Uniting Two Disparate Family Cultures
The vast challenge presented here involves the plenitude of differences that each party brings to the newly created stepfamily. Agreement on everything from whether you can start eating before everyone sits down at the table to whether you hang your coat on a hook or throw it on the sofa are simply taken for granted by the biological parent and the children but are unknown and often not understood by the newest member of the family.
The difficulties that emerge in this situation have to do with the relatively thin common ground (implicit knowledge of habits, rules, routines) shared by the remarried partners and the thick common ground forged over years by the biological parent and his or her offspring. A new common ground must be created over the course of time, one that will be satisfying and comfortable for all members of the newly created family system.
Two good examples of this particular challenge appear in chapter 6, the tale of the Burkes, where new wife Carole was incensed by Ted’s adult children’s refusal to clean up the kitchen in the ways that meant a lot to her. The fact that these small requests were being routinely ignored made her feel invisible and as if she might be “going crazy.” She felt like an alien, as if she didn’t belong in Ted’s family’s household.
In chapter 8, I recount the tale of the Perez/de Matteo couple and describe the clashes that can occur when two different family cultures and two different ethnic cultures exist simultaneously. In regard to this latter couple, it should be noted that some 50 percent of Americans presently marry outside their own ethnic group, and the rate of socioeconomic and cultural intermarriage climbs even higher in remarriage situations.
As shown in chapter 8, Vicki de Matteo and Miguel Perez were communicating with one another through not one but two sets of misunderstandings.