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Stepparenting can be filled with special trials, joy

These days there’s a 50-50 chance a child will be brought up in a divorced home. The odds are even higher for kids living in Arizona.

A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau shows Arizona has the 10th-highest divorce rate in the country.

For kids brought up in divorced homes the effects can be life-altering. Depression, distress and fear are common for people who are the product of divorced parents.

“I will oftentimes see that in a lot of couples that are looking at marriage, there’s this fear of ‘what if my life turns out as terribly as my parents had it?’ ” Dr. Melissa Estavillo, a Phoenix psychologist, said.

Kim Lawson of Gilbert remembers a lot of fighting before her parents split up when she was about 6.

“My dad was unfaithful and I think that was a lot of it,” said Lawson. “And I think it was throughout their marriage.”

Lawson’s mother and grandparents helped raise her and her two siblings. Today, Lawson is happily married with three kids.

“I think I am a better parent because of their divorce because I can see how there’s not one way to be a family,” said Lawson.

Nicole Rees’ family is an example of one of those non-traditional families. She’s a stepparent, helping raise her husband’s 5-year-old daughter in their Chandler home.

Last year, the couple gained full custody of the little girl from her mother in California.

“Now she’s living in Arizona with us full time,” Rees said. “It’s been a journey. Definitely a good journey.”

Rees said being a stepparent has been a positive experience, but she understands one day her stepdaughter might rebel, and say the words no stepparent want to hear: “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mother.”

“I know there will be a day when she says it and I won’t hold it against her,” Rees said. “I think it’s just one of those things as the stepparent you have to prepare yourself for.”

Estavillo said it can be difficult for stepparents to understand their roles, but it’s important to keep in mind that no one will ever replace the biological parent.

“It’s better when often times a step-parent can actually be more of a mentor and act as support,” Estavillo said.

According to Estavillo, divorce can often lead to kids being caught in a tug of war, where they feel like they have to choose between mom and dad.

“I don’t know that parents mean to but oftentimes they will stress a lot of their own internal conflict and frustration with the other parent through the child,” Estavillo said.

“I think that’s really important for parents to be aware of and not do to their child.”

Rees said her main role in her stepdaughter’s life is to be a positive influence.

“You know, you’re stepping in and being a role model for this child and they look up to you. Just do the best you can because it’s about the kid in the end.”

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