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page continues outlining key custom-education interventions
unique to average unconflicted courting (pre-re/wedding) stepfamilies.
The prior page suggests ways of motivating
co-parents toward ongoing self education about stepfamily success.
The next two pages offer key interventions for
conflicted courting and re/married-stepfamily
clients. The final pages outlining this four-part model summarize the requisite skills and knowledge for
effective clinical work with these five
that these interventions aim to assess and seed motivation and resources to
reduce each of the five hazards that courting couples and their kids and other
co-parents will probably face.
Custom-education Interventions - B) Assess and Teach
building the couple's interest in stepfamily education, the focus shifts to ...
assessing their stepfamily knowledge, structure, and personal and relationship
filling exposed knowledge gaps,
promoting a long-range planning
attitude, and ...
- motivating appropriate
Perspective: courting co-parents and their kids can migrate through re/wedding
to the next two phases of this clinical work over four or more years. The
combined degree of false-self dominance and unawareness among the three or more
related co-parents will determine how long this migration takes, and which of
the standard stepfamily stressors predominate.
second group of courtship custom-education interventions _ allows
forecasting which stepfamily stressors will probably manifest, and _ seed the value of
co-parents' preparing for them. Note that the clinician's biases,
if any, about divorce, remarriage, and stepfamilies, will implicitly influence
if and how s/he makes these "custom-education"
assessment-interventions, and how s/he reacts to the attending clients'
[ ] Courtship intervention 4) Preview
this assessment/teaching experience for attending clients. Explain
you'll ask them about a standard set of stepfamily stressors to learn about
their related vulnerabilities and strengths. This is roughly equivalent to a
routine dental or medical exam. It's worth re-noting that typical
stepfamilies differ from traditional intact biofamilies in
over 60 ways, so this
check-up needs to be more thorough than in a first-marriage situation. Option:
provide a one-page checklist to guide you all through the menu of 13 factors
[ ] Courtship Intervention 5) Let
receptive clients know that many clergy and some clinical people can facilitate
a computer- assisted remarriage assessment program to identify (re)marital
strengths and personal- growth areas. One option is the Prepare/Enrich
(MC) instrument provided nation-wide by facilitators trained by Life
Innovations, Inc. The other is an equivalent program called FOCCUS.
Prepare/Enrich (MC) - marrying with children - offers six
facilitated couple exercises: _ Building
strength and growth areas; _ Couple communication; _ Ten steps
for resolving couple conflict; _ Family-of-origin Issues; _
Financial planning and budgeting; and _ Personal, couple and family
goals. The research-based program assesses 20 factors in three focal areas: _ significant issues for couples (12 scales);
_ personality assessment (four scales); and _
couple and family map (four scales).
FOCCUS instrument and program, developed by Barbara Markey, Ph.D., is an
adaptable marriage-preparation inventory. It's ~150 questions produce a
unique couple profile which can be tailored for interchurch, second
marriage or cohabiting couples. It has four editions: Non- denominational;
Christian non-denominational; Catholic; and Alternate, for learning impaired.
While truly helpful, neither of these questionnaire/coaching programs
currently assess for all 13 of these common stepfamily factors and
- Stepfamily knowledge
- Basic relationship skills
conflicts and associated relationship triangles
- Stepfamily strengths and supports
- Healing ex-mate guilt, distrust, and
- Co-parent false-self dominance and
Typical courting co-parents have limited interest or tolerance for an in-depth
assessment of any of these topics, or all of them together. In selecting among
these assessment-interventions, the
clinician will need to dynamically assess and seed "enough" key ideas without losing
the clients' attention or motivation. Each client couple
is unique, and may request or justify special focus on any of these 13
Some are more important, long-term, than others.
[ ] Courtship Intervention 6) Assess
the client-family structure, membership, and family identity. Using a
chalkboard or flipchart, have clients guide you in drawing a partial genogram of
their pre-legal stepfamily. During the process, ask questions like ...
"Do you each think of yourselves as a stepfamily
now?" Some version of "no" usually signals false-self guilt, shame, anxiety, and reality distortion, and stepfamily
Clearly describe what a
stepfamily is, and re-ask the
question. Option: first normalize, with "Stepfamilies have probably
been the main type of human family until recent medical advances,
because of widespread parental death from disease and warfare."
Ask "What would it mean to you if
you acknowledged that you all are now an emotional stepfamily?"
Teach that a "blended
family" is a type of stepfamily in which each partner
has one or more pre-existing kids.
If the answer is "Yes, we
see ourselves as a stepfamily," ask "What does that
identity mean to you?" (real question: how many stepfamily
and realities are you aware of, and what kind
of educational handouts would be useful?") Options:
Ask "If either of you have read
any books about stepfamilies or stepparenting, what did you learn?"
Give clients a handout on stepfamily
and/or selected readings.
Ask "Who do you each consider as full
members of your stepfamily?" (Real question: are you both able to
accept that your co-parenting ex mates - and ghosts of any dead mates
and/or kids - will be full emotional stepfamily members
for many years?") Options:
Describe and normalize stepfamily
(inclusion/ exclusion conflicts, and relate them to
conflicts and persecutor - victim - rescuer relationship
If the couple is conflicted over
stepfamily identity or membership, explore "How are you two
dealing with this conflict now? This will begin to show their
initial style of resolving values conflicts, which are legion
in typical stepfamilies. Option: normalize kids and relatives'
confusions and conflicts over stepfamily membership, and encourage
family-wide talk about this.
- After finishing the genogram,
"Has anyone in any of your
co-parents' family trees ever had a problem with chemical
abortions, or jail?" These are
initial tests for low ancestral nurturance,
and potential co-parent inner wounds. The way co-parents
answer is as important as their content. Reference and optional
handout: Lesson 1's Family
tree Worksheet 3.
- "Have you ever seen such a map
of all the people in your multi-generational (extended) stepfamily?" (The answer is
always "no.") "What are
you aware of, as you see this?" The usual response is
something like startled, confused, overwhelmed,
uneasy, amazed, or the like.
This is a good time to
validate the normal complexity of stepfamilies, and the
co-parents' needs for (a) stepfamily education and
debunking, a thoughtful stepfamily "mission
statement," and a merger plan.
6 (genogram) options with courting co-parents:
Ask "How comfortable are your
co-parents and kids with stepfamily titles so far? (e.g. stepfather,
stepson, stepsister, ...)
Ask "Anyone having a problem with
first or last names?" This is
often a source of confusion and/or stress, unlike average
Ask "How do you suppose it feels to
each of your kids to be part of this stepfamily now? What do you think
they need most, to adapt?" Option: give co-parents a copy of this summary
of typical stepkids four groups of tasks as homework.
Ask "If this stepfamily keeps key
(e.g. abortions, crimes, addictions), what are they, and who needs
and enforces the secrecy?" Most divorcing families and stepfamilies
follow low- nurturance ancestries. This fosters psychological wounds including
excessive shame, guilts, fears, and reality distortions.
These promote inherited
denials, and repressions, and a protective family rule of "We don't
tell outsiders our family business." The client response to this
question (e.g. open and direct, vs. hesitant, defensive, and vague) offers
more clues toward possible co-parent false-self
- Suggest the co-parents draw their own
genogram with their kids, key relatives, and other co-parents to learn
who each person sees as belonging to "my family." Doing this can
quickly expose stepfamily identity and membership conflicts.
are just a few of the many stepfamily-unique process options possible with this
genogram assessment- intervention. The many standard questions (e.g. key dates,
alliances, relationship cutoffs, and geographic locations), are omitted here.
Copying the genogram for later reference is usually helpful. An annotated copy
is an essential part of case notes. Other assessment-interventions often use
this diagram for clarity or reference (and updating), so keep it visible during
[ ] Courtship Intervention
thinking and effective communication and problem solving
are essential for successful co-parent management of their stepfamily's
homes, relationships, and complex multi-family merger. Project
2 focuses on building co-parents' fluency with
toward that objective, over time. This assessment-intervention alerts
co-parents to their need for this high-priority project, and gains an initial
sense of their current level of awareness and competence.
goal of this intervention is to motivate the co-parents to do Lesson 2, over
time - including teaching their kids effective-communication skills.
are three flexible parts to this intervention:
Focus and build interest: Say
something like "As you see (from the genogram and list of 12 projects),
stepfamilies are complicated. They often have types of conflicts that
biofamilies don't - like those over membership, identity, parenting, money,
values, holidays, custody, and loyalties. Typically there are more concurrent
conflicts going on inside adults and kids, and between them than in the families
you're used to. Options:
"Have either of you ever studied the
seven effective-communication skills?" If the couple can't
name the skills (which is the norm), summarize them here.
"On a scale of one to 10, how
important would you say it is now to you two to strengthen your
- "If either co-parent is divorced:
"What role do you feel communication problems played in your divorce?" and "How would you describe the effectiveness of your recent
co-parenting communications with your ex mate?" Note
- if either co-parent has had marital
battles with their ex, the inference is that they can't problem solve -
and probably need the five Lesson-2 skills, for their kids' sakes.
Assess and teach: Ask questions
"How have you handled major conflicts
so far? (Often the proud response is "We haven't had any.")
What's your conflict-resolution style as a couple?" Alternatives:
"When you disagree, who's needs
usually get filled first?" and
"How do you two handle
, so far?"
"For each of you,
what percentage of
the time recently would you say personal (vs. business or
commercial) conflicts end well enough - i.e. you get your main needs met
well enough, in a way that pleases you?"
"What or who might hinder your beginning
Lesson 2 together before you decide to re/marry and form a legal
Option: before, during, or at the end of the
meeting, give each co-parent a copy of either ...
this common communication
blocks worksheet. Ask "Which of these do you feel may be a
problem for you in resolving your upcoming stepfamily conflicts?" (Note the inference.); or ...
inventory of ~50 constructive and destructive problem-solving factors.
Frame the five Lesson-2 skills as effective
tools for partners' spotting and resolving all of these inner and
interpersonal blocks and destructive factors.
- New stepfamilies tend to breed a lot of
confusion, frustration, hurt, and anger. "How does intense anger
in yourself or another tend to affect your ability to communicate
effectively?" Option: "Have you experienced your partner's
full anger yet?"
Conclusion of courtship
intervention 7: Emphasize the exceptional long-term importance to
co-parents of building effective problem-solving skills (and teaching them
to dependent kids) in their stepfamily. Summarize any impressions you've formed
about their communication strengths, attitudes, and knowledge. Recommend the
attending (and proxy) co-parents read a summary like
this* of the seven skills, and proactively raise skill-building on their list
of current priorities. Options:
Offer several sessions devoted to raising
their communication awareness, and strengthening their communication skills
as a couple and as co-parents.
If relevant, note that strengthening
communication skills (Lesson 2) is a major help in personal
recovery from psychological wounds (Lesson 1).
- Suggest that each co-parent coaching their
dependent kids in effective communication skills is priceless, life-long
gift - and that the kids will learn most by what they see being
Continue this overview of the four-part clinical model with more
"custom-education" interventions for typical courting-stepfamily (type