Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

Lesson 7

Master Many
Stepfamily Challenges

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/sf/guide7.htm

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        This YouTube clip previews Lesson 7:

If you're in a stepfamily, please help improve lesson 7
by taking this brief anonymous survey.

        This is first 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 several related stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepfamily.

        This study guide assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Website and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6

  • the [wounds + unawareness] cycle

  • these stepfamily facts and Q&A items

  • this example of a real stepfamily


  LESSON 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

        Families exist to nurture - i.e. to fill their members' basic needs. Depending on many factors, fami-lies (like yours) range from low-nurturance to high-nurturance. This lesson uses the ideas in lessons 1-6 and additional in formation to propose how to form and keep (a) a flourishing re/marriage and (b) an en-during, high-nurturance stepfamily.

        Typical divorcing families and stepfamilies are at special risk of passing on the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle and being vulnerable to these hazards. 

  Objectives - Using the knowledge from lessons 1-6, this lesson will empower you to...

  • understand the many differences between complex stepfamilies and intact biofamilies,

  • make wise stepfamily courtship decisions,

  • form realistic stepfamily expectations,

  • patiently resolve many role and relationship problems, and...

  • achieve a stable, high-nurturance stepfamily over some years.

This unique Lesson is based on 30 years' full-time clinical research on stepfamily norms, realities, and dynamics.

        These four Parts are best begun in courtship, and can be very useful afterwards:

1)  Learn stepfamily basics

2)  Essential courtship tasks (to make informed commitment decisions)

3)  Effective co-parenting basics (stepparenting and bioparenting), and...

4)  Solve common role and relationship problems,


check off each assignment after you complete it to track your progress. Expect to take at least 6-8 weeks to fully understand, discuss, and integrate the concepts in Lesson 7.

keep a journal or log as you study these assignments to track you reactions and aware-nesses. Your log can provide a source of rich perspective in the future.

If you're not already in a stepfamily, think of one you know and keep them in mind as you study. Ask the adults to comment on what you learn here.

Study these assignments with a partner (or group) that shares your interest in learning.

Lesson 7, Part 1 - Learn Stepfamily Basics

        A major cause of stepfamily stress and divorce is adult unawareness and ignorance of stepfamily norms and realities. A high percentage of available stepfamily print and online information and programs are anecdotal and superficial (i.e. not based on Lessons 1-6 here).

        This first Part results from 30 year's full-time professional research into stepfamily norms, dynamics, and problem-solutions. If this Lesson seems complex - IT IS. So is re/divorce.

__ 7-1)  Review the common traits of a high-nurturance family (Lesson 1)

__ 7-2)  Review _ the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that burdens many (step)families (Lesson 5), and _  the five hazards it poses for typical stepfamily adults.

__ 7-3) Scan this glossary to familiarize yourself with key terms and definitions.

__ 7-4)  Take this stepfamily quiz to see how much you know already.

__ 7-5)  Read this real example of a typical new stepfamily.

__ 7-6)   Review these answers to useful questions about stepfamilies, _ stepkids, _ stepsiblings, _ co-parenting, and _ ex mates.

__ 7-7)  Visually experience the complexity of your stepfamily system by drawing and discussing a "genogram" (family map).

__ 7-8)  Study these basic stepfamily facts with an open mind.

__ 7-9)  Learn how stepfamilies are just like intact biofamilies and very different from them.

__ 7-10)  See if you know what it means to live in an average multi-home stepfamily.  

__  7-11)  Learn three developmental paths typical new stepfamilies may follow.

__  7-12)  Compare the normal developmental cycles of typical intact biofamilies and stepfamilies.

__  7-13)  See how many of these 60 common stepfamily myths you believe, and then..

__  7-14)  Learn the typical realities for each of them. 

__  7-15)  Scan these typical problems most stepfamily must resolve. Many are unexpected and alien!

__  7-16)  Review these suggestions about _ evaluating stepfamily advice, _ choosing useful support materials, and _ selecting an effective stepfamily counselor.

Lesson 7, Part 2 - Essential Courtship Tasks

        My clinical and personal experience is that typical needy stepfamily couples make impulsive, un-informed courtship choices - and later regret them. This Part uses Lessons 1-6 and Part 1 to help courting partners choose the right people to commit to, for the right reasons, at the right time. These arti-cles can still be very useful after committing

__ 7-17)  Retake this quiz on healthy-relationship basics, and re-study Lesson-4 topics as needed.

__ 7-18)  Review this article on marriage and remarriage (Lesson 5)

__ 7-19)  Review _ the common causes of divorce and _ signs of divorce recovery.

__ 7-20)  Study and discuss _ this research report, and _ this article on cohabiting

__ 7-21)  Consider the benefits of forging and using a stepfamily mission statement

__ 7-22)  Discuss and apply this overview of making three wise courtship choices

__ 7-23)  Study and heed these 16 common stepfamily-courtship danger signs

__ 7-24)  Poll your stepfamily adults to see who fully accepts (a) your identity as a multi-home stepfamily, and (b) what that means. If you discover significant ambivalence or disputes, yellow light!

__ 7-25)  Seek agreement among your stepfamily adults on who belongs to your stepfamily now. If you discover significant ambivalence or disputes, yellow light!

__ 7-26)  Learn the 16 things new stepfamilies need to merge, and how to master related stressors.

__ 7-27)  Invest in reading and discussing the unique guidebook Stepfamily Courtship  (Xlibris, 2002). It integrates all the key idea in this Web site. 

__ 7-28)  Each of you thoughtfully fill out these multi-page worksheets alone, when you're undistracted and your true Self is guiding you:

Take your time with these worksheets, and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. They're as instructive as your answers.

__ 7-29)  When you're both done, evaluate your findings together - honestly. If you each feel confident you're choosing the right people to commit to, for the right reasons, at the right time - celebrate and set the date!

__ 7-30)  Review and discuss these brief research summaries about primary relationships.

__ 7-31)  Use this framework to help plan your stepfamily commitment ceremony and honeymoon. They're usually much more complicated than traditional rites.

Lesson 7, Part 3a - Effective Stepfamily Co-parenting Basics

        Effective childcare is much more complex in multi-home stepfamilies than typical intact biofamilies. There are more kids, more co-parents, more relatives, more role confusion, fewer social norms, and more concurrent adjustment tasks to master cooperatively. Most new-stepfamily co-parents (and all kids) are unaware of these complexities, and don't know how to balance and master them.

        Based on 30 years' professional research, this Part offers clear, practical in formation on  effective ways of managing these stressors IF family adults have committed to make significant pro-gress on Lessons 1-6 and Parts 1 and 2 above.  

        Take your time, and do these assignments in order. Ideally, all the adults in your stepfamily and any professional supporter will do these together. Do NOT work on this Part without completing Les-sons 1-6 and Parts 1 and 2 above!  Also, do NOT expect these Parts to provide a quick answer to any stepfamily crisis!

__ 7-32)  Retake this quiz on effective-parenting basics, and restudy Lesson 6 as needed.

__ 7-33)  Review these ideas on why and how to make and use a stepfamily mission (vision) statement as an effective co-parenting guide. A thoro statement will refer to or include an informed family grieving policy (Lesson 3).

__ 7-34)  Review these answers to common questions about _ stepkids, _ stepsiblings, and _ co-parenting, and _ ex mates.

__ 7-35)  Review these ideas on common traits, values, and goals of effective co-parents. (Lesson 6)

__ 7-36)  Review and this Memo from and about your children.

__ 7-37)  Study and discuss _ typical child-development and _ special adjustment needs with each of your minor kids in mind,

__ 7-38)  Study and discuss these ideas about assessing each child's status with these needs   

__ 7-39)  Help each other agree on what "successful child visitations" are and how to achieve them.

__ 7-40)  Learn why and how to make effective co-parent "job descriptions."

__ 7-41)  Discuss these options for maintaining an effective legal parenting agreement

__ 7-42)  Read, discuss, and apply _ these basic ideas about divorced-parent relationships, and _ resolving common relationship barriers

__ 7-43)  Consider this experie3nce-based opinion about common stepparent-stepchild problems.

__ 7-44)  See what you think about this summary of traits of effective stepparents.

__ 7-45)  Learn ways to minimize disputes over child custody

__ 7-46)  Read and adapt these important differences between stepparenting and traditional bioparenting. Few stepfamily adults can name them and what they mean.

__ 7-47)  Study and discuss _ these basic ideas on effective child discipline (Lesson 6), and then _ these extended guidelines for effective stepfamily child discipline.

Lesson 7, Par3t 3b - Special Co-parenting Issues

         Every stepfamily faces common and unique problems. Do the following "assignments" if they pertain to your multi-home stepfamily:

__ 7-48)  Discuss these pros and cons of conceiving an "ours child" and/or _ adopting a stepchild.

__ 7-49)  Options if a stepchild may move to another home (change custody).

__ 7-50)  Consider these options for dealing with a court order of protection against an ex mate. 

__ 7-51)  Study these considerations if a co-parent changes location.

__ 7-52)  Discuss this perspective on divorced bioparents using the legal system to force compliance.

__ 7-53)  Learn the real issues causing family conflicts over child (financial) support 

__ 7-54)  Gain perspective on issues relating to adult stepkids.

__ 7-55)  Review and discuss your options if a stepchild's "other parent"' is dead.

__ 7-56)  Consider these ways to optimize stepfamily holidays

__ 7-56)  Review these options for resolving conflict over kids living on their own (Lesson 5)

__ 7-57)  Retake and discuss this quiz on effective parenting  .

Lesson 7, Part 4 - Solve Stepfamily Role and Relationship Problems

        Every evolving family has conflicts over member roles (responsibilities) and relationships. These conflicts are more complex and more frequent in typical stepfamilies because they have more members, relationships, roles, and stressors, and fewer social norms to guide them.

        The steps in this fourth Part use everything you've learned so far in this Break the Cycle! course.

__ 7-58)  Retake these quizzes on basic knowledge about personalities, effective communication, healthy grief, and satisfying relationships. Restudy Lessons 1-4 as needed

__ 7-59)  Review ways to improve communication effectiveness with most adults and kids (Lesson 2)

__ 7-60)  Review these options for communicating with "difficult people." (Lesson 2)

__ 7-61)  Review _ this illustration of surface and primary problems, and _ this example of digging down to discover current primary problems. (Lesson 2)

__ 7-62)  Review these symptoms of incomplete grief, and these options for ending it.

__ 7-63)  Use these criteria to decide if you have a pro-grief stepfamily, and _ write down your stepfamily's grieving policy. 

__ 7-64)  Review how to analyze and resolve most relationship problems (Lesson 4)

__ 7-65)  Use this menu to learn options for communicating well with common problem-behaviors

__ 7-66)  Use this menu of common stepfamily problems to learn effective solution-options.

__ 7-67)  Retake this quiz on stepfamilies to validate what you've learned here.

+ + +

        If you've patiently studied Lessons 1-7, I congratulate you! You now know more about personalities, relationships, communication, grieving, families, parenting, and stepfamilies than most laypeople and family professionals. Does the claim "most family adults don't know what they don't know" make more sense to you now?

        Do you better understand why I claim that...

  • there is little informed stepfamily support available in communities and the media?

  • many re/marrying co-parents make uninformed (unwise) commitment choices?

  • most printed and online stepfamily information is superficial?

  • the inherited [wounds + unawareness] cycle is spreading silently throughout our culture? And why...

  • many stepfamily adults and most kids feel confused and overwhelmed at times?


        This seventh self-improvement guide uses Lessons 1-6 to help adults (a) create and maintain a high-nurturance stepfamily, (b) break the [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and (c) avoid re/divorce. The guide breaks this complex subject into four sequential Parts:.

  • Learn stepfamily basics,

  • Essential courtship tasks,

  • Effective co-parenting basics (steppar-enting and bioparenting), and...

  • Solve common role and relationship problems,

        These Parts are based on 30 years' professional research on stepfamily dynamics, and personal experience as a stepson, stepfather, stepbrother, and step-grandson.

       Feedback, please - take this 1-question anonymous poll now..

        The last Lesson in this Break the Cycle! course provides a practical way for you to use the information in this course and alert other people to it. 

        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''?

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Updated April 13, 2015