By Karen Billing
After living a single life for 40 years, local psychologist Dr. Diana Weiss-Wisdom got married and inherited an instant family with her husband’s three daughters. In addition to being a new wife, she had the added challenge of becoming a stepparent to children who were 10, 13 and 14 at the time.
“I had a lot to learn to figure out how to navigate that role and what worked best for my family,” Wisdom said.
Her own experience, as well as examples based on clinical cases from her practice that specializes in marriage counseling and blended families, led to a new book, “Wisdom on Stepparenting: How to Succeed Where Others Fail.”
Wisdom spent eight years working on the book, completing multiple revisions until she was completely satisfied with the finished product. Wisdom said she felt like a weight was lifted when the book was finally published on Oct. 26, now available on Amazon.com and the Barnes and Noble website.
“I feel so much happier seeing it published because it was in me and I had to get it out,” Wisdom said. “A lot of my heart and soul is in it; this is my little something left behind. My clients say they can hear my voice in it and it feels soothing.”
Wisdom has practiced out of The Cottage Clinic, a cozy space off Rancho Santa Fe Farms Road, for the last four years. She has been a licensed psychologist since 1991.
The book is Wisdom’s second, her first was “Stress and a Healthy Ticker,” which dealt with the depression, anxiety and marriage challenges that can occur among patients recovering from cardiac issues.
“Wisdom on Stepparenting” is a helpful resource for blended families, whose numbers are growing considering the statistics that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. That percentage goes up to 60 to 70 percent for second marriages and Wisdom said many times second marriages fail as a result of conflict over issues related to the children.
Wisdom admits she struggled in her early years of being a stepparent. She said she did extensive studying and research on how best to take on that role. She found that learning how to become a better stepparent helped her mature as a person.
“When you become a parent you mature and grow up at a different level because you have to really think about other people’s needs before your own,” Wisdom said. “It’s really an opportunity for stepparents to work on their own character…you have a better quality of life because you have to rise to the occasion.”
Her book features examples from her clinical cases, with the names changed. Many stories of blended families are similar, as many of the same issues arise. Wisdom tried to pick stories that a lot of people can relate to.
While the book does incorporate part of her own experiences, she was careful to respect the privacy of her family.
Wisdom compares blended families to “little countries” where everyone has their own responsibilities and needs. She hopes the book will help stepparents step up and recognize their role, as it is an important one. Chapters in the book deal with communication, co-parenting tactics, compromises and how to avoid tags of “wicked stepmothers” and “overbearing stepfathers.” One unique chapter features advice from stepchildren, gleaned from interviews with 50 stepchildren of different ages.
Much of the book deals with taking care of the marriage in a blended family. Wisdom said one of the biggest keys to stepparenting is making the marriage a priority as the kids have been through enough instability.
“It’s so important for the kids to see a decent relationship and not be in the middle of hostilities,” Wisdom said.
In her practice, Wisdom sees both couples and children when treating blended families. Wisdom usually works to get the couple “back on their feet” first and will sometimes bring the kids in for family therapy, usually on their own without the parents. She said it’s important for the children to be able to talk about how they feel, to just be understood and taken seriously.
“It’s very helpful for teens to have their own space to talk without worrying about hurting their parents’ feelings,” Wisdom said.
Wisdom also holds a couple’s marriage retreat at the cottage based on “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” by Dr. Sue Johnson.
The retreat has a very high success rate and she recalls vividly the first one they did a few years ago. Wisdom’s husband helped her with the parking for the 15 participating couples and noted to Wisdom that as couples were arriving, all the husbands looked really angry. He told her he wasn’t sure how it would work out.
On the second day, he observed their moods seemed a little better.
By the third day, her husband elbowed her to point out that every couple was sitting as close as they could to one another, husbands’ arms around their wives, some holding hands, everyone smiling.
Wisdom said the workshop is a powerful experience and she loves seeing the results. She recalls one 60-year-old husband at the end of the workshop saying, “I finally understand what my wife wants after 30 years of marriage. She wants me to tell her when I’m sad.”
Those kinds of breakthroughs, making relationships and families work better, make Wisdom’s work worthwhile, she said.
“I love what I do,” said Wisdom. “My passion really is doing this work and the workshops, they are an amazing experience.”
The next “Hold Me Tight” retreat will be held in February. A special retreat for stepfamilies is being planned for April. For more information, visit drdianaweiss-wisdom.com or call (858) 259-0146.
Editor’s Note: Wisdom is also a contributing columnist to this newspaper.