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Part 1

Week 2: Family Therapy Journey
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Imagine that you are about to embark on a family therapy journey with a family of a cultural background that differs from your own, be it race, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status. The readings have challenged you to find out as much as you can about the family’s background so that you are equipped with the information needed to form an effective working relationship with this family. Include answers to the following questions to guide the flow of your paper. Your paper should be 2-3 pages in length. Please use APA format and cite the references that you find while researching the family’s background.

What family did you choose?
How is this family different from your own? For example, how are their values and beliefs different?
What rules do this family follow and how are these rules different from the rules that you and your family follow?
What family roles exist?
Are there any similarities that exist between you and this family?
What information about the family will you need to process through your “cultural filter” in order to be most effective when working with the family?
What aspects of working with this family do you find most challenging?
How do you intend to overcome these challenges?
What aspects of working with this family do you believe may be comfortable for you?
What are the family’s issues?
On which “level”, microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem does the family issue need to be addressed?
Is the family an “open” or “closed” system?
What interventions would you use with this family?
What factors did you consider when choosing a particular intervention?
What do you believe the family would most appreciate from you as a counselor and why?
What do you believe the family would least appreciate from you as a counselor and why?
Weekly Application Assignment RubricWeekly Application Assignment RubricCriteriaRatingsPtsThis criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeAssignment Response4 ptsClearly & effectively responds to assignment.3 ptsResponse to assignment generally adequate & thorough.2 ptsMinimally responds to the assignment.1 ptsDoes not respond well to assignment.4 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeMain Idea4 ptsMain idea (Application assignment) very clearly stated & topic is effectively limited.3 ptsMain idea clear & topic is limited.2 ptsMain idea clear or implicit & topic is partially limited.1 ptsMain idea unclear & topic only partially limited.4 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeSupport4 ptsApplication assignment supported by a variety of relevant facts, examples, & illustrations from experience, references to related readings, etc.3 ptsApplication assignment is well-supported in body of paper by facts, examples, illustrations though support may not be as vivid as the “A” essay.2 ptsApplication assignment generally supported in body of paper by facts, examples, details. No more than one paragraph with inadequate support.1 ptsApplication assignment supported in body of paper by few facts, examples, details. More than one paragraph with inadequate support.4 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeSpelling and Grammar4 ptsFew, if any, minor errors in sentence construction, usage, grammar, or mechanics.3 ptsThere may be a few minor or major errors in sentence construction, usage, grammar, or mechanics.2 ptsThere are some common errors (major and minor) in sentence construction and mechanics but the writer generally demonstrates a correct sense of syntax.1 ptsThere are numerous minor errors and some major errors. Sentence construction is below mastery and may display a pattern of errors in usage and mechanics.4 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeReferences4 ptsSupportive references material is incorporated logically & insightfully. Supportive references are documented accurately.3 ptsSupportive reference material incorporated logically. Supportive references documented accurately.2 ptsSupportive reference material incorporated adequately & usually documented accurately.1 ptsSupportive references material incorporated but sometimes inappropriately or unclearly. Documentation is accurate only occasionally.4 pts
Total Points: 20

Part 2

Week 2: Narrative Therapy and Models for Step Family Development

With your understanding of narrative therapy and its usefulness with blended family, discuss how this intervention would be helpful with step families. Be specific with regards to key ideas and techniques from narrative therapy.

Compare and contrast Papernow’s 7 stage model with Kerns’ five-stage model for stepfamily development (described in chapter 2). Discuss which one you find to be most beneficial and why.

Copyright Information (bibliographic)

Document Type: Book Chapter

Title of book: Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

Author of book: Joshua M. Gold

Chapter Title: Chapter 2 Developmental Schemas of Step Families

Author of Chapter: Joshua M. Gold

Year: 2016

Publisher: American Counseling Association

Place of Publishing: United States of America

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of fair use that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

In this chapter, I examine the social myths around stepfamily roles through the perspective of narrative theory. This therapeutic perspective represents a critical orientation to the concerns presented by stepfamily members within the counseling context (Portrie & Hill, 2005).

Counselors have three paradigms through which to approach step­ family dynamics (Baxter, Braithwaite, & Nicholson, 1999; Stewart, 2007). One paradigm seeks to focus on stepfamily issues as unrelated episodes, in which differing family members play complementary roles (e.g., persecutor and victim). Issues include stepparenting, discipline, finances, living arrangements, relationships with nonresidential spouses, and the addition of a new child. By concentrating on the details of the latest conflict and the differing personalities involved, however, the clinician and family members are likely to lose sight of “the larger picture.” A second paradigm seeks to isolate the “problem” or im­ pediment to stepfamily success (e.g., the stepchild or stepparent) and labors through individual counseling to “cure” that one person. Such an approach is predicated on the tenets of individual counseling and is difficult to reconcile with a systemic orientation, which advocates focus on the relationships among individuals (Stewart, 2007). A third paradigm is a developmental orientation to understanding, intervening with, and facilitating the success of stepfamilies. However, “limited work has taken the developmental matters of the blended family on its own terms” (Baxter et al., 1999, p. 292). This chapter will briefly describe two differing developmental schemas and link the develop­ mental orientation with the practice of narrative therapy.


Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

A Developmental Orientation to Stepfamily Success

Family development theory provides an approach to studying families that is useful in explaining patterned change, the dynamic nature of the family, and how change occurs in the family life cycle. Originating in the 1930s as sociologists and demographers establish family categories (as precur­ sors to family stages of development), and associated with the efforts of Paul Glick, Evelyn Duvall, Reuben Hill, and Rachel Ann Edwards, family development theory explains the processes observed in families over time. This progress becomes more critical as the incomplete institutionalization of stepfamily life is measured.

This concept of incomplete institutionalization is based on Cherlin’s (1978) assertion of a “lack of social structures that organize, direct and ex­ ecute the essential tasks of living” (Stewart, 2007, p. 39). These institutions (e.g., the legal system, faith-based organizations, the medical community) are really social authorities that define appropriate functioning between members in social relationships and between those family systems and the broader society. In the absence of frameworks for stepfamily relation­ ships, socially held negative perceptions of stepfamilies form the basis of dominant social narratives. These narratives, which lack correspondence to the lived experience of members of stepfamilies, generate “negative labels, stereotypes and cultural myths” (Stewart, 2007, p. 41).

Stepfamilies evolve through processes of change and adjustment (Mc­ Goldrick & Carter, 2011, p. 317; see also Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2002). Stepfamily life represents a complex interactive process whose goal is to forge a family identity and sense of cohesion among individuals with no common history, rituals, or behavior patterns. No wonder, then, that creation of a successful stepfamily has been identified as /1 one of the most difficult transitions a family is ever called upon to make” (Stewart, 2007, p. 182). Individual life cycle needs affect stepfamily task resolution-for example, an older male with adult children marrying a younger woman with young children, coping with loss of prior marriages or relationships, living with difference, resolving loyalty issues, acknowledging the absent parent, living simultaneously in two households, developing a family identity, overcom­ ing boundary problems, learning coparenting, and involving a stepparent despite little social support. Individuals have to determine the tasks that must be done, the priority to give each one, and what guidance is available.

“Developmentalists focus on complexity and processes that occur within family systems as assess how these aspects of family life unfolds over time within a particular social context” (Stewart, 2007, p. 47). Rather than accept dominant and stereotypically negative descriptions of stepfamily members and stepfamily life, developmentalists observe how veritable strangers to one another form nourishing, reliable relationships; what challenges emerge in what sort of predictable order; and which resolu­ tions seem critical for family identity and cohesion. A developmental map portrays what family experiments are normal and predictable within an overall picture of stepfamily evolution, as opposed to emphasizing family


Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

crisis (Stewart, 2007). Portrie and Hill (2005) proposed that such a “map” needs to be descriptive, to consider diversity, and to express dynamic shifts of blended family relationships, emphasizing the integration of in­ dividual and family developments, issues of solidarity and satisfaction as foundations to negotiate role identification, boundary management, and resolution of conflicts and expectations. The orderliness and predictability of this transition or evolution is part of the professional knowledge that the counselor may contribute to the session through educating all family members that their lived experience is in no way abnormal and their re­ lationships in any way deficient. However, it is safe to say that very few stepfamily members are equipped with this knowledge, leaving them to concentrate on their frustrations with other family members or the latest stepfamily “crisis.” By focusing on the issues facing remarriage and then stepfamily life, counselors focus attention on the present rather than issues in the past (e.g., relating to the family of origin). The intent is to provide guidance and reassurance as family members go through their days, to prevent overreaction to normative stepfamily experiences, and to foster the stepfamily maturation progression.

Family development theory divides the family experience into phases, or stages, over the life span and describes changes in family functioning and roles during each stage (Carter, McGoldrick, & Garcia-Preto, 2010). These changes imply distinctions in structure and role relationships within a given family unit. The stage is usually inferred from the events that indi­ cate a change in the membership in the family or the way in which family members are spatially and interactionally organized (i.e., openly negotiated among family members). The successful completion of developmental tasks leads to immediate satisfaction and approval as well as to the increased potential for success with later tasks; failure results in family unhappiness, social disapprovat and greater difficulty with subsequent developmental tasks. For the family to continue to grow, biological requirements, cultural imperatives, and personal aspirations need to be satisfied during each stage of the family life cycle (Carter et al., 2010). To be successful, family members need to adapt to changing needs and demands of other family members and the changing expectations of the larger kin network and society. The stage theories specific to this topic do not provide, or impose, time frames and lengths; rather, task resolution determines transition to the next stage. Additionally, stage tasks are meant to be addressed completely and in a specific order. As with all stage theories, family development is undoubtedly a continuous process, but dividing the process into stages helps clinicians, and family members, see the tasks more clearly.

Stage Theories

Stewart (2007) described stage theories as a mixture of tools, concepts, hypotheses, and frameworks to explain stepfamily life. Lacking one grand theory as a function of the structural (race, class, gender), process (relation­ ship quality, parenting style), and contextual (state laws, social attitudes)


Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

variables characteristic of stepfamily life, these theories contradict the myth that stepfamilies cannot function as well as two-biological-parent families because of the absence of a biological connection to the children, thereby designating stepfamilies as inherently problematic. It can be safely asserted that stress in stepfamilies is different from that experienced in two-biological-parent families because of the diverse and conflicting notions of kinship, but this does not mean that stepfamily members are inherently poorer at dealing with stress than members of other family constellations-they simply need to be aware of how the stresses that they do face represent typical aspects of stepfamily life (McGoldrick & Carter, 2011).

Two complementary models of stepfamily development are described in this section. The first model, developed by Papernow (1999, as cited by www.steptogether.org), is divided into three stages, which are further subdivided; this overview is intended only to highlight specific stage tasks.

Early Stage

1. Fantasy: • Adults see the stepfamily as a healing crucible from the pain of

divorce or bereavement. • Partners believe that since they love each other, stepparents and

stepchildren will love each other too. • Stepparents dream of marrying nurturing parents, and single par­

ents see stepparents as sharing parenting burden. • Children may fantasize about seeing parents back together or

claiming an exclusive relationship with the biological parent. 2. Immersion:

• All family members are immediately faced with the reality of the new family situation.

• Stepparents encounter unexpectedly strong and negative feelings of jealousy, resentment, confusion, and inadequacy, because they are excluded by the spouse and children.

• Biological parents may feel less uncomfortable because they have the support of the biological children.

• The adults wonder about the lack of a spousal connection and the overemphasis on parenting or stepparenting.

• Stepparents begin to internalize blame for all stepfamily conflict. 3. Awareness:

• Stepfamily members begin putting names on painful feelings as a result of their family experiences.

• A better understanding of the parent-biological child relationship allows for the observance of pattern and how those patterns may interfere with the strength of the spousal connection.

• All members surrender fantasies of instant family. • The stepparent begins to get to know the strangers that he or she

has joined.


Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

The overarching challenge of the early stage is to bear the developmental tasks of confusion and disappointment without surrendering or dissolving the new stepfamily. As stepfamily members begin to articulate different experiences within the stepfamily and relinquish fantasies of the instant replication of the nuclear family, they can begin to engage in the step-by­ step process of building a family out of strangers.

Middle Stage

4. Mobilization: • The couple openly airs differences. • This period tends to be chaotic and embattled. • The family members struggle between an “I” vs. “we” identity.

5. Action: • The adults jointly at first and then with the children negotiate new

agreements about how the family will function. • The family structure changes, and new boundaries are drawn,

especially between the couple and the children. • The family begins to function without constant monitoring of “step”


Later Stage

6. Contact: • The family has arrived at the honeymoon period at last. • The moves of the “action” phase have provided new arenas of

agreement within which the family members can function easily. • The marital relationship becomes more a source of nourishment

and support. • Stepparents and children forge real relations, unhampered by “step”

issues. • Only now can a clear stepparent role emerge.

7. Resolution: • The family is characterized by solid and reliable steprelations. • Norms are established, and a family-specific history is built that

integrates prior family stories yet embraces the new. • Acceptance of differing levels of belonging on the part of different

children is honored. • Large changes no longer threaten spousal or stepparent-stepchild


The key variable that determines whether one gets stuck or proceeds is the time it takes to negotiate the “awareness work” of the early stage: real­ izing that something is wrong, that it is not the fault of a single person, and that there is an opportunity to improve the situation and move on. Without this insight, family members would experience repeated and escalated conflicts, growing estrangement, and (as members become more hopeless) eventual stepfamily dissolution. Parents side with biological children against


Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

the stepparent and his/her children, further polarizing the stepfamily. In stepfamilies with only one stepparent, that adult feels ostracized within the stepfamily, drifting further and further from connection. The marital relationship, tenuous to begin with, dissolves under the pressure of parent­ ing and stepparenting. The adults become so focused on the disagreements in parenting that being spouses becomes secondary in attention, and then tertiary as adults begin to focus on the “I,” as an expression of emotional self-protection and identity, rather than the “we” of a couple.

Kerns (2009) offered a five-stage model for stepfamily development:

l. Honeymoon/Fantasy: • The adults feel very positive about the new marriage and the in­

tegration of the stepparent and other children. • However, the children have mixed feelings regarding the biological

parent’s new spouse and the imposition of “siblings.” • Each member holds different thoughts and expectations (e.g., parents

hope for instant love, children secretly hope that their biological parents reconnect).

2. Chaos: • The children feel disloyal to the absent biological parent if they

like the stepparent. • The parents feel constantly in the middle of stepparent and step­

child relations. • The stepparents are excluded from old ways of running the house­

hold. 3. Awareness:

• The adults become aware that their problems are common. • Change must occur, and it must start with each member (who may

not be willing). 4. Action:

• Appropriate stepfamily issues are identified and addressed. • Family members access support groups or family counseling. • The adults unify to strengthen marital relationship. • All family members try to understand how each other family

member can see the same situation so differently. 5. Commitment:

• The adults, as models and then the children, move forward by collaborating and cooperating.

• The stepfamily members realize that they can work things out and become more cohesive as compared to more disjointed through resolution of disagreements.

• The stepfamily begins to build its own traditions and history.

The consistency between models seems to emphasize the assertion that time itself will not foster stepfamily cohesion and harmony. Rather than “wait and see,” the key to a resolution of the identified developmental challenges is intentional awareness, negotiation, and effort on the part


Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

of all stepfamily members, including those who do not reside within the stepfamily home. For counselors, attention to these viewpoints, or others that may be proposed, and specific attention to the relevant stage tasks provide confirmation of possible challenges resolved and new issues to address. For stepfamily members, knowledge of these perspectives con­ firms the normalcy of their struggles and may reduce their bewilderment and feeling of defeat.

In summary, McGoldrick and Carter (2005) proclaimed that “so complex is the process of forming a remarried family that we have come to think of this process as adding a whole new phase to the family life cycle for those involved” (p. 417). The mainstream culture lacks any established patterns or rituals to help stepfamilies navigate their multifaceted relationships. In that void, dominant negative social discourses come to have a powerful influence on stepfamily members.

Issues of Diversity

In this section, I discuss what the professional literature has to say regard­ ing developmental shifts as a function of the ethnicity or sexual identity of stepfamily members. The impact of culture on stepfamily dynamics is important to understand, which makes the paucity of research on fami­ lies of color and gay and lesbian families all the more regrettable; in the words of Portrie and Hill (2005), “current research does not speak to the diversity and need for awareness of cultural issues” (p. 450). The situation has improved, but only slightly, since 2005; readers should not interpret this brevity of discussion as an indication of the lack of importance of this information but rather as an indication that scholarship is limited in this area. It is critical for the clinician and family members to honor the differ­ ent life experiences of stepfamilies that represent the cultural diversity of the United States in the 21st century.

African American stepfamily dynamics are influenced by cultural defi­ nitions of (re)marriage, nonmarital childbearing, and definitions of family that include nonblood relationships. Cohabitation may be perceived as an alternative to marriage rather than prelude, which raises the possibility of cohabiting rather than married stepfamilies. The birth of children to unmarried women means that children may be present in a first marriage; a biological second parent might not be part of the picture. Fictive kin are valued family members whose connection is based on an emotional bond, willingness to help, and an enduring relationship but not on legal ties or obligations nor family lineage. This type of relationship expresses itself in more fluid family boundaries and experiences of the children of adults coming and going in their lives.

As I was writing this chapter, I was constantly stymied in my attempt to find any information specific to Hispanic stepfamilies. This lack of profes­ sional resources may indicate a challenge in identifying such families; issues of funding for their study; or reluctance among these families themselves to come to the notice of social service agencies, counselors, and family prac­


Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

titioners. Whether the presented models of stepfamily development and the issues germane to other cultural groups do indeed apply to Hispanic stepfamilies has yet to be determined.

Gay and lesbian stepfamilies are frequently paired and discussed as a unit in the few studies I was able to identify that dealt with these fami­ lies. For consistency with the literature, I will discuss these two groups together; clinicians will have to rely on gay or lesbian stepfamily members to inform them as to which details are indeed relevant, and which are nonapplicable, to their life experiences as stepfamily members. Here, I present overarching themes unique to gay and lesbian stepfamilies as compared to stepfamilies from any other cultural group.

McGoldrick and Carter (2005) described the burdens of secrecy and isolation caused by the dominant social discourses fostering a negative social stigma concerning three related disclosures: one’s sexual identity, one’s partnership status, and one’s parental role. Gay and lesbian step­ families must confront the anxiety about consequences of “coming out” in declaration of any or all three revelations, with no certainty of how these declarations may be received by friends, family, or social institutions. These three relational systems are intentionally listed based on issues of familiarity and possible social support. While the disclosure process to family and friends may be a single event, gay and lesbian stepfamilies will repeatedly confront possible social negation, if not prejudice, in interactions with employers, the legal system, schools, and faith-based establishments. In each case, varying degrees of acceptance or tolerance may be expected, with little recourse when faced with negative responses, so gay and lesbian stepfamilies seem to be faced with an ongoing dilemma: disclosure in hopes of acceptance but with fears of rejection or to remain secretive and isolated and without possible needed support. Therefore, the process of coming to terms with issues of sexual identity fold into the stages and system dynamics of blended and developing families.

A decade ago, Portrie and Hill (2005) criticized this paucity of pro­ fessional knowledge, stating that “the limited multicultural research on blended families demands future research endeavors” (p. 450). It is regrettable that, 10 years later, the situation has not significantly changed.

Implications for Treatment Planning and Delivery

In summary, and as a launching platform for this section, perhaps de­ velopmental theory identifies common need while narrative therapy emphasizes the individual interpretation of that need. Applying the idea of turning points (Baxter et al., 1999), clinicians and family mem­ bers can focus on pathways of relationship development and on nodal events, such as changes in household/family composition, conflict or disagreement, holidays or special events, quality time, family crisis, and reconciliation and problem solving-in other words, on transformative events that fostered a sense of family. Seen as “a framework that holds relevance for all blended families” (p. 293), these descriptive models


Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

can offer a new perspective for family members bogged down in what seems to be endless conflict.

The narrative integration asks each family member to share perspectives on the same event, coupled with consideration of social narratives around the same event. That very exploration uncovers for the family members the bewildering number of views of the same incident and how the differing reactions of family members make sense, given the perspectives that each holds. Given the myriad perspectives internal to the family and external from social narratives, it is no wonder that the family could not resolve that specific issue. Given that concentrated family resources can address any concern, the fragmentation of effort based on these views defeats the best efforts from any one family member. Rather it is the consensus of the family issue-through reauthoring that event, possible solutions, and possible contributions of each family member to the family’s overall success-that will get “unstuck” the family specific to that presenting problem and, more generically, provide a new orientation to other and future family complaints and challenges.

McGoldrick and Carter (2011) provided a series of turning points for clinicians and family members to address. First, they recommended the utilization of the three-generational genograms to illustrate presenting or existing family patterns in the family of origin, the predivorce family, the single-parent family, and finally, the stepfamily. Just enumerating the four family constellations, doubled by the life experiences of each present spouse, confirms the foundational belief systems that each spouse brings to the final and current stepfamily life experiences. This exercise will allow the adults to recognize the differing expectations and practices based on those assumptions that each has accumulated over his or her relational history. Those insights might encourage a willingness to acknowledge the insuffi­ ciency of either prior belief system in addressing stepfamily developmental needs, with the resulting conjoint decision to reimagine how to create the type of stepfamily both imagine. McGoldrick and Carter recommended attention to nine critical areas where spouses’ narratives and dominant social perspectives hold the potential for derailing a positive development of the new stepfamily.

1. Educating and normalizing patterns and processes in remarriage and “refamily /ing” bearing in mind that family members are at differing life cycles;

2. Exploring the emotionally central role of women (stepmothers) and the difficulty in moving into a new system where much is demanded of them and the emotionally distant role of men (stepfathers) and what is realistic for them;

3. Discouraging couples from trying to maintain the myth of the intact nuclear family;

4. Recreating the unrealistic ideals of remarriage; 5. Practicing patience for the ambiguity of guilt, divided loyalties, am­

bivalence, etc., among the children and stepchildren;


Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm

6. Discovering a positive way to involve ex-spouses and absent parents in sessions;

7. Resolving the feelings of loss for the closeness of the pre-stepfamily single-parent child relationship;

8. Building cooperative sessions to resolve a child’s difficulties, as children never have the power to decide on remarriage, custody, or visitation; and;

9. Putting biological parents in charge of child uproar, with stepparent as observer and then co-coach.

These topics recur at each stage of stepfamily development, with positive, conjoint resolution practices serving to resolve each issue more smoothly and cooperatively with increased practice and competence.


There are advantages to the use of developmental theory when thinking about stepfamilies, but Baxter et al. (1999) identified four reasons to use developmental theory cautiously in this context. They expressed a concern that reliance on one developmental model may come at the expense of other important areas of focus, such as spousal, parental, and stepparental systems, as well as ex-spouses and ex-grandparents. Second, developmental models assume a linear progress through tasks, which may be inconsistent with life demands and changes. Third, these models provide little etiology for the stage tasks, leaving readers and practitioners to ponder the “why now?” with little guidance. Finally, the stage descriptions are not as discrete in real life as they are on paper, and to date, little empirical validation of the schemas is available. While anecdotal and qualitative reports confirm their accuracy and utility, no empirical substantiations could be located in the professional literature.

Nevertheless, developmental theory is an attractive framework to explain and normalize a family phenomenon. For the clinician, this orientation transcends episodes in favor of family patterns and replaces attention to complaints with a focus on task accomplishment. Portrie and Hill (2005) cautioned that “relying on assumptions about blended families may per­ petuate cultural beliefs that endorse a deficit perspective of stepfamily functioning” (p. 445), but their judicious application may legitimize what has been viewed as toxic and pathological. Using the tenets of narrative therapy, “the key that determines whether a crisis is transitional or has permanent crippling impact is whether it is handled adequately within the family system, in spite of a general lack of social support offered by our society” (McGoldrick & Carter, 2011, p. 317). Awareness of developmental stages and tasks specific to stepfamily life may assist in the adequate han­ dling “within the family system” as these authors observed. In addition, the lack of social support, or invalid existing social support, isolates step­ families, causing them to serve as their own support system and depriv­ ing them of external normalization of stepfamily progress. In other cases,


Developmental Schemas of Stepfamilies

the social support systems are proving unsupportive, lending credence to Stewart’s remark (2007) that “very few have investigated the role that our social institutions might play with respect to these processes” (p. 51). This oversight supports a review of the roles of stepfamily members as defined and affected by social narratives. This exploration allows family members to become aware of how dominant narratives interfere with the resolution of specific stage tasks and to begin to reauthor those narratives in a manner more representative of lived stepfamily experience and more facilitative toward stage task resolution.


Anonymous. (n.d.) The gay or lesbian stepparent. Family Education. Retrieved from http:/ /life.familyeducation.com/ stepfamilies/ sexuality I 47611.html The strengths and challenges of gay stepparenting

Missouri Families. (2009). Stages of stepfamily development. Missouri Families. Retrieved from http: I I www.missourifamilies.org/ features I divorcearticles I divorcefeature42.htm A summary of a five-phase model of stepfamily evolution

Papernow, P. (1989). Seven stages of development for stepfamilies. Stepfamily Association of America. Retrieved from http:/ /www.home.comcast. net/ ~ndzimmerI stepfamilyI stages.html An overview of the phases of stepfamily development

Whiteside, M. F., & Campbell, P. (1993). Stepparenting in gay and lesbian families: Integrity, safety, and the real world out there. National Stepfamily Resource Center. Retrieved from http: I I www.stepfamilies.infoI articles I stepparenting-in-gay-and-lesbian-families.php A short description of the social challenges of stepparenting and sexual identity issues.


hi I’m Darcy from core parenting and welcome to the Big Blend Theory.

The more that we as collective adults can start to see ourselves as team members in a child’s family, right? So we have to let go as adults of the them versus us. I separated from this person I’m done with that yeah and I am responsible, I am family of this child who is family of this person and that makes me family still. With this person and the more that I can, that we, as much as possible I mean, there’s some realities of conflict and dysfunction and things that make it more or less, although I feel like if people want to work hard enough at it they can find a way to find a common language to talk about their children because they are family with the children. So to some extent, there’s the responsibility of the parents to kind of step up and talk with each other about, you know, what’s happening in the overall rhythm of the child’s life. The second thing is to remember that, as much as we feel like it impacts us that life is like this over here and then it’s like this over there, the person who is impacting the most is our child, right? They’re the ones that have to go back and forth between different cultures and different norms and different expectations, different language. And I don’t mean like Spanish versus English, I mean at this house we say, you know I need space, and at this house I say get away from me. And that, this there’s different kind of like cultural norms that develop in each family’s rhythm and the kids have to learn how to go back and forth from that and that’s tricky. And every transition is tricky and even if both houses are really healthy and functioning really well, that transition back and forth can be tricky and children will often have more tantrums or meltdowns or say things like they “don’t want to go” or those kind of things have been pre and post transition quite normally and we can often kind of misdiagnosed that if something’s going wrong at the other house when really it’s just about you know it’s it’s exhausting for kids to go back and forth. And there’s some amount of empathy that we need to have for the kids in understanding, you know, if something’s happening at one house, that is not to the level of abuse, but distressing to some extent or making things difficult for the kids, so I kind of hold himself together trying their coping skills or whatever so tricky, but not abusive, understanding and kind of being empathic with them in a loving non-judgmental way of the other house, so you know, kid comes back and they eight pounds of sugar and they’re melting down and having a really hard time and saying “you know it’s you know really special that you get to have all those treats at Mom’s house and it must feel really good to do that and it’s really hard to come back and then not be able to have it that’s pretty probably pretty hard for you to be able to go back and forth like that I totally get it.”

Interviewer: sort of validate

Darcy: to validate their experience of yeah and they have to negotiate two worlds in a way that you don’t, that world’s bad, we’re over here that world’s bad they don’t get that luxury. They have to go back and function in that world and function in their world

Interviewer: In the event where there is you know real-life trauma. How do you how do you start in a healthy way?

Darcy: No matter how hurtful, harmful abandonment, abuse, it doesn’t matter that child loves that parent and feels very conflicted in the situation I mean even if a child understands or knows or you know can see that they’re better off without the parent or whatever that that it’s it’s such a strong feeling so it’s really important that no matter how ugly the situation that we refrain from initiating any conversation with the child that paints that that parent as bad, like if you know she’s missing her mom or she says you know “you’re not my mom” it can be really tempting to say something like “well yeah mom’s not here” or “your mom did This” or” your mom did that” and you know,

Interviewer: I mean, I bite my tongue all right times, but I’m doing it yeah

Darcy: the thing is is that they they know what their mom did, and at some point they may come to a another parent for clarification for “I want to talk about this” “I want to do you know why mom did this” or “do you know what’s going on with her” and as as they initiate those conversations, then it’s okay to respond to those conversations and in a as non-judgmental kind of factual as possible but it’s important not to put that out there for them and to really give them the space to be able to honor the feelings as they come.

hi I’m Darcy from core parenting and welcome to the big blend theory

you can love more than one adult and that’s one of the things that I try to help step-parents I mean that that word is really tricky that step-parent because essentially you’re a mom. They are in a position of caring for, feeding, clothing, emotionally supporting, working through the tricky times, picking up from school, doing all of the things that a parent does, a step-parent does. So when you say, “I don’t know my role” but step- parents’ role is the role of parent, and it’s just pure and simple as that.

Interviewer: When something has to change…

Darcy: Nothing has to change should change right? I mean so a healthy blended family is one in which the the two parents can come in and find a foundation together right so they start with that foundation just like a biological parents would start with their foundation, so you have your foundation and then the kids build relationships with each other and with you and those relationships are all part of a family and all individual relationships at the same time. Does that make sense?

Interviewer: yeah

Darcy: so while in you’er in your mind and understanding and hearts, as the parents, you understand we’re both parenting, we both need to be on the same page as far as you know our parenting style, in our methodology, and what is a consequence, and what are the boundaries, and what are the expectations in our home and we decide that together as a family, and that our expectations are, I always recommend that expectations are there for all the children, the amount of support that you give each child in being able to be successful, in meaning that expectation, is individualized to a child. Essentially high expectations, high support I want to set high expectations for my children and I want to give them enough support so that they can be successful which means I may have an expectation for all the kids in my house that your room has to be made before you leave the house in the morning. My two-year-old, my sixteen-year-old, doesn’t matter, everyone’s expectation in the same. The two-year-old I’m probably going to make it with them every single morning. The 16-year-old’s on their own they don’t need the same level of support, but they may have the same expectation, so as we and obviously there’s differences in that, and you know families work around what that means, but whether you’re the step-parent or the biological parent, whether you’re the stepchild or the biological child in this family, this is how our family works. In this family, this is how dinner works, this is how homework time is, this is how the rhythm of our of our family looks like, within that, both parents have the voice to be able to set boundaries and offer support to every child in the family.

Interviewer: That’s great I I really like that everyone has the same expectations but the level of support is adjustable it seems like something like that would make it easier for a child to transition into the other household where the level of expectation may be zero or maybe too high or you know however it is they’re able to come in and have hopefully less anxiety about meeting those expectations if they’re getting the level of support they need. Like, what an epiphany.

Darcy: We can’t control what happens in their other home, right? We can maybe open up dialogue with the other parent, we can maybe try to start to to change the way we think and talk to that other parents, but we can’t control what happens just like we can’t control the child’s school and we can’t control what happens at at their friend’s house and to some extent, part of growing up is learning how to negotiate role shifts, right? We’re different at work than we are home and we’re different more with our friends than with our colleagues and those role shifts and how do I manage myself, is one thing that kids are having to negotiate and learn how to do, so our job as parents, whether your kid has another home or not, our job is to say in our home in our family “this is how things look” and we’re really consistent in that and it’s really clear and it’s really safe and we give enough support for you to be successful but you know how it works here and the more that you can create that in your home whatever they go to during their day, whether it’s school or you know another part of their family, when they come back, they’ll have some transitioning because that’s normal, and they’ll be able to settle in to the to the rhythm of your home because they understand it and it’s predictable and it’s safe and supportive in a developmental way that makes sense for them and when you have that you can develop a language that you know they come home from school “in schools unfair” and “there’s no time to eat lunch” and whatever their struggles, they’re struggling with in those other environments, you can empathize it’s really hard it’s so challenging to negotiate that you know if it’s in the other home how do you know it’s so hard when that happens and I could see how that would be really hard on you and or if they’re wanting to do something, you know “well it dad’s house, I get to have three cookies after dinner” say “that’s great it’s so exciting that you get to have that with your dad, and your dad is totally capable of taking care of you when you’re at his house, and I trust him totally and here we don’t have cookies after dinner, how about a piece of fruit?” yeah, so it’s just this is how it is and you know I totally am supportive. Now I may call dad later and say, “dude why three cookies? Come on” but I’m not going to say that to the kid, right? because I’m hopefully having that level of communication where I could say “you know that he’s gluten-intolerant. why are you giving them three cookies?” We don’t have to try to make them get it, we don’t have to try to fix their feelings. We can just empathize and let it and let it be.

Week 2: Overview

Developmental Schemas

Source:  Stepfamily–© Chany1167 (Links to an external site.)

So, now that you are able to define what makes a stepfamily a stepfamily, you have a level of understanding regarding the cultural diversity present in underrepresented stepfamilies and you are keenly aware of the myths that surround stepfamilies… how do you put it all together?  That’s the million dollar question! 

Source:  © Akiradesigns | Dreamstime.com (Links to an external site.)

In chapter 2, the myths surrounding social norms and roles are examined through a narrative lens. Narrative therapy is a method of therapy that separates the person from the problem and encourages people to rely on their own skill sets to minimize the problems that exist in their everyday lives.  Moreover, the textbook encourages the reader to view stepfamily success via a developmental perspective. Developmentalists focus on the complexity and process that occur within family systems.  Given the developmental nature of this chapter, stage theories are presented as a way to conceptualize and frame key areas in the stepfamily life.

Finally, knowledge without proper utility is moot.  So with that, we will discuss planning for treatment and best practices with delivery of services.  Nine critical areas for positive development of the new stepfamily are presented. 


By the end of this week, students will:

· Understand the benefits of narrative therapy concepts to working with stepfamilies

· Discuss the implications for treatment of underrepresented groups

· Normalize the stepfamily dynamic 

Week 2: Lecture

Developmental Schemas

Chapter 2 continues the discussion and begins to examine the social myths surrounding stepfamilies’ roles through narrative therapy (Gold, 2016).  Narrative therapy is a method of therapy that separates the person from the problem and encourages people to rely on their own skill sets to minimize the problems that exist in their everyday lives.  For example, the stories that produce our lives are those available to us in the varied cultural worlds that we inhabit.  These stories are crucial when considering the multifaceted dynamics of stepfamilies.  The author shares three (3) paradigms that counselors may utilize to conceptualize step family dynamics (Baxter, Brathwaite, & Nicholson, 1999; Stewart, 2007).  The initial paradigm focuses on unrelated incidents in a stepfamily where corresponding members interact and feed off one another.  An example of a challenge would be dealing with finances, housing arrangements, or disciplining children.  The counselor is always looking to manage the conflict by encouraging the family members to see the big picture.  The next paradigm focuses directly on the issue at hand that is causing challenges within the stepfamily.  The final paradigm builds on previous understandings of how stepfamilies work.  This chapter will briefly describe two differing developmental schemas and link the developmental orientation with the practice of narrative therapy.  

Moreover as you read through each section about the paradigms and narrative therapy, pay close attention to the importance of having a clear therapeutic perspective, which will help you to reflect, recognize, and understand the meaning you may have created about stepfamilies.  Think about aspects of becoming a family in the traditional sense and consider some of the challenges that typically come with blended families.  Also, notice that the text discusses family development theory, which provides an approach to learning about family patterns of change.  This developmentalist perspective focuses on the family process and the complexity of life as it unfolds over time given the social context (Stewart, 2007).

Week 2: Lecture

Stage Theories

According to the text, stage theories are tools, materials, and methods of understanding the stepfamily dynamic. While there is not “one” theory to frame the stepfamily conceptually with regards to how they function, their interpersonal presentation or social underpinnings, to theorist have created complementary models of stepfamily development.  

Papernow (1999) developed a 7 stage model with three sections that are task specific.

Early Stage

1. Fantasy

2. Immersion

3. Awareness

Middle Stage

1. Mobilization

2. Action

Later Stage

1. Contact

2. Resolution

In similar fashion, Kerns offered a five-stage model for stepfamily development:

1. Honeymoon/Fantasy

2. Chaos

3. Awareness

4. Action

5. Commitment

While the textbook gives more details of each of the stage models, notice how many of the stages over lap one another. Moreover, many of the stages are seemingly fluid, meaning a stepfamily member may move up or down in the model depending on how insightful their personal work is and how invested the step family is as well. The stage models offers a litmus test for step family members to check in and note his or her progress toward the blending goal.

Previous Next

Week 2: Lecture

Issues in Diversity

The demographics of society are steadily changing and with that change diversity of ethnic families are increasing as well. However, the research literature is slow to keep up with the changing face of stepfamilies. African American, Hispanic, and gay and lesbian stepfamilies are lacking a strong presence in the research literature. This underrepresentation has implications for these stepfamilies. For example, underrepresentation means that their voices are not being heard. If their voices are not being heard then their issues and challenges go unmet. Unmet issues and challenges means that these diverse populations linger in turmoil longer.

As these populations go unserved and underserved, this means that counselors are not being trained on how to meet their specific needs through a cultural lens. The professional knowledge for multicultural research is paramount to keep up with the growing demographic.

Week 2: Lecture

Treatment Planning and Delivery

In this section, the reader is introduced to nine critical areas that may derail the new stepfamilies development. Gold, J. (2015) recommends that the counselor focuses on relationship development around key changes in the family such as those that may occur during holidays or special event. He notes that these transformative events can in fact encourage a sense of family. This new framework for viewing the newly formed stepfamily is the beginning of fresh positive perspective.

As the counselor, for treatment planning and service delivery to be considered successful with blended families, the families need to view themselves as a system. However, this goal is daunting because the blended family is often in constant change and ever evolving. A major way that a blended family is able to see themselves past some of the challenges is by utilizing effective interventions. Interventions such as:

1. Give positive feedback and interject humor whenever appropriate.

2. Refrain from all negative references to former spouses.

3. Recommend parents to attend a parenting group for stepparents.

4. Help parents in establishing a weekly family meeting in which issues can be mentioned and solved and where family members are expected to share their thoughts, complaints, and compliments.

5. Implementing daily rituals such as a set dinnertime, bedtime, chores, etc. to assist in providing structure and integration to the new family structure.

This list is not exhaustive but is meant to give you a foundational starting point on the possible avenues to take when working with step families. In the end, the counselor is tasked with continuously learning about blended families commonalities while conceptualizing them from a new blended family uniqueness.

Nine critical areas:

1. Educating and normalizing patterns and processes in remarriage and “refamily/ing” bearing in mind that family members are at differing life cycles;

2. Exploring the emotionally central role of women (stepmothers) and the difficulty in moving into a new system where much is demanded of them and the emotionally distant role of men (stepfathers) and what is realistic for them;

3. Discouraging couples from trying to maintain the myth of the intact nuclear family;

4. Recreating the unrealistic ideals of remarriage;

5. Practicing patience for the ambiguity of guilt, divided loyalties, ambivalence, etc., among the children and stepchildren;

6. Discovering a positive way to involve ex-spouses and absent parents in sessions;

7. Resolving the feelings of loss for the closeness of the pre-stepfamily single-parent child relationship;

8. Building cooperative sessions to resolve a child’s difficulties, as children never have the power to decide on remarriage, custody, or visitation; and;

9. Putting biological parents in charge of child uproar, with stepparent as observer and then co-coach. (Gold, 21-22)

Lintermans, G. (2011). Replace stepfamily myths with realistic expectations. Retrieved from: com/2011/07/replace-stepfamily-myths-with-realistic.html”>http://stepfamilysolutions.blogspot.com/2011/07/replace-stepfamily-myths-with-realistic.html

Stepfamily Solutions

Friday, July 22, 2011

Replace Stepfamily Myths with Realistic Expectations

Typical multi-home stepfamilies are similar to intact biological families in a number of ways. At the same time, they also differ structurally, developmentally, and dynamically in oversixtyways! People unaware of these differences, and what they mean to typical adults, kids and supporters, risk unconsciously using inappropriate or harmful biological family norms and expectations to guide their stepfamily perceptions, goals, and decisions. This is like trying to play baseball with soccer equipment and basketball rules—guaranteed to create confusion, frustration, conflict, and stress that will inhibit healthy stepfamily merging and bonding, and promote growing dissatisfactions.

Learning, Teaching, and Applying Stepfamily Realities Learning to live well in a new stepfamily has been likened to the challenges faced by a clan of Swedes pledging loyalty to a tribe of Tibetans, who all settle down together in rural Brazil. There is much for everyone to learn—new laws, customs, roles, and vocabulary. Everyone is learning to cope in a new, alien environment. There are three distinctly new challenges facing you and your child-raising partners: 1. You will need to learn specifically how your multi-home stepfamily differs in composition, norms, and dynamics from your respective birth-families and first-marriage families. 2. You will need to use these step-realities and make time together to evolve clear and realistic personal, marital, co-parent, and multi-home stepfamily goals and expectations over time. 3. You will need to teach yourmain stepfamily differences, realities, and goals to your kids, important kin and friends, and key professionals. Keep them updated. Expect some people to misunderstand and to criticize your new values, goals, and plans—or you. Realize they probably have their own unsolved problems and/or are stuck in a biological family mode of thinking. Befriend informed others who will empathize with and support you. Here is a sample of common stepfamily myths and realities that you’ll discover, discuss, accept, and apply: Myth: “I love you and I must love your kids.” Reality: “I love you and will patiently work at respecting your kids. They and I may never love each other. If we do, it will feel different than biological parent-child love, and that’s okay. Myth: “Your or my ex-mate is not part of our family!” Reality: “As long as your previous marriage biological children live, their other biological parent, and their new mate(s), if any, will emotionally, financially, legally, and genetically influence all of your lives. Ignoring or discounting the needs and feelings of these other adults will stress everyone for years. Myth: “We’re just like a regular biological family.” Reality: No, because you have two to three linked stepfamily co-parenting homes, three to six stepfamily adults, six to twelve co-grandparents, forty to ninety relatives, new alien family roles (such as stepfather, stepmother, stepsibling, for example), many major losses to mourn, and many conflicting values and customs to resolve among all your people. You are, however, normal—a normal multi-home stepfamily. Myth: “Your or my kids will never come between us.” Reality: Stepfamily adults’ inability to resolve clashes over one or more step-kids, including related money issues, is the most quoted reason for a stepfamily divorce. Underneath this usually lie your own unhealed wounds. Myth: “Step parenting is pretty much like biological parenting, without the childbirth.” Reality: While key aims of stepparents are about the same as those of biological parents, the emotional, legal, and social environments of average stepparents differ in numerous ways from typical biological parents. That usually leads to role confusion, frustration, and high stress, until all the stepfamily adults in your stepfamily agree clearly on what each stepparent’s key responsibilities are. Myth: “Your and/or my biological kids(s) will always live with us.” Reality: In about thirty percent of U.S. stepfamilies, one or more minor biological kids move sometime to live in the home of their other biological parent. This sends complex emotional and financial shock waves into and between the sending and receiving homes, especially if the move was on short notice or not agreed to by all involved. Use this information to build realistic expectations for your new stepfamily homes, roles, and relationships. If you do not, collective, distorted expectations can cause great ongoing frustrations and disappointments, and even corrode your marriage. But by learning together what’s normal in average stepfamilies—early on—minimizes much of this. Ideally, all of your stepfamily co-parenting ex-mates and key kin will join you in this goal. Be aware that some or all of your stepparents and biological parents may agree intellectually that you are a stepfamily together, but may not learn, adapt, and apply important step-realities to your expectations and relationships. If so, they risk expecting, deep down, biological family behaviors and outcomes. This will surely lead to mounting frustration, disappointment, and stress in and between your homes. This is especially true in the first years after the wedding, as alien stepfamily crises, like loyalty conflicts, begin to bloom. Try this quick exercise. Can you can name fifteen or more structural and dynamic differences between the average step and biological families, and describe clearly how each of those differences affects your home and family relationship? Though both are four-legged animals with mouths, noses, hair, and tails, poodles aren’t ponies—despite wishing, praying, mantras, thinking, or hallucinogens. COMPARING STEPFAMILIES AND BIOLOGICAL FAMILIES Differences and Implications for Stepfamily Adults Stepfamilies and biological families do have major similarities. Simultaneously, they differ structurally and dynamically in over sixty ways. If unexpected, these differences individually and collectively can startle, confuse, frustrate, and greatly stress all new stepfamily members—and their supporters. Biological families and stepfamilies have each been around for thousands of years. They are both normal. Because in our era and culture there are many more biological families, people often judge stepfamilies as abnormal. Neither family type is inherently better; they are, however, vastly different. Terms Among the many confusions around stepfamilies, one stems from the terms that we all use to describe them. For clarity, let’s review the “new” terms we are using. Stepparent means any adult who provides part-time or full-time guidance, nurturing, and protection to the minor or grown biological child(ren) of their current adult romantic partner. The stepparent may be married to his or her biological parent partner, or cohabiting with—and emotionally committed to—him or her. A stepparent is usually, but not always, the opposite gender from his or her current partner. A stepfamily is any family where at least one regular member of a parenting home is a stepparent. Typical extended stepfamilies, i.e., kids, stepfamily adults, and all relatives, can live in many related homes and may include 100 or more members. A blended stepfamily is one where both stepfamily adults have one or more biological kids. A stepfamily adult is any biological parent or stepparent living in a stepfamily home. A stepchild is any biological child who lives with—or visits—a biological parent’s committed adult mate. Step-kids can be grown or minor, and legally adopted by their stepparent or not. An interesting paradox is that, depending on the yardstick you use, typical stepfamilies can be accurately seen as just like biological families, andsimultaneously verydifferent. How can this be? Stepfamily and Biological Family Similarities Typical stepfamilies and biological families are alike, in that:

· Both family types are composed of adults and kids living together part or all of the time.

· The adults are (usually) in charge of their homes, and do their best to guide, nurture, protect, teach, and prepare their dependent kids to eventually leave and live well enough on their own.

· All members of each kind of family have daily needs and developmental life tasks to fulfill, as well as a range of daily activities, such as work or school, worship, socializing and play, meals, shopping, chores, and so on.

· Both kinds of normal families evolve through a predictable, natural sequence of developmental stages—although stepfamilies have some different stages. For example: a minor step-kid(s)’ key task is to test to learn clearly, “Am I safe in this family, or will it break up too?” Members will need to resolve personal and family-role name confusions such as, “What should we call each other?”

· Both family types periodically have conflicts between their members, and with other people and the environment. They use tangible resources such as money, phones, cars, appliances, etc., and personal resources like love, humor, time, intelligence, patience, etc., to seek resolution to their conflicts.

· Step-people and people in biological families each have individual and shared hopes, fears, goals, achievements, dreams, failures, joys, health concerns, celebrations, depressions, identities, bodies, losses, etc.

· Both family types naturally develop sets of personal group values, group roles (who does what) and rules (when, how, and why), a history, an identity, and some loyalty or bonding.

· They both evolve with human and natural environments and interact with each as contributors and consumers.

So, when a stepfamily adult (or other) says, “Hey, we are just a regular family!” they are absolutely right. At the same time, there are over sixty differences between biological families and stepfamilies. Stepfamily and Biological Family Differences Average stepfamilies could not be more different than biological families! Typical multi-home stepfamilies have very different structures and developmental tasks than biological families. By these measures, they vary more from average biological families than do typical foster, single-parent, or adoptive families. In reviewing the following information, notice both the individual differences and the collective impact of all of them. Adopt a learner’s mind. Award yourself patience, permission to mess up and learn, and strokes for the smallest triumphs. Keep your emotional knees flexed, hold hands, and enjoy the adventure and challenge together. It is worth it. Average multi-home stepfamilies are simultaneously both the same, and enormously different than, typical intact (two-parent) biological families. What’s Normal in a Typical Stepfamily? Once again, a stepfamily is one where one or more adults are doing part-time or full-time parenting for their romantic partner’s biological child(ren). Thus, parental cohabitation with a new adult partner after divorce or a mate’s death forms a psychological stepfamily. Post-divorce stepfamilies have legal documents that further define them: property settlement decrees, and child custody, support, visitation, and sometimes stepfamily co-parenting agreements. Older remarrying couples whose kids are all grown still form a stepfamily. They do bypass many, but not all, of the stress of stepfamilies with dependent kids, e.g., child visitation, support, and custody conflicts. They still encounter some of the most serious common causes of stress, particularly stepfamily ignorance, unhealed childhood trauma, incomplete grief, and divisive loyalty conflicts around grandkids, wills and bequests, holidays, and key traditions. An intact nuclear (parents and kids) biological family normally lives in one home. Typical nuclear stepfamilies live in two or three stepfamily co-parenting homes woven tightly together by child visitations, legal agreements and responsibilities, genes, history, finances, and deep emotions. The only stepfamily that lives in one home is one where all biological kids or non-custodial biological parents are dead. Even then, there are usually emotional and other ties with living former in-laws and with step-kin living in other homes. Because stepfamilies are adults and children living and growing together, sharing concerns with work and school, pets, health, bills, chores, religion, friends, etc., they do share some average biological family traits. Yet, certain “common sense” biological family operating rules and values cannot only be ineffective, but even harmful. Some key differences: Unlike biological families, normal/typical stepfamilies…

· Live in two or three homes linked for a decade or more by genes, child visitation, support, and custody agreements; divorce decrees and obligations, history and mementos, and strong emotions.

· Always include one or more living or dead ex-spouses and their relatives, who are usually emotionally part of the family.

· Are always founded on two sets of major losses: divorce or death, and remarriage and cohabiting. All three generations on both sides need to grieve these abstract and physical losses well.

· Have up to thirty family roles (e.g., stepdaughter), compared to the fifteen roles in typical biological families. There are no schools or accepted social conventions for these extra fifteen roles, so they typically cause confusion and frustration in and between linked homes until a stepfamily-wide consensus evolves on them.

· Include many more people. Typical multi-home, three-generation stepfamilies have over sixtymembers.

· May have complex confusion over priorities, values, names, rules, holidays, inclusions, traditions, money, and loyalties.

· Have common social isolation, misunderstandings, and biases to deal with.

· Stepfamily adults usually have to master numerous major developmental tasks, many of which have no equivalent in biological families—with little preparation or social support.

Because stepfamilies are so different from biological families, all remarrying adults and emotionally important kin, including their prior parenting partners, should study stepfamily basics, regardless of prior biological family experience. Note that growing up as a stepchild is probably not adequate preparation for being an effective stepfamily adult. Over time, all parenting households evolve hundreds of rules about child discipline, finances, holidays, names, privacy, money, pets, home chores, grooming, health, worship, etc. Some of these rules are unspoken while others are vocalized and clear. Because stepfamilies are so different, some “normal” biological family rules about co-living—and especially about parenting—can cause conflict rather than order. Other “normal” biological family rules about who’s in charge of the home, hygiene, privacy, interpersonal respect, clear communications, honesty, nutrition, and the like, are still relevant and applicable. Sometimes step-people are stressed by trying to force “normal” biological family priorities on their new household. For example, pushing step-kids to accept, respect, and like (or love) their new step-relatives quickly because “kids should respect (i.e., obey) their elders” can cause major resentment, guilt, and frustration. Brady Brunch notwithstanding, new love is usually not enough! Relatives and friends of remarried people often mistakenly expect the new household and kin to feel and act like a biological family. They also may not approve of either the prior divorce(s) or the remarriage. Therefore, friends and relatives may be startlingly un-empathic and critical, or offer unrealistic or inappropriate (i.e., biological family) suggestions if your new stepfamily runs into unexpected problems. Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect (Llumina Press). For more information: http://glorialintermans.com/stepfamilies.htmhttp://amzn.to/stepfamily

Posted by Gloria Lintermans at 10:47 AM 

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Labels: blended familyblended family helpstepdadstepdaughterstepfamilystepfamily help, stepkids, stepmomstepparentsstepson

Week 2: Activities


Please read the following for this week as well as All Week 2 Online Course Materials:


· Gold, J. M. (2015). Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm. Wiley.

· Chapter 2

· Lintermans, G. (2011). Replace stepfamily myths with realistic expectations. Retrieved from: http://stepfamilysolutions.blogspot.com/2011/07/replace-stepfamily-myths-with-realistic.html (Links to an external site.)


· The Big Blend Parts 2 and 3 

1.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJKLpbQxtjs (Links to an external site.)

Click here for a transcript of the video

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFbACEOHlNY (Links to an external site.)


Please participate in the following discussions for this week. Remember, original postings are due by Wednesday at midnight and follow up postings are due by Saturday at midnight.  Make sure you read the Discussion Board Guidelines before making your post.

· Week 2: Narrative Therapy and Models for Step Family Development


Please complete the following assignments:

· Family Therapy Journey

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