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

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.


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.

Two of his three daughters lived in Colorado with their mother, one was married and lived nearby in California and all three visited occasionally, creating a need to turn a playroom and pool room into bedrooms. After Wyman's brother and sister-in-law were killed in a plane wreck, the Wymans became legal guardians of the couple's four children, then 10 to 17 years old. The two older ones remained at a private high school in Northern California and visited during vacations; the younger two moved in permanently.

At the most, there were six children living in the 2,200-square-foot split-level three-bedroom house, built in 1962. Wyman's two older nieces moved into the pool room, which had access only via the backyard; Marilyn Wyman's son and Wyman's nephew shared a room; and another niece shared a room with Marilyn Wyman's daughter, Leslie. Although they found room for everyone, not everyone was content.

"We played musical rooms quite a bit," Wyman said.

"I asked Leslie recently what it was like for her back then, and she said she felt so displaced," said Marilyn Wyman, a family therapist. "When she went off to college, one summer she didn't come home because she felt it was too noisy and crowded."


To deal with the many issues that constantly arise when two families blend under one roof, communication is essential, psychologist Visher said. "I remember a woman having a huge fight with her husband because she wanted her scales in the bathroom. She said to me, 'I know my scales aren't as good as his, but there's got to be something of me around!' "

They were not making room for her things. Some people move into a spouse's home and find that living there is as uncomfortable as walking on eggshells: They don't want to rock the boat, so they don't say anything.

"We all have three very basic emotional needs," Visher said. "Various cultures satisfy them differently, but you can see early on in stepfamilies that they don't get met very well.

"One is that we have a tremendous need to belong. And when there's no place for you or your things, you sure as heck don't feel you belong. Another is that everyone wants to be cared about and appreciated by a few special people. The third is that we need to have control over our lives. Kids, in particular, may not feel they have any control at all."

Visher suggests discussing those needs and trying to address them as soon as possible after a stepfamily forms.

"When you first get together, everyone does things differently than the way you're used to, so nothing feels predictable," she said. "Talk about how you've done things in the past and have everyone--kids included--decide how you want to do things from now on. That will bring predictability earlier into the relationship than if you don't talk about it and just let things happen. Then you won't be horrified when the dog sleeps on your bed."


Finding room for all the step-siblings is a real challenge; not all families fit neatly into his and hers rooms a la "The Brady Bunch." Children used to having their own rooms often have to share them with a stepsister or -brother or two. Nonresidential children, who may visit every other weekend or so, need some space to call their own. Stepfamilies must be creative. They could add a partition in a bedroom or turn a part of the den into a weekend bedroom.

In the Earwood family, daughter Erin's shelves are out of reach of her 3-year-old roommate brother. When it's Taylor's bedtime, Erin vacates the room and does the dishes. Once he is asleep, she can go back in and reclaim it.

If ever there was a need for escape, it's in a stepfamily. The Wymans' large backyard, with a three-tiered garden and a park-like area with a swing set, became a temporary refuge for various family members. "It gave you a place to go," said Marilyn Wyman. And don't expect things to happen overnight. Just because you love your new spouse, don't assume everyone else in the family feels as warm and fuzzy as you do.

"The difficult thing for people is that they expect everything to work out quickly," Visher said. "So they get discouraged or think there's something wrong with the other partner or the kids. It takes time to feel that you belong, to build up a caring relationship. And it takes time to feel like things are under control."


The World of Stepfamilies

Some figures about American stepfamilies today:

* Forty percent of all marriages represent a remarriage of one or both of the parties.

* If remarriage rates continue as they are, 35% of all children born now will live in a stepfamily household by the time they reach age 18.

* About 65% of remarriages involve children from a previous marriage.

* The numbers are growing: In 1990, 5.3 million married-couple households contained at least one stepchild under age 18, compared to 3.9 million in 1980. This 5.3 million represents 20.8% of all married-couple households with children, compared to 16% in 1980.

Source: Stepfamily Assn. of America

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