Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily
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Stepfamily Basics

  What Do People (Like You)
 Need to Know?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member, NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/sf/facts.htm

Updated  05-08-2015

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      This is one of a series of lesson-7 articles on how to evolve 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 related stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepamily.  

      One of five reasons for widespread re/divorce is lay and professional unawareness (vs. stupidity). Part of this unawareness is not knowing the stepfamily basics summarized below. Other parts are co-parents and supporters not knowing relationship, communication, and effective-grieving basics. See which of the factors below are new to you, and note your reactions to them...

       If you seek American stepfamily statistics, go here (different Web site). This article is based on my research on U.S. stepfamilies. I suspect these basics apply to other cultures as well.

       To begin, rank yourself now: on a scale of one (I know nothing about stepfamilies) to 10 (I am a highly-qualified stepfamily expert) I am now a ___. 

      This YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight lessons in this educational Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6,

  • the [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and...

  • this example of a real stepfamily

      FROM 36 years' professional research and clinical and personal experience, I offer a summary of important facts (not statistics) about typical multi-home stepfamilies. Step-people and their supporters need to know these facts to form realistic expectations about their roles, relationships, and dynamics.

      Few couples are motivated to learn these facts before committing to form or join a complex, stressful stepfamily. Over half of American remarriers with prior kids ultimately divorce psychologically or legally.

      Before continuing, please tell me a little about your stepfamily. This brief survey is anonymous, and will help me improve online Lesson 7.

      Notice which of these facts differ from what you currently believe...

Key Stepfamily Facts

Our prefix "step-" comes across a thousand years from the Middle English root "stoep." William the Conqueror's subjects used that root to describe "not related by marriage." Shame-based, unaware people dislike "step-" because they associate it with second best, prior marital failure, inferiority, unnatural, abnormal, and unreal. Such people use blended, bonus, woven, bi-nuclear, co-, reconstituted, combined, reconstructed, second (family), and serial and encore (remarriage) to avoid unpleasant reality. Using terms like these promotes toxic denial of stepfamily realities.

A stepfamily has at least one stepmom or stepdad providing part-time or full-time nurturing, protection, and guidance to one or more minor or grown kids conceived by the stepparent's partner and their prior mate.

Stepfamilies are normal. They've been around as long as tribal members raised the children of dead, absent, or disabled bioparents. They've probably been the majority family type across centuries and cultures, until modern health care greatly reduced the global human mortality rate this past century.

There are over 100 structural types of normal multi-home stepfamily, considering combinations of...

  • child custody - sole, joint, physical, and legal;

  • parenthood (no prior kids, one or more prior sons and/or daughters; one or more "ours" kids, or none; prior kids dead; kids dependent or grown; teenagers or none; stepparent adoption or not;...)

  • co-parents' prior marital status - never married, divorcing, redivorced, and/or widowed; and...

  • stepkids' other bioparent's status - living or dead, single and never remarried, single and re/divorced, re/married with or without resident and/or visiting minor/teen/grown stepkids;...

So unlike traditional intact-biofamily members, typical stepfamily adults and kids will never meet people in a similarly-structured family. That often promotes feeling isolated, alone, and "weird." These and adults' psychological wounds can promote harmful denials ("We're not a stepfamily") and repressions. These foster unrealistic expectations, confusions, disappointments, frustrations, and conflicts - i.e. stress.

A "blended" or complex stepfamily is one where each mate has one or more living or dead children from prior unions. In a "simple" stepfamily, only one mate has prior kids. 

Typical multi-home stepfamilies are the same as average intact biofamilies in some ways, and differ in up to 35 structural ways and ~30 unique family-adjustment tasks. The role of stepparent is the same a bioparent in some ways, and different in almost 40 social and environmental ways. Most step-people and supporters are unaware of these combined differences and what they mean.

About 90% of U.S. stepfamilies follow the divorce of one or both new mates. A century ago, ~90% followed the death of one or both mates' prior partners. One implication - most stepfamilies must include the needs, values, and opinions of one or more living ex mates and their relatives.

      More key stepfamily facts....

American stepfamily couples are more apt to differ widely in age, race, religion, ethnic ancestry, financial assets and debts, and educational level than typical first-time couples. Stepfamily wives are more apt to be older than their husbands than in first marriages;

A typical stepchild may...

  • Have three or more co-parents (a divorced biomom and biodad, and a stepmom, stepdad, or both), living in two homes;

  • Have zero to 8 living stepfamily co-grandparents, and a proportionately large number of step-aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives;

  • Have biosiblings, stepsiblings, and/or half-siblings in the same home, in their other bioparent's home, in both, or none of these;

      And a typical stepchild...

  • May be legally adopted by their stepparent or not. Most U.S. stepparents don't adopt;

  • May have the same first name as a stepsibling and/or their same-gender  stepparent, and may have a different last name than their re/married biomother;

  • May receive no bequest if a stepparent dies without a will, even if they were emotionally close for many years;

      And typical stepkids may...

  • Feel sexually attracted (or attractive) to a resident or visiting stepsibling, and/or a young stepparent, because the incest taboo is weaker in average stepfamilies. The odds of American stepdaughter incest by a step-relative are higher than for biodaughters and their biorelatives;

  • Change primary residence to live with their other bioparent sometime before they're 18. This happens in about 30% of typical U.S. stepfamilies, creating waves of emotional, financial, structural, legal and lifestyle changes in and between both homes;

  • Have up to 35 concurrent adjustment needs from childhood trauma, parental divorce and remarriage/s, and becoming a stepchild, on top of normal developmental needs - often with little informed guidance from family adults, teachers, relatives, or others. This significantly complicates effective co-parenting, compared to bioparenting.

      A universal need (for all bonded family members) is to grieve many significant abstract and physical losses (broken bonds) from divorce or death, remarriage, cohabiting, and merging their biofamilies. Kids' mourning progress largely depends on their biofamily's unspoken grieving policy, which can range from healthy to toxic.

The role of stepparent (stepmother, stepfather) can differ from the role if bio(loogical) parent (mom, dad) in up to 40 environmental ways. Stepchild discipline can differ environmentally from normal biofamily discipline in up to 20 ways. Few average stepfamily adults or supporters (e.g. clergy and counselors) can name these differences and facts, and often have unrealistic expectations about stepparenting


       Pause and reflect: how many of these stepfamily facts did you know before you read this? How many typical steppeople and family professionals do you think are aware of them?


      This article summarizes some key facts about typical multi-home stepfamilies. The article exists because most steppeople and supporters are unaware of these facts and form unrealistic expectations, causing significant problems and re/divorce.

      Healthy stepfamilies offer members the same priceless benefits as high-nurturance intact biofamilies. Most people are unaware of vital facts about stepfamily life, so achieving these benefits is very challenging.

      The biggest unawareness is of this lethal cycle and the five hazards it causes! self-improvement Lessons 1-7 here aim to help you guard your family against in inheriting these hazards.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

 This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

For more detail on these facts and what they mean, study online Lesson 7

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