Among the Children, a Generation Gap Divorce and Remarriage Result in Many Families That Include Half Siblings a Childhood Away in Age
Pamela Cytrynbaum Of The Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
THERE IS NO precise word for what 35-year-old Mark Lanyon is to 10-year-old Emily Richman Lanyon.
"He's in between a brother and an uncle," figured Emily, an Evanston, Ill., fifth grader. "He gives me piggyback rides and I like hanging on him. It's weird that we have the same father, isn't it?"
Technically, they are half-brother and sister. But they look more like father and daughter or uncle and niece. And they act like some hybrid of all those relationships, lots of tickling, tackling, the occasional disciplinary tone, all cemented by a connection that is unmistakably family. But what exactly are they? Multi-generational half siblings? Wide-age-gap half siblings? "I guess I'm a distant brother," said Lanyon, a remodeling contractor who exists in the friend/sibling/playmate/parent limbo inhabited by many adult children of divorce who have young brothers and sisters. It is a relationship even the experts have not yet defined. "This is uncharted territory, a real frontier," said Judith Wallerstein, among the country's leading divorce researchers. "These are the new relationships in American life, and we don't have a name for them because none of the conventional words work anymore. To just call it `sister, brother, half sister,' is not to grasp what they really entail." The divorce boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s - and the steady 50 percent failure rate for first marriages - triggered an endless array of studies on stepfamilies and blended families, the failure rate of second marriages, the stepmother-adolescent relationship and post-divorce co-parenting. But there has been little exploration of the relationships between half siblings with large age gaps. So where does everyone fit? While a younger half brother or sister's devotion and charm can lure an older sibling into the new family, it is not easy watching one's father so earnestly trying to do it right the second time around. "I'm glad he had a second chance. And my relationship with the kids couldn't be better. I feel like I've never left childhood because there's always someone playing games in the house," said Mackenzie Stanley, 20, an architecture student at the University of Illinois who spent the summer with her father, stepmother, 18-year-old brother, 4-year-old half sister and 9-year-old half brother in the Chicago area. "But it's also hard to live in the house and watch it. You feel like you're walking on needles because they're this nuclear family and you're just leftovers. They love us, but it's different," she said. A key to healthy relations between children of family A and B is that the parent left behind, usually mom, finds ways to permit the new relationships to form, said Frances Stott, dean of academic programs at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. "The other parent must give permission to the older children for their relationships with the new ones to flourish," she said. Indeed, one of the most difficult aspects of these relationships is the older siblings' sense of loyalty to the other parent, especially if he or she has not remarried. "To my little brother and sister, my mother is this mystery person," said Mackenzie Stanley. "It makes me sad that I can't share my mom with them because I love her so much." Such multi-generational families are becoming increasingly common, said Constance Ahrons, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Southern California. …