She grew up with two different stepfathers and didn't meet her biological father until she was 14. She had her first child at 16, then another daughter by the same guy two years later. Daughters Kamber and Katherine are 9 and 7. Another relationship produced a son, Joseph-Ryan, now 5. Troy, 28, hasn't seen his biological father since he was 18. He described his stepfather as one who ruled the household, expecting everything to go his way. Troy and a former girlfriend have a son, Colton, 5. Colton lives with his mother in Concordia. Together, the Goths have a son, Jackson, nearly 10 months old. "Everybody brings in excess baggage from previous relationships," said Kelly, 936 S. 10th. "It sets a course. It really does. When you come from my background, you don't know how to relate to each other the way married people should." Kelly found it difficult to rely on Troy after fending for herself and the children for many years. Troy admitted he had to learn the art of compromise after growing up in a household where the man's word was law. Determined not to let the past ruin their future, the Goths borrowed library books on relationships and took the home-study course. Kelly read the material, and the pair went over it when Troy finished his shift at Tony's Pizza Service. She keeps the booklets in a drawer in the living room of their rented home, saying she occasionally refers back to them when problems arise. Lesson five, "Understanding Financial and Legal Matters," informed the couple of their legal rights. For example, in a medical emergency, a stepparent is not legally able to authorize medical treatment. An attorney must establish a limited power of attorney for this purpose. Another lesson highlights the difficulties children have adapting to the changes their parents' marriage brings. In the Goth household, Kamber longs for a relationship with her biological father and has had a difficult time accepting Troy. "I understand where's she coming from and a lot of her resentment towards me because of the way I felt about my stepfather," Troy said. The couple believe the course has strengthened their marriage and improved their relationship with their children, but admit they've yet to establish the kind of cooperative relationship with former partners that's described in lesson six, "Working with Others." "I wish we could all sit down and talk about what's best for the kids," Kelly said. "I think they have a right to be a part of their biological parents' lives. There's so much that hasn't been worked out." Yet, the pair remain optimistic. They soon plan to move from their rented house into a large mobile home on Otto Avenue in which Kelly's mother lives. The couple expect this change to save them money, allowing them to pay off debt and to further Kelly's education. "It's been hard," said Kelly, looking back at the past two years, "but I have a better sense of humor now and a better idea of what kind of parent I want to be." Gaffing'Stones' Six step-by-step lessons examining the problems stepfamiles often face are outlined in a home-study course available through the Saline County Extension Office, 300 W. Ash, Room 111. This information is free and will be offered until the end of June. Lessons are mailed weekly to families, who study the material at their convenience in their homes. Lessons included in "Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies" are: • Taking Time to Think About My Stepfamily" • "Building a Strong Couple Relationship" • "Building Step Relationships" • "Understanding a Child's Reality" • "Understanding Financial and Legal Manors" • "Working With Others" To enroll or ask questions, call Sherrie Mahoney at the extension office, 826-6645. SUGGESTIONS? CALL SHERIDA WARNER, LIFE EDITOR, AT (913) 823-6363 OR 1-800-827-6363 OR E-MAIL AT sinewsesaljournal.com

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