- evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily
Why and How to Make
parenting "Job Descriptions"
By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
NSRC Experts Council
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This is one of a series of lesson-7 articles
on how to evolve a
stepfamily. These articles augment, vs.
professional help. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents"
means any of the
related stepparents and bioparents managing a multi-home nuclear
than average intact biofamilies, yet co-parents rarely try to
define who's responsible for providing specific nurturances. That leads to
confusions and conflicts, which lowers their homes' and stepfamily's
This article describes and illustrates a co-parent "job description" which
aims to identify specific child-raising responsibilities.
The article assumes you're familiar with...
a "Co-parent Job Description"?
It's a brief document that clearly describes
what a stepparent or bioparent in a stepfamily is "supposed to" do. Adults and kids who
(a) aren't clear
(b) who's responsibilities don't match their
abilities, usually experience "role stress" (anxiety.) All new stepfamily
members are at risk of this, including co-grandparents and other kin!
Co-Parent Job Descriptions Helpful?
Average stepfamilies have several dependent kids living in two or more homes, with
adults trying to
fill the kids' developmental and special
needs well enough. Such families often don't stabilize for four or more years
after re/wedding - and some never do. Kids need
effective adult nurturing while this is happening. This is often
confusing, stressful work, because...
minor stepkids have over
30 adjustment needs to fill
that biofamily peers don't. Most co-parents can't name them;
average re/wedded co-parents discover up to
30 adjustment tasks they must work at
patiently together while learning to co-parent together;
co-parents have very different child-raising standards,
typical stepfamily adults don'/t know what
being in a stepfamily means, and have unrealistic expectations of
themselves and each other;
most new stepmoms and stepdads
don't know what they're "supposed to" do with
their new mate's children; and..
While stepparents' child-rearing goals
are similar to bioparents, their family and social
environments can differ from intact biofamilies in dozens of
- In many post-divorce stepfamilies, bioparenting is often regulated by
and custody decrees. These documents often define who can do what
parenting and when - and rarely include stepparent's
stepfamily co-parenting can
be unusually confusing and frustrating, which
Under the right circumstances, agreeing on clear parental job
descriptions can help minimize this stress.
Co-parent job descriptions can range from useless to effective. How can you
achieve the latter?
Effective Co-parent Job Descriptions
effective means "clearly promoting family harmony and
consistently helping adults to fill their and their kids' current and
long-term needs well enough."
Initially, all three or more related co-parents need
Acknowledge the need to guard their
family and descendents from the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle;
Study and discuss at least Lessons 5,
6, and 7 here. All 7 Lessons is better;
Agree that they...
all belong to the same
(vs. two or three separate
"families"), and that they...
caregiving teammates seeking to maintain their respective kids'
growth, and eventual successful
Then based on these, evolve a meaningful
co-parents master these challenging steps enough over some months,
ready to negotiate useful co-parenting job descriptions.
Job descriptions are like mission
statements in that they clearly declare basic values and goals. They differ in that they
include more detail, and they may describe goals over a specific time period. The basic values
and goals in a finished job description probably won't change too much.
Specific short-term objectives will need to be updated regularly.
your family mission statement, co-parenting job descriptions will (ideally) be discussed
thoroly with every affected person. A stepparent's job description, then, should include the thoughtful input and
suggestions of at least all (older) kids
and other co-parents involved.
Re/wedded mates may make
separate goal statements for their marriage relationship, and for co-managing
their home. If this was true in the job description sample below, it would be shorter,
because the first two parts of the job description would be in these separate statements.
optional third document is a specific strategy or plan to reach the main goals
in the stepfamily job descriptions. Plans may be blended into the latter or may stand
this sounds like a lot of work - it IS! Co-managing an average
multi-home stepfamily effectively is complex, confusing, demanding, and often
conflictual, for many years. The eventual rewards of this long-term challenge are
priceless: healthy, productive, independent young adults; flourishing
re/marriages; and contented,
proud co-parents and relatives.
What does a
co-parent (vs. stepparent) job description look like? Here's a...
Sample: A Biofather/Stepfather's
This example shows the most complex
case. It has four parts:
Common Parenting Goals," and specific...
goals for this man's live-in stepdaughter Ann (12), and...
targets for his genetic son Alex (15).
This stepdad/biodad tries to balance
his job description between
being general enough to allow flexibility, and being specific enough to provide clear
Martha is the stepdad's wife, Ann's custodial
Rick is Martha's ex husband, Ann's biofather;
Alex lives with his single biomom
Confusing, isn't it? Both kids live with
their biological mothers, and visit their father periodically.
As you read this, note which parts you agree with and
feel good about, and why - and which youd do differently. There is no right
way! Keep in mind "co-parent"
and "stepparent" are roles,
+ + +
My Co-parenting Job
1) My Basic Principles
I will be true to
my Higher Power and my
Self before all others.
Keeping my Self healthy and bal-anced is one of the greatest gifts I can give to Martha,
Ann, and Alex. I'm responsible for doing so;
I choose this job of co-parent
(biofather/stepfather) in our three-home stepfamily, and I take it
I accept Rick and Nina as
fully equal co-parenting partners with Martha and me, even though we
don't always agree with their values or choices.
Martha and I
share responsibility for providing a
safe and healthy home for all under our roof. I will never consciously cause or allow
verbal, emotional, physical, or spiritual
three related homes.
My overall responsibility to Ann and Alex is to
nurture, protect, and encourage them as valuable, unique people, in cooperation with
Martha, Nina, and Rick.
When people can't
agree in and between our three homes,
my marriage commitment to Martha
will usually come
all else except my wholistic health and
integrity. I ask and expect the same priority from Martha. I pledge my part
in protecting us all from redivorce. My loving bond with my son Alex will never break. My growing
bonds with Martha and Ann are different and less sure.
I will strive to stay clear on what an
is in our
multi-home stepfamily, and will steadily work for excellence in this job, within my and
As a co-parent, I am a willing, temporary caregiver,
guide, and protector for Alex and Ann - not an owner or a buddy.
Because I co-conceived him, and have known and nurtured Alex
longer, I share more responsibility for his values and choices than I do for
Ann's. I will become more responsible for Ann as we all build our stepfamily together.
To me, "parental
consistently prizing and nurturing the spirit, talents, dreams, and uniqueness of any
child. In this sense, I love Ann and Alex equally. Because Alex carries my genes, name,
features, and lineage, I also love him deeply in a different way.
Nina and I are jointly responsible for major co-parenting
decisions about Alex. Martha and Rick are primarily responsible for major co-parenting
decisions about my stepdaughter Ann. Martha and I can advise each other on such decisions, where helpful.
I share equal responsibility with Martha for daily living decisions in our home.
I respect Alex's and Ann's grandparents and relatives
as valued, special partners in our
I respect their
rights to know about and contribute to Alex and Ann's welfare. I may - but
don't have to - follow their counsel. Martha may have a different view on
I will never try to take Rick's place as Ann's
biofather. I do fathering "things" with and for her every day. I will do
what I can to respect and promote a healthy, loving relationship between Ann and Rick. If
I feel Rick's actions seriously harm or threaten Ann, I will speak my opinion clearly and
promptly, and seek peaceful change together with Martha.
In guiding and protecting Ann, I acknowledge the real
limits on me that exist in Martha and Rick's divorce decree. I claim the right to
disagree with those limits, and to work cooperatively and within the law to change them,
if Martha and I agree that would help Ann.
I accept my shared
responsibility in protecting us all - and any unborn kids - from
inheri-ting the toxic [wounds + unawareness]
I believe Alex and Ann each have the right to live
at some time with their other bioparent if (a) they want to and (b) all adults affected by
such a change agree on it;
I'm open to constructive ideas from other people
about my co-parenting job. I am responsible for making,
updating, and acting on this statement to be the best co-parent I can be.
I've never been in a stepfamily, so I'll make mistakes as I learn how to be
an effective stepfather. That's OK, as long as I learn from them and
apologize where needed!
Pause and reflect - how do you feel about this man's declaration of
his co-parental values? What would your
declaration look like?
2) My General Co-parenting
To free my
to guide me in patiently growing a high-nurturance stepfamily;
a safe and loving home with Martha,
with enough clothing, healthy food, spiritual and medical care, comfort, space, laughter,
and peace for us all;
To love Alex, Ann, my adult partners, and my Self
as human beings equally and uncondi-tionally (where possible), and to
be gentle with my Self and them those times that I fail;
To set and enforce clear limits with other
stepfamily members that allow Martha and me our own spaces, privacies, friends, and
interests separate from theirs;
To help our (and other) kids learn about
our Higher Power
and their own
and encourage them to form their own healthy
To help Alex and Ann discover what their special
gifts are and how to grow and use them in a safe and balanced way;
To help Ann and Alex to grow (a) unwavering Self love,
Self respect, and Self confidence in any life situation; and grow (b)
the motivation and
ways to bring these out in others;
To set the best examples for the kids I can by
consistently practicing what I preach. I'm specially dedicated to
showing them with Martha what a healthy marriage looks and sounds like!
To work patiently towards acceptable compromises
we have values and loyalty conflicts.
More co-parenting goals: I want...
learn how to
and to forge a
home and family with Martha;
To let Martha, Nina, and Rick know clearly and promptly if
I have a co-parenting problem, and then ask their help, and/or resolve it with
To thank Martha, Rick, and Nina for their co-parenting
efforts and support periodically, and thank the kids when they cooperate, try, or go
above and beyond;
To ask Martha and Rick
periodically if they're feeling enough
co-parenting support from me. If they aren't, learn clearly what they
from me; rather than going through Martha, Nina, or Rick.
I'm responsible for keeping my co-parents
partners informed enough;
To merit my own and others respect
steadily acting on my co-parenting principles. This includes standing up firmly for
my own rights as a person and co-parent, and drawing
on what behaviors I will
and won't tolerate;
To periodically spend fun time with each
To encourage each child to ask questions, and take
safe-enough risks without
To take a genuine interest in who Alex and Ann care
about and what they hope for, where I can - and be honest when I can't without undue
guilt. With my partners and their schools, teach Ann and Alex safe practices around
drugs (including food), sex, and money, when that's timely;
To never use the kids to fill my
personal needs, other than
asking for reasonable help in our home;
Get clearer on what "effective
means in our three-home stepfamily, and strive for it cooperatively with my partners.
I want Ann and Alex to always know clearly what our main house rules
are, and what
will happen (consequences) if they choose to not follow them;
If any of us co-parents disagree on house rules,
my goal is to resolve this without catching the kids
Rick and Nina have the
right to choose different house rules than we do - even though
this is hard at times on Ann and
To practice our Family Filharmonic Orchestra
regularly - we can be great!
To learn with Martha by February if there's a
stepfamily support group we could try out, and to do so;
To not take my
overlapping jobs as biofather and
stepfather too seriously!
To review this statement at least twice
a year with
Martha, Rick, Nina, Alex, and Ann to keep it current, known, and working.
+ + +
A sample stepdad/biodad job description, continued...
3) My Goals For My Stepdaughter
1) Remind myself regularly of the gifts,
joys, and opportunities she brings into my life, to balance the hassles!
2) Watch for chances to validate Ann's achievements, no matter how small.
Let her know clearly I think she's special when I'm feeling that;
3) With Martha, help Ann learn to channel her anger instead of exploding.
If no progress by summer, talk about
for her (all of us?) with Martha and
4) Learn "what's normal" (!) from other parents of
old girls - specially from other step and biofa-thers, including Dad and Martha's
5) Read at least two how-to stepfathering
books by August;
6) Reduce our hassles about TV limits soon!
7) Don't get hooked in when Martha and Rick disagree over Ann, unless they ask
me for input or sup-port;
8) Stop expecting Martha to discipline the way
I do. Work patiently towards compromises and consis-tency together;
9) Remind myself when unsure that
I am the co-leader of this home, and as
such, I have equal rights with Martha to provide limits
and consequences for Ann here;
10) Try to accept that - though I do more fathering things than Rick can - Ann's
natural loyalty will be to him. This has little to do with my worth as a person
or in my role as stepfather;
11) Negotiate a compromise about Ann's church attendance
with Martha and her parents. Keep what's best for our marriage
long-range clearly in mind;
12) Rethink my objections to a step-rabbit ...
13) Don't get hooked when Ann accuses me of being
unfair - try to see
her side of this;
14) Split family taxi services with Martha without griping (too much);
15) When we have problems with Ann's
visitations, consider Ann's and
needs equally with Mar-tha's and mine;
16) Stay informed on Ann's school grades, projects, and activities,
and help where I can. Make an ho-nest effort to go to all parent/teacher conferences with
17) Build a "Phantom Five" clubhouse in the back yard with
Ann and her friends by May. See if Rick or Martha want to help;
18) Support Ann in her Youth Group activities;
19) By 4/31, get clear with my Self, then Martha on whether Ill
contribute to Ann's college fund. If so, decide when and how much. Tell Rick
and Nina. I want both kids to have an excellent education!
20) By October: think through how I want to provide for Ann, discuss with
Martha, and revise my will. Tell Alex, Nina, and Rick.
21) Give my Self permission to flex on any of these, or add new
goals, as our year unfolds!
Sample Biofather/Stepfather "job description," concluded...
4) My Goals For My Son
1) See or talk to him at least once a week
- and don't try "too hard" when we're together;
2) Remember to tell him often how much I love him and how special he
is, instead of assuming that he knows this;
3) Accept joint responsibility with Nina for working on
healing our divorce conflicts without involving Alex;
4) Work with Nina and Alex toward
of our conflicts on Alex's dental work, weight, al-lowance, learning to
drive, and smoking. Include Martha's suggestions on each of these;
5) With Nina,
make sure Alex knows clearly, within limits and without
blaming her or me, why we divor-ced, and why we'll never get back
together. Ask his feelings about these. If he gives them, try to listen non-defensively.
This is really scary!;
6) Enforce healthy limits for Alex along with Martha and Nina, in
spite of the
and sorrow I feel
from our divorce and my remarriage;
7) With Nina, find out about the
program at school, and encourage Alex to participate if he's ready; (note:
"Rainbows" is a supervised peer-support program sponsored by some schools and
chur-ches to help kids of divorce or parental death understand and mourn their
8) Accept that Alex and Martha don't
love each other the way I
wish they could, and that it's enough to grow mutual respect for now. This is hard!;
9) Remember that Martha's never been a stepmom before, that she's
learning how, and will make mis-takes just like I do. Get clear by June on what we each
expect of her as Alex's stepmother. Learn Alex's, Ann's, and Ninas feelings on this.
I hope Martha writes her own co-parenting job description by midyear;
10) Within limits, tell Alex my daily feelings, dreams, and problems -
informationally, not as a pal, whi-ner, or dependent. I want him to know what being an
adult man, husband, and father is like, and help him grow healthy images of them;
11) See that Alex, I, Jack, and Dad get some "guy" times
together this year - at least once a quarter. I take responsibility for initiating
12) Stay out of
of Alex and Martha, Alex and Nina, Martha and
Nina, and Ann and Alex when I can. When I can't - and compromises don't work for everyone
- nurturing our marriage will come
before everything but my wholistic health and integrity with me, often enough for Martha;
13) Pay regular and special financial support on time. Honor my half
of the parenting agreement Nina and I worked out. Work with her peacefully for change if
it becomes outdated;
14) Help Alex feel truly welcome and a full member of our home when he
That includes both pri-vileges and chores!
15) When we have problems with Alex's visitations, try to balance his, Ninas,
and Ann's needs equally with ours;
16) Stay informed on Alex's school grades, projects, and activities.
Attend all parent / teacher confer-ences with Nina, and his ball games when I can. GO
17) Support Alex's Outward Bound trip in June, and football camp in July.
Coordinate our August vaca-tion plans with Nina with enough lead time.
I freely choose to work hard toward these
co-parenting targets, balanced with the other responsi-bilities and goals in my life. I'm (usually) glad
for the chance to do them!
+ + +
Notice your thoughts and feelings
now. Clearly, this step/father didn't just dash this job
description off without a lot of reflection and soul searching!
What does this document say to you about this man's priorities?
How do you think his wife, ex
mate, and Ann and Alex would feel about his writing this?
Do you think a job description
like this would stress or strengthen their re/marriage and three-home nuclear
What would help this man
this declaration regularly? What might hinder him?
What if the other co-parents had
similar job descriptions - and used them?
How might your life be different
if your parent/s had written and used such a job description? Your
Note that this accountability declaration is meant as a
guideline, not a legal
decree. Unless this stepfather is a rigid perfectionist, he can aim to meet as many of
these objectives as he can, not all of them, since Life always throws curve
balls. Note that some co-parents' job descriptions would be shorter
than this one, because they wouldn't have both bioparent and stepparent
Is anything in the way of writing some kind of co-parenting job (role) description like
this four-part sample?
This Lesson-7 article proposes that raising kids effectively in
typical stepfamilies is much more complex than in typical intact
The article suggests that a way to manage this complexity is for stepparents
and bioparents ("co-parents") is to evolve and use a "job description" to
clarify which family adult is responsible for what, for nurturing each minor child.
defines a (family) "job description," and summarizes requisites for making
one that is effective. The rest of the article is an example of a
stepfather/biofather's four-part job description.
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get
what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your
Keep studying Lesson 7!
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