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Yours, Mine, Ours : When a stepfamily blends under one roof, everyone learns a lesson in sharing space and compromise.

July 14, 1996|LISA TAYLOR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Taylor is an Orange County free-lance writer

It was love and a second chance at marriage that prompted Ketrin Grimes to move in 1992 from her Los Angeles Art Deco apartment of 12 years and into the 1918 Highland Park Craftsman bungalow of new husband Jerry Earwood.

Ketrin, who works at the Los Angeles Police Department's training academy, had done lots of restoration in her apartment, had decorated it in the Art Deco style and says she "could have lived there forever." But she rented and Jerry owned, so it only made sense that Ketrin and daughter Erin be the ones to move.

From Day 1, the newly blended Earwood family had to get creative when deciding what went where, whose stuff stayed and whose went in the 980-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bath house. Ketrin felt her lighter-hued furnishings would not go with the darker Craftsman home, so she took with her only a new stove, couch and rocker. Jerry and Ketrin occupied one of the bedrooms, while a new bunk and trundle bed made Jerry's daughters, Christine and Marielle--who lived there two weeks each month--and Erin a cozy threesome in the other room. A year later, son Taylor was born; two years later, daughter Ahsha.

So it was out of the bedroom and into the living room for Jerry and Ketrin, who now sleep in a sofa bed with baby Ahsha--making it a family bed out of necessity.

These days, Erin, 13, and Taylor, 3, share a room, as do Christine, 12, and Marielle, 9.

And along the way, the Earwoods have had to deal with damage to the fireplace and garage from the Northridge earthquake and a theft from their storage unit, which housed stuff from the garage while it was being repaired.

"On the bright side," said Jerry, a middle-school teacher, "at least we have more space in the garage now."

With the blending of two households comes disruption of often unanticipated magnitude. Up pop issues of sacrifice (you can usually have only one of everything), relocation (somebody has to move), compromise (your Victorian fainting couch with his chartreuse beanbag), territory (there are two kids' bedrooms and five children), finances (child support; divorce or custody legal fees from the former union, etc.) and space (where are we going to find it?).

There's the privacy and respect thing, too: no more running around without a robe.

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Ideally, a stepfamily should choose a new home in which to start off a new co-existence. Many stepfamilies speak of "ghosts"--the feeling that the ex-spouse is still a part of the house and has a history there, even if it was an unhappy one.

"If somebody is moving into space that someone else has already been in, they feel like outsiders," said Emily Visher, a Lafayette, Calif., psychologist and co-founder with husband John of the Stepfamily Assn. of America (215 Centennial Mall South, Suite 212, Lincoln, NE 68508-1834; [800] 735-0329).

"And the people who already live there feel intruded upon. Whereas if you start out in your own place, then it's new to everybody. And you can carve out your own niches and make your own memories. That's what builds relationships: positive shared memories."

Such was the case with family therapists David and Bonnie Juroe, who were both living in apartments in Orange and who moved for a few months to a larger apartment in the area to accommodate the couple and her two daughters.

"We felt it would be best if we all had a new beginning," said David. When his two youngest children hired a cab and showed up on the doorstep of the Juroes' new house (bought shortly after they wed) they opted to go bigger. Add to that the birth of an "ours" daughter, Davonna, and the Juroes needed yet more space. Three houses later, the Juroes and Davonna, now 14, live comfortably in their 2,600-square-foot Anaheim Hills home. The eldest seven are gone, and there is plenty of room for nine visiting grandchildren.

For economic reasons--including the current Southern California real estate slump--it is not always feasible for both spouses to dump their current pads and start anew.

A costly divorce made it necessary for Jim Pierce to move into second wife Irene's Cerritos house when they wed 15 years ago. "I came with a mattress, myself, a cat and my son," said Pierce, a small-business owner and co-president with Irene of the Los Angeles chapter of the Stepfamily Assn.

They promptly rearranged the kitchen to his liking (he's the chef), refurnished and built a patio together. "We've changed things a lot," said Jim. "The only thing we haven't done is move out of this house. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't want to. It's the type of house we'd buy anyway."

Not wanting to disrupt the lives of his new wife's two children--whose father had died three years before--now-retired airline pilot Cecil Wyman waited for his transfer to come through three months after they married before moving from Denver to his wife's Palos Verdes Estates home.

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