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This is one of a series of lesson-7 articles
on howtoevolve a
high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both
bioparents, or any of the
three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home
article assumes you're familiar with....
the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises
This article suggests questions stepfamily adults and
supporters should research about the kids in their stepfamily. Typically,
they don't know what they need to know
about (a) their kids' normal and special needs, and (b) how to fill them effectively.
This brief YouTube video offers perspective on the needs of typical kids in
families. The video mentions eight lessons in this Web site - I've
simplified that to seven.
Links below lead to brief answers to
each question and to articles with more detail. These answers are based on
my 36 years' clinical research, work with members of over 500 typical
Midwestern-U.S. stepfamilies, and my own experience as a stepfather and an adult
I suggest you scan all the
questions before following any links.
Questions You Should Ask about Stepchildren
1) Do (a) typical children of
divorce and (b) kids raised in
stepfamilies "turn out" as well as kids growing up in intact biofamilies?
2) Do typical stepkids have
special needs, compared to intact-biofamily kids?
3) Can typical stepchildren learn
to love a stepmother or stepfather like a bioparent?
4) Is there a
best time for a
minor child's single bioparent to start dating? To re/marry?
5) Why do some stepkids
nicest stepparents and/or step-relatives? Who's responsible for reducing this,
and how can they do so?
There are also many variables researchers
to compare intact biofamilies with other types of family. For example...
parent's age at marriage
average annual income
parent's ethnic background
urban, suburban, or rural
parent's education level
parents' religious preference
closeness of extended family
the number of kids, and parents' ages
Because family researchers don't agree on which criteria to use,
studies on whether children of divorcing parents or
stepfamily co-parents "turn out" as well as average intact-biofamily kids
result in "yes" to "it depends on..." to "no."
36 years' clinical research, I propose...
there are specific
factors that affect the
nurturance level of any family - i.e. how well members fill each others'
adult children from
high-nurturance families seem to have fewer health, relationship, financial, and
occupational "problems" than kids raised in low-nurturance families.
multi-year UCLA study of studies appears
to validate this;
without significant true
recovery, wounded co-parents tend to choose each other repeatedly to form stepfamilies;
typical U.S. divorcing families and stepfamilies seem to have lower nurturance levels than intact
biofamilies, and stepfamily mates may legally
So I propose that...
kids of parental
divorce and re/marriage have higher odds of sustaining significant
wounds than peers in
intact high-nurturance biofamilies.
Bottom line: using
psychological wounds as a yardstick,
I suspect that average American kids of parental divorce and re/marriage
not"turn out as well" as kids raised in
high-nurturance intact biofamilies.
Implications: co-parents, churches, human-service professionals, and family-law legislators need to...
young adults to want to...
understand this toxic
that threatens them and any descendents,
resources to help young parents to do that;
and they need to...
first-marriages and unqualified child
This non-profit Web site and its
guidebooks promote these
If you know anyone considering
first marriage or re/marriage, urge them to (a) heed these
danger signs, (b)
for psychological wounds, and then (c) commit to studying
these Lessons before
saying "I do"!
Q3)Can typical stepchildren learn
to love a stepmother or stepfather like a bioparent?
Ask ten people to define "love" between a parent and a child, and
expect ten different answers. The intense interest, caring, and affection that
matures over years between well-bonded bioparents and children is hard to
define and quantify. Opinions vary on whether the bond betweenwholistically-healthy(unw3ounded) biochildren and their parentsare the same as
Depending on many factors,
typical stepchildren may develop genuine respect,
trust, friendship, caring for (bondswith) a stepfather or stepmother, and vice versa. Because such duos
no genetic and ancestral connections,
no shared infantile-dependency
acceptance than bioparents and kids,
...the best stepparent - stepchild bonds can approach the feeling of
bioparent-biochild love, but usually can't duplicate it. This difference
is intellectual and trivial for some people.
People who expect stepparents and stepkids to
develop respect and
liking for each other over time ("friendship") are less apt to feel
frustration than the
step-adults who believe they
must love each other like bioparents and kids.
Demanding that people feel and express "love" is a
Such demands suggests major psychological
wounding, and guarantee significant
pretense, frustration, guilt, anxiety, and shame.
Most informed stepfamily
commentators warn against embracing the myth of "instant love." This is
best known of ~60 common
misconceptions about typical stepfamily structures, roles, relationships, and development.
Most divorce-recovery literature suggests that starting to date
seriously within 12 to 18 months after marital separation or mate death risks
(a) too little
grief and personal stability,
(b) making unbalanced (over-needy) relationship and
priority decisions, and (c) stressing all well-bonded family kids and adults.
My clinical experience suggests that
commitment to a new partner and/or
cohabiting in less than ~24 months after a mate's funeral or a legal divorce
decree steeply risks future re/divorce. Every adult
and child has a unique style and pace of mourning their major
the "safe" number of months is directly proportional to the slowest griever
among ex mates and each of their minor or grown children.
Typical co-parents who date seriously or re/commit too
quickly are usually...
survivors of a low-nurturance
first marriage, who are...
ruled by needy
focused on immediate
satisfaction rather than making wise wide-angle, long-range life
decisions for them and their minor kids.
more perspective on this complex right-time question, see this
Why do some stepkids
nicest stepparents and/or step-relatives? Who's responsible for reducing this,
and how can they do so?
Typical new stepmoms
and stepdads are at their cordial, friendly best with their partner's kids,
only to receive grunts, no eye contact, sullen shrugs, and hurtful avoidances
Stepkids' cold shoulders can extend to stepsiblings and the
warmest step-relatives, despite parental requests, lectures, or attempts to
Steppeople can react from amusement to puzzlement to self-doubt
to hurt to resentment - specially if the "rude" stepchild behavior persists despite
respectful confrontations and friendly overtures.
Adults may err by
unconsciously using traditional biofamily behavioral
expectations to gauge their stepkids' attitudes and
There are several possible causes for
stepchild "rejections." Partners understanding
and accepting them can ease tensions, shift expectations, and open up new
long-term options. Common causes include...
the child is temporarily overwhelmedby
local changes in their body, social circle, school, and family circumstances.
Typical minor stepkids can't articulate their daunting mix of overlapping
They depend on their co-parents
to know and empathically help with these, while the adults fill their own
needs and manage family changes effectively; and/or...
stepchild is grieving of two or more
lossesand their anger,
indifference, or hostility are normal symptoms of that healing process. Grief is an
automatic mental + psychological + spiritualresponse, so
lecturing, pleading, hinting,
preaching, demanding, or explaining
will probably hinder or block it and cause other problems.
A more helpful
adult reaction is to want to learn good-grief
basics and intentionally provide a
pro-grief environment in
their related stepfamily homes - i.e. work on co-parent
Lesson 3 together and alert other relatives to
it. Can you describe your family's present
Does it encourage healthy mourning in your adults and kids?
Other possible causes of stepchild rejection include...
the child may be unconsciously
testing for reassurance that their re/marrying bioparent won't abandon them or "demote
them" relative to the new steppeople. Where this is
reassurance of parental love and concern is of little value in quelling this
instinctive anxiety. Actions count much more.
the child feels caught in one or more
relationship triangles, and
their behavior is their way of protesting and expressing their confusion,
guilt, anxiety, and frustration. This is specially likely if the child's other
bioparent or a key relative rejects their stepfamily
identity or ignores
s/he dislikes, resents,
disrespects, or fears the steppeople.
How can co-parents best help
stepsiblings adjust to
and bond with each other?
One of the many
differences among typical stepfamilies is the mix of stepbrothers,
step-sisters, and "ours" children. Some new stepkids are used to being an only
child. Others have never had a (step)sister or (step)brother before.
others have never had teen or grown siblings before their parent re/married
and cohabited. While your circumstances are unique,
there are some
you co-parents can do to help your kids adjust to each other well and promote
bonding among them over time. Follow
Is there anything different about
child discipline in a multi-home nuclear stepfamily?
goalsof child discipline are usually the same in any home
or family: to guide, instruct, and protect children, and preserve local order
and comfort. However, there can be up
to 21 concurrent environmental
differences between child discipline in intact biofamilies and in
Q8)How can co-parents best resolve
a stepchild's accusation of unfair or
When a stepchild persistently accuses a
co-parent of "unfair" or "mean" discipline,
one or more of
these may be occurring:
the child is insecure, and is semi-consciously
testing to see who their bioparent (or someone else) supports. If the
child gets enough credible behavioral (vs. verbal) reassurance that s/he is still important
enough to her or his bioparent, the accusations should dwindle; and/ or...
the stepparent is setting firmer
the child is used to, and the child is protesting the loss of some former
freedoms or permissions; and/or...
theway the stepparent is setting limits
demanding, over-explaining, blaming, comparing to another child
(shaming), threatening, lecturing, etc.] legitimately bothers the child, and
s/he cannot describe these irritants or what s/he needs; and/or...
the child feels the consequences of rule-breaking are too harsh; and/or...
the child hasn't
grieved enough, so s/he hasn't
accepted that the stepparent has the right to set family limits and enforce
the stepparent has been too vague or ambiguous
in describing limits or consequences, so "unfair" means unclear;
the child feels caught in
one or more
loyalty conflicts or relationship
triangles, and has no
concepts or words to describe that, or
what s/he needs; and/or...
the child feels bored, and likes generating
conflict (excitement) and feeling powerful, and/ or...
the stepchild feels
unheard by the stepparent (i.e.
and frustrated); and/or...
a mix of these, or something else.
theme of all these is that "mean" or "unfair" discipline is
not the real issue, but the child can't -
or feels unsafe to - say what s/he really feels or needs.
See this for more perspective and options on resolving
What is a "half brother" or "half
sister"? Are they a "stepchild"?
A halfbrother or halfsister has the
same mother or father but a different father or mother than their siblings.
This can occur when a re/married parent conceives a child with
new mate. Half of such children's genes are the same as their brothers'
or sisters', and half are different.
Unless stepkids have been legally
last names differ from the
other child/ren, which can be confusing in school, church, and social
circumstances. So can this: if they live with their bioparents, half-siblings
are not stepchildren, though their mom and/or dad may also have the
role of stepparent to resident or visiting stepchildren.
If co-parents and/or relatives aren't clear on these ideas, everyone can feel
confused or conflictual on their stepfamily's - or the half-sibling's -
identity and family
not a real sister, you're only a half sister.") This can promote jealousy,
insecurity, hurt, competition, and significant
loyalty conflicts and relationship
triangles - specially if
co-parents disagree on what's true here and/or who's "right;" and/or the
adults don't know how to
female brains are
neurologically "wired differently" than male brains.
They have different
priorities, and tend to process information organically (see all aspects at
once) rather than "logically" (see things sequentially). Typical female brains prize cooperation, relationships,
feelings, sensing, process, and emotional closeness, while average male brains
care more about logic, competing, action (aggression), order, goals, and
achieving. There are many variations (!)
Second, in their interesting book "Brain Sex - The
Real Difference Between Men and Women" bio-geneticist Anne Moir and David Jessel make a convincing case
that depending on key factors, a male
child may keep his "female brain," or a baby girl may evolve a "male brain."
These may or may not affect the child's gender-identity and sexual preferences.
don't accept this may cause frustration, anxiety, guilt, hurt, and anger by
expecting male behaviors from a boy with a "female brain," or female
behaviors from a girl with a "male brain." Since we aren't born with
brain-labels, co-parents are better off accepting each child for who they seem
to be, rather than trying to force gender-stereotypical behavior on them ["No,
Jerome, (normal) boys don't go to ballet class. Let's see about soccer."];
Third, typical girls mature faster than boys.
Co-parents who don't know or accept this can shame a stepson for "not
being (sensitive, polite, tactful, calm, or cooperative) like your (same-age)
some new stepfamilies, kids are suddenly confronted with living with an
opposite-gender sibling for the first time ("Yesterday, I had two sisters.
Then Mom got married again, so today I have this dorky stepbrother too!")
Such kids may need age-appropriate explanation about normal gender differences
to help them understand and accept each other's feelings, reactions, and
"weird" behaviors and traits.
These points suggest that
co-parents will help each other honor and adapt to the gender differences
in their kids, and not over-focus on role differences (stepson
Can a stepchild's biofamily birth-order be significant in their family roles and what
they need from other members?
Some family-life and child-development researchers believe that
parents should take
birth-order into account in raising each child - specially in nurturing
"problem children." See Living In A Stepfamily Without Getting Stepped On -
Helping Your Children Survive the Birth-order Blender; by Dr. Kevin
Leman for helpful perspective and
be aware that when co-parents each have prior kids and first move in together,
each resident or visiting child will experience a "rank" and identity change
("I've always been the oldest kid in out family. Now I have two older
stepbrothers, so all of a sudden I'm the youngest kid. This feels weird.")
Some children will be indifferent to this. Some will be pleased or relieved. Kids who use
their family rank to bolster their self esteem or security may be
significantly upset by
this rank-change. The latter will need encouragement to
losses as they
adjust to alien stepfamily life.
Can adult stepchildren cause co-parents
can set themselves up for significant conflict and stress in
courtship by assuming "We'll
all come to feel like a regular (bio)family because our kids are grown
and independent." Usually that's only
half true. (The "/" in re/marry notes that it may be a stepparent's
are spared the confusion and
conflict associated with raising minor kids. Often, relations with ex mates
have mellowed or ended, and major disputes over finances, visitations,
custody, health, and education are muted or memories.
However, everyone's need to
grieve many losses
(broken bonds), and the potential for stepfamily
identity, membership, values, loyalty, communication, and financial conflicts is just as great as in
stepfamilies with younger kids. This
stress potential can be greatly reduced if co-parents start working diligently
these Lessons together
well before deciding to exchange commitment vows.
Note also that...
conception of (step)grandchildren,
making or revising
legal wills, and/or...
disabling, or death of a bioparent, ex mate, or adult child (i.e.
activate sets of these divisive stepfamily conflicts even if relations to date
have been cordial enough. This is specially likely if
changes like these are unforeseen or poorly
planned. See this
for more perspective on adult stepchildren.
Q13) One of my stepkids has been
diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and/or Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD / HD). What do
we adults need to know about this?
In my clinical experience since 1981,
ADD and HD seem to be unusually common in
divorcing families and stepfamilies. ADD is characterized
by a chronic difficulty in staying mentally focused, which usually (not always) manifests in
Kids with HD frustrate adults and peers by being in constant
motion, despite (a) their setting (like a classroom, church, or dinner table); or
(b) adult limits and consequences ("I just can't help it, Mom!") The
combination of ADD + HD is specially stressful for the child and people around
not medically trained, and can't evaluate whether these two common stressors
are primarily caused by unbalanced brain functioning or hormones. Often these
conditions do improve with appropriate medication and changes in the
child's social environments. That implies these are genetic or biological
problems. However, for over a decade, I've repeatedly seen that...
typical teachers, tutors, and
psychiatrists don't know this and what it
adults who have trouble
staying focused or quiet are often controlled by conflicted, chaotic
false selves, and don't
know it or what to
do about it; and...
such adults who work patiently at
true Self to
harmonize and lead their team of
personality subselves spontaneously report
improved concentration and focus, less "mind chatter, "nervousness," and
"jumpiness," and more frequent periods of physical and mental calmness.
Implication: if you have an ADD, HD, or ADD/HD child or adult in your
life, consider that chaotic
low-nurturance (chaotic, stressful) family
environment may be promoting these conditions.
If so, prescription medication
treats the symptoms, not the causes. Chemicals may promote a critic
self-concept ("I'm sick - I have a major disease and disability") and an expensive
life-long dependency which unintentionally blocks reduction of significant
Restated: ADD and/or HD in kids may be a symptom of
wounded co-parents and
ancestors ruled by
false selves, rather than a personal medical problem. From
36 years' clinical experience,
I'm convinced that personality subselves regularly affect body
chemistry and function well below conscious awareness.
Research confirms the reality of psychosomatic (psychologically-based)
illness, but clinical awareness of normal personality subselves and their
impacts is just dawning.
Even fewer lay people know about it.
One of my / our stepkids seems
seriously depressed. What can we do to help?
Adult and child
depressionis widespread enough in our
society to justify a multi-million (billion?) dollar treatment, medication,
and advertising industry. Informed opinions range from believing clinical depression is purely biochemical to totally sociological
my clinical experience with hundreds of average
divorcing families and
stepfamilies since 1981, I suggest that
excessive or prolonged...
apathy or listlessness;
sleeping or "lying around;"
repeated anger or weeping outbursts;
of repressive chemicals (like fat, sugar, nicotine, and alcohol); and/or...
disinterest in friends and
normal life activities and pleasures...
are often signs of normal or
incomplete grief, not depression. Note how different it
feels to say "My (step)child is mourning a complex web of major
losses from divorce (or
and our forming a stepfamily," ratherthan "My (step)child is
consider reducing or ending your
family member's dependence on mood-control or anti-depression medication, with
qualified medical supervision.
This mis-diagnosis idea also applies
labeling symptoms as manic
depression, mania, bi-polar disorder, ADD/HD, (some) sleep
disorders, "poor impulse control," Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and similar
Q15) What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and why
should co-parents and family supporters know about it?
RAD is a psychiatric label used primarily with
children who demonstrate a marked inability to form normal emotional
bonds with safe, nurturing caregivers.
recognized and treated effectively, this tragic condition can prevent forming genuine attachments with
some or all adults and children later in life.
Current evidence suggests
that RAD is a sign of profound trauma early in life, where the child did not
experience a reliable nurturing bond with one or more caregivers - i.e. they
survived severe abandonment,
neglect, abuse, addicted or emotionally-unavailable
(wounded) caregivers, and other
trauma - i.e. they survived a very low-nurturance environment.
consistent clinical experience with over 1,000 typical Midwestern-US co-parents since 1981 is
high percentage of American
divorcing-family and stepfamily co-parents
survived low-nurturance (traumatic) childhoods, and choose each other as
partners despite painful
prior experiences with similar
Premise - RAD is probably a symptom of a disorganized
personality ruled by
subselves who learned from experience that bonding with (interest in,
caring about, needing) another person always resulted in agony - e.g.
disappointment + rejection + abandonment + hurt + guilt + anxieties +
shame + rage + despair + injury + overwhelm.
significant number of wounded adults experience serious RAD symptoms as normal.Theydon't know about this inability to bond, what
caused it, or what it means (no real bonding, and resulting emptiness,numbness, and despair - a "hole in the Soul").
This and the other five
psychological wounds strangle their ability to...
form and maintain
healthy primary relationships,
nurture themselves; and...
emotional-spiritual nurturance that adult partners and dependent kids need from
People who say "I love you" without real feeling, "express love
through material things," and
(some) who divorce are probably badly wounded and unaware
If the premises above are true, a vital implication is that
RAD is a family problem (like
addiction), not just a personal disorder. My clinical
experience is that psychological wounds - including
difficulty bonding - can be significantly reduced once the
Lesson 1 in this wound-prevention Web site focuses on an effective way to do
To gauge whether you or someone you care about may have a significant level
of Reactive Attachment Disorder (a
disabled true Self), see
article and symptom checklist,
and these Web sites:
ATTACh - the
Association for Treatment
and Training in the Attachment of Children.