is one of a series on effective clinical interventions with low-nurturance
family clients, based on this clinical model.
A "low nurturance family" is one in which members seldom get their
effective intervention is an instinctive or intentional behavior of the clinician which significantly
raises the family's nurturance level in the opinion of all involved.
This article outlines key
interventions with courting or committed stepfamily clients.
the most from this two-page article, study any of these you haven't read recently...
Lesson 7 Exists
This introduction to professional family
clinicians and educators,
These slide presentations on
the [wounds + unawareness]
cycle that is a root stressor with
typical low-nurturance families, and these
premises and key
this overview of the clinical model on which
these articles are based, and this index of
articles in this series;
This summary of
for effective professional service to low-nurturance clients;
This overview of effective clinical
client families served by this model; and...
This introduction to effective
(a) low-nurturance families and (b) persons recovering from psychological
quiz on stepfamily basics. Then imagine
typical stepfamily adults and supporters taking the quiz, and how you might
use it with them.
to intact ("traditional")
biofamilies in some ways, and concurrently may differ from
them in up to 70 other ways! This paradox promotes average
stepfamily adults, supporters, and uninformed human-service professionals
assuming that stepfamilies will feel, evolve, and act pretty much like typical
intact biofamilies. This misconception usually
causes significant confusion, frustrations, conflicts, and resentments. It is
part of the
that stresses most stepfamily members.
builds on Lesson 7 (accept your stepfamily
and agree on
to help stepfamily adults and supporters
avoid major stress by replacing unrealistic family
formation, role, and relationship expectations (myths) with accurate ones.
Typical courting and committed co-parents and their
kids, relatives, and supporters
(and many human-service professionals) "don't know what they don't know" about
typical stepfamilies. Therefore, they
clinicians to help them identify and replace myths with realistic expectations.
The interventions summarized here build on those in Lesson 7.
To be effective they require clinicians, supervisors, case managers,
and consultants to be fully aware of (a) stepfamily similarities, differences,
norms, and realities; and (b) what these usually
to typical client families,
as they evolve,
Key Project-4 Interventions
These clinical interventions for courting and committed stepfamily members are among
12 hierarchical sets of interventions designed to prevent or reduce five common
and related systemic
These interventions should follow an appropriate selection of Project-3
interventions. Both sets are best spread across several sessions, perhaps starting
with intake contacts. They
may or may not be triggered by a client's presenting problems. Follow the numeral
links for more detail on each intervention.
symbol below indicates a printable handout for clients and
4-1) Affirm that all
client-family adults accept their identity as a normal multi-home,
stepfamily (Lesson 7)
4-2) Motivate client
co-parents to (a) study stepfamily facts, similarities, differences, roles,
and develop-mental (merger) phases,
and then to (b) apply their learning to their stepfamily
(a) co-parent-couples agreeing on their long-term family
priorities, and (b) resolving any significant disputes over them
- specially inevitable loyalty conflicts
4-4) Summarize the
of Projects 3 and 4; and clarify, assess, and upgrade client expectations
on these topics as appropriate:
,biofamilies and evolving a high- nurturance
b) requisites for a
healthy couple relationship
c) stepparent and
stepchild roles, titles, names, and relationships
with co-parenting ex mates and their relatives
e) step-grandparent and
step-grandchild roles, titles, and relationships
f) stepsibling and
half-sibling roles, titles, names, and relationships
stepfamily child-discipline responsibilities,
goals, and techniques
managing child visitations, and family gatherings, holidays,
prior and new losses (broken bonds)
stepfamily financial management, including child support
4-5) Strategize with
co-parents on how to motivate their other family adults and
kids to form realistic
stepfamily expectations on these topics
4-6) Follow up with client
adults to see if (a) they really do accept their stepfamily
identity and what it means, and (b) are working proactively to spot and correct unrealistic
expectations among their kids and adults
4-1) Affirm that all
client-family adults fully accept their identity as a normal multi-home
(unless stepkids' other bioparent is absent),
Why? Typical co-parents and relatives who don't accept their
group identity won't really be motivated to discern and change their
myths into realistic expectations. This - with other
promotes significant stress in and between co-parenting homes, and
possible eventual re/divorce.
Clarify and illustrate the
concept of a "family identity" as needed, and confirm clients understand the concept.
Ask clients to define what a
is, and affirm or correct their
definition as needed. Options - if useful, add
definitions of a simple stepfamily (only one partner has prior
kids) and complex or blended stepfamily (both mates have prior
Use their (amended?) definition to
propose that their related adults and kids are members of a normal
multi-home stepfamily, and resolve any questions or reservations
they may have. If any client adults are ambivalent about or
firmly reject their
identity as a stepfamily, repeat Project-3
interventions as needed.
co-parents to (a) study stepfamily
and development phases,
and to (b) apply their learnings to their unique stepfamily.
Why? client adults need to do this to understand and accept the
difference between common stepfamily myths (unrealistic
expectations) and typical realities. To do this, they need an
accurate knowledge of how their stepfamily differs from typical or
idealized intact biofamilies.
Describe the US (re)divorce epidemic
and the five common re/marital
and (b) assess the clients' reaction to these. Indifference, deflection,
discounting. and/or intellectualizing suggests false-self dominance in one
or more client adults;
Review typical stepfamily
& with intact
If you haven't done so recently, facilitate (a) co-parent-couples agreeing on their long-term family
priorities, and (b) resolving any significant conflicts over them
- specially inevitable
Why? Because an essential for long-term re/marital
and stepfamily success is couples consistently agreeing that
integrities and wholistic health come first, their relationship
second, and all else third, except in emergencies. Living by other
priorities (e.g. "My kids will always come first") risks significant
denial of some challenging stepfamily realities, like "As a
remarried bioparent, I must repeatedly face loyalty conflicts which
require me to choose between my marriage and my kids." (Ref.
this article and intervention
Ask each partner to describe their
mate's recent basic life priorities, as judged by their actions,
not their words. Illustrate this as necessary, ("For example, common
priorities are physical and mental health, job and career, money
management, friends and socializing, worship and spiritual growth, raising
and enjoying kids, and home and grounds.") Then ask the other partner to
comment ("So do you agree with you partner's perception?"
Outline the three-tier priority
scheme above and illustrate it as necessary. Propose that if either
mate often ranks anything as more important than (a) their personal
and (b) their primary relationship, they risk eroding the relationship,
increasing family-wide stress, and eventual psychological or legal divorce.
Note that this risk justifies
intentionally helping each other stay aware of their demonstrated priorities
over time, and confronting any related problems honestly and
promptly. ("Pat, I'm feeling increasingly concerned and resentful because
you're putting more energy into relating to your sister than to me.")
Ask the clients' reactions to this proposal, and to use it to reevaluate
their recent priorities.
Note that true resolution of life-priority disputes requires (a) both
to be guiding their personalities (Lesson 1), (b) fluency in the Lesson-2
and an effective joint strategy on spotting and solving
values conflicts. Option -
discuss clients' status with these three factors, and intervene as
Summarize the benefits of Lesson 7, and clarify, assess, and
correct client expectations on the topics below as appropriate.
Why? to provide rationale, motivation, and opportunity for
clients to convert common stepfamily myths into realistic
expectations, and minimize significant family stress.
Review the five common stepfamily
and 7 self-improvement
as needed. Option - refer clients to this slide presentation on
stepfamily basics, and discuss and
Propose that co-parents' and supporters' personal attitudes about key
subjects will shape their expectations and behaviors. Then review these
one at a time, note client reactions, and intervene as appropriate.
clients to (or provide a copy of
this article and checklist of common
stepfamily myths and realities, and discuss it thoroughly. This will
probably take several client sessions. An ecological way of transferring
this knowledge is via a seminar or class for stepfamily adults.
correct client expectations on (a) merging
biofamilies, and (b) evolving a high-nurturance
("functional") multi-home stepfamily.
Typical stepfamily adults and supporters significantly
underestimate or deny the
and duration of merging their three or more
co-parent families over many years. They also have vague or
simplistic views of (a) what their
(to consistently nurture all members well enough, in a changing
world), and (b) the specific factors that promote this. This is
specially true for average unrecovering
(GWCs). The myth to correct here is "Creating a stepfamily is
about the same as evolving a normal (bio)family, and we know how to
do that well enough."
Review typical stepfamily developmental paths
note client reactions to this (e.g. agreement, conflict, discounting, or
rejection), and intervene as needed;.
Review the 16 things typical new-stepfamily adults and kids need to
over four or more years, and the value of an intentional
among all family adults and supporters. Note client reactions, and
intervene as appropriate;
Option - ask clients to describe...
where their nuclear stepfamily is on the
merger continuum of one (we haven't started) to ten (we're essentially done),
one topic at a time;
whether their co-parents have a consensual
merger plan (expect "No"); and...
what specific factors help and hinder their merger
what the clients expect to accomplish with their
stepfamily long term, and - if appropriate - review the concept and
benefits of a family
(Project 6). Expect typical clients to be vague,
superficial, unmotivated on this.
Suggest that all families exist to nurture their members -
i.e. to fill many or most of their current
personal and group
Then describe and illustrate the concept of
"family nurturance level"
- e.g. ask clients to think of their own childhood families. See
if the clients agree with the concept and how they feel about it.
Propose that any family - like the client's - can be ranked somewhere
on a continuum of low-nurturance to high-nurturance.
Offer the client this
proposing key traits of a high-nurturance family, and discuss it. Option - ask each adult what they think their childhood caregivers would
say to this concept and trait summary.
if co-parents are (a) guided by their
(Lesson 1) and (b) armed with accurate knowledge of stepfamily norms and realistic
expectations (intervention 4-2), they
can help each other merge their biofamilies and develop a high-nurturance, multi-home stepfamily.
Discuss and illustrate this as appropriate, and discuss the client's
Option - review (a) typical kids'
needs, and (b) typical stepfamily adults' merger-related
needs. Tailor these to fit the client, and propose that these comprise most
of the basic needs their co-parents need to fill as they merge - i.e. the
needs that will determine their stepfamily's nurturance level, over time.
correct client expectations about
requisites for a
healthy couple relationship
It's widely estimated over half of typical US re/marriages -
specially in stepfamilies - fail psychologically and legally. Key
reasons are that typical needy, over-busy, wounded partners (a) make
unwise courtship choices, (b) don't give their primary relationship
consistently-high priority, and (c) aren't able to think,
communicate, and problem-solve effectively. The myth to
correct here is "Our maturity, experience, and love will
automatically overcome all major relationship problems."
Ask each client adult to describe the key factors that promote a
healthy, satisfying primary relationship.
with them, noting respectfully how it compares to the factors they
described. Expect clients to be startled and perhaps uneasy.
Review, tailor, and discuss these typical surface and primary
that combine to stress stepfamily-couple relationships as they merge their
biofamilies and develop their roles and rituals;
the concept of false self
(GWCs) as appropriate, and how that may
their stepfamily-couple (and other) relationships. Then ask client
co-parents if they have honestly
for these wounds, and if so, whether they're in proactive
from them. If not, consider switching to
Option - invite couples to thoughtfully fill out and discuss
of relationship strengths and stressors.
discuss and assess whether client
couples appreciate the importance of helping each other patiently learn and
practice effective communication and problem-solving skills (Lesson 2) to
nourish their key relationships.
Ask couples whether anything has changed for them (after these
interventions) about what's needed to nourish healthy long-term primary
relationship in their stepfamily. If not, suspect a false self rules one or
more client adults.
(for courting clients), and/or
(for all committed couples). If appropriate, shift to
Project 7 or 8 interventions.
Follow up in future sessions to see if client couples are practicing
the priority hierarchy proposed here - specially with the loyalty and values
conflicts they are experiencing..
correct client expectations on stepparent and
stepchild roles, titles, names, and relationships as needed.
Typical stepfamily adults and supporters have vague or distorted
ideas (unrealistic expectations) about these topics, which promote
misunderstandings, conflicts, self-doubts, and frustrations in and
between related homes. in particular, they may mistakenly expect
stepparents and stepkids to
love each other like healthy
Review, illustrate, and discuss the concept of family roles and
rules. Option - note that these are two key elements in any human
group (system) which shape it's nurturance level.
Ask client adults and kids to describe the role (main
responsibilities of) an
If appropriate, suggest that the main responsibilities are to...
know, assess, and patiently fill dependent kids' main current
intentionally balancing other dynamic current responsibilities
valuing and filling their own current
Ask clients to (a) define what a "stepparent" (role) is, and to (b)
summarize the main differences between the typical roles of bioparent
and stepparent. Propose that their goals are similar, and
the environments around
adults choosing these complex roles can differ in up to
Note whether client adults agree on this or not. If they don't, decide
whether to refocus on resolving this important
now or later.
Ask clients to discuss the traits of (a) an effective stepparent, and
(b) a responsible stepchild. Expect them to be vague and superficial on
this, and clarify as needed.
Option - (a) review these basic considerations
about stepparent - stepchild relationships, and (b) ask for (and assess)
clients' reactions (harmonious - conflictual). Give special emphasis to the
unrealistic expectation that stepkids, stepparents, and step-grandparents
(or other relatives) must love
right away. (Reality - strive for
mutual respect, and hope that some genuine (vs. dutiful)
degree of love will evolve over time.
the client family has adult stepkids, assess each co-parent's opinion about
what their family roles should be, and what to title and call each one. Option - give the clients a copy of this
and discuss it with them.
the importance of stepfamily members agreeing on (a) what to call (title)
and (b) what first and last
to call each other. Option - note that members' names and role-titles
are elements of their family system which can promote intra and inter-home
harmony or discord.
If appropriate, review these pros
and cons of legal stepchild
and discuss how they relate to the clients' family now. Assess
whether this topic is causing any significant loyalty and/or values
conflicts in and between client family members, and if so, how
client co-parents are trying to handle those. Coach them on these
using Lesson-2 interventions as needed.
Discuss how client adults can best teach kids and supporters what
they're learning here, and who's responsible for doing this with each
Follow up to see if client adults are promoting their family members
forming and using (a) healthy attitudes about, and (b) realistic
expectations of each other relative to their stepparent-stepchild roles,
titles, and names. If not, suspect false-self dominance and wounds in one or
more co-parents, intervene as appropriate.
with more Project-4 interventions on page 2
+ + +