For Ernesto Martinez and Carmen Canino, marriage was the easy part. The hard part was creating a cohesive family unit that included two sets of children: his and hers.
“As a couple, we loved each other, but when it came to the children we had a lot of differences that caused problems with our relationship,” said Martinez, whose family attends St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Orlando. “We did not understand how to interact as a family with our children, and the children did not understand their place in the new family.”
Martinez and Canino, who have been married for 11 years, each have three children from their previous marriages. When they married, Carmen’s oldest daughter was 19, and Ernesto’s youngest child was 2. In the early stages of their marriage, Canino said there was a lot of tension, and a misunderstanding of who would discipline each child. That led to fighting and other struggles.
“It was hard in a lot of ways,” Canino said.
The Office of Family Life offers the ”Building a Successful Stepfamily” workshop 3-4 times a year to address the unique characteristics of a stepfamily, and participants can learn effective techniques to facilitate positive co-parenting and to strengthen family relationships.
“The most important thing I learned was who was responsible for the discipline of our children,” said Martinez, who attended one of the workshops a few years ago. “In the workshop, you learn a lot of techniques in how to deal with different situations with the children and the spouses of the stepfamily.”
The workshops, Canino said, have been a blessing. Some of her children are now married, and they refer to their stepfather as papa. Their children, in turn, recognize their step-grandfather as grandpapa. Canino’s relationship with her stepchildren is also positive.
“I learned to try to have a relationship with them as a friend, not as a mom,” Canino said. “I have my stepdaughters every other weekend, and the workshop helped me understand how they feel coming from a divorced home and accepting a new family.”
The workshops held in English and Spanish and at no cost to participants, also focus on the challenges stepfamilies may face, as well the joys and blessings stepfamilies share.
Digna Montanez, co-manager of the Office of Family Life, said the Diocese offers these workshops to promote the Sacrament of marriage and help stepfamilies stay and live well together. She said one of the biggest reasons that first marriages do not succeed is because couples do not realize the importance of the marriage commitment and the sanctity of the Sacrament.
“We want people to know that the marriage is a Sacrament,” Montanez said. “As a Church, we protect that Sacrament; we want the marriage to be safe. We also offer these workshops for the sake of the children.”
Linda and Luis Ortiz, who also attend St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church, have been married for 20 years, and have two teenage children together. Luis has two children from a previous marriage. They attended a stepfamily workshop and now serve as presenters.
During his presentation in May Luis said it is important for all stepparents to realize their roles with their stepchildren, and to have good relationships with them. Love, he said, is an important element.
“They are never going to replace the biological parent, and they need to come to terms with that,” Luis said. “But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a relationship with and love that child.”
Regardless of the situation, Luis Ortiz said it is important to keep God and Christ as the center of the relationship.
“Love should be present in all families, and to understand that love and the union of marriage between a man and a woman, you need God,” Luis said. “Love comes from God, and you always have to have God in your marriage.”
The next stepfamily workshop is scheduled for Sept. 22 at the Diocese of Orlando Chancery. For more information or to register for the upcoming Building a Successful Stepfamily workshop, contact Montanez at 407-246-4882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.