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 lesson is https://sfhelp.org/sf/guide7.htm

Updated 06-23-2015

        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 here 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.

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will  open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display.

        This brief YouTube clip previews Lesson 7. The video says there are eight lessons in this Web site: I've reduced that to seven.

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

        This study guide assumes you're familiar with the (a) intro to this nonprofit Website, (b) the premises underlying it, and (c) online self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6 ,

        A major cause of stepfamily stress and divorce is adult unawareness and ignorance of stepfamily norms and realities. A high percentage of current stepfamily information and programs are anecdotal and superficial.

  LESSON 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

        Families exist to nurture - i.e. to fill their members' basic needs.  Depending on many factors, families (like yours) range from low-nurturance to high-nurturance. Typical divorcing families and stepfamilies are at special risk of passing on the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle and being vulnerable to these hazards. 

      This lesson uses the ideas in lessons 1-6 to propose how to form and keep a flourishing re/marriage and an enduring, high-nurturance stepfamily.

  Objectives - Lesson 7 will empower you to...

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

  • make wise stepfamily courtship decisions,

  • form realistic stepfamily expectations,

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

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

      This Lesson is best begun in courtship. It has four parts

1)  Learn stepfamily basics

2)  How to make wise courtship commitment decisions;

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

4)  How to avoid and solve common stepfamily 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 awarenesses. 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 support group that shares your interest in learning.

Lesson 7, Part 1 - Learn Stepfamily Basics

      Do these steps in order - they build on each other. Check off an item "__" as done after you've done any sub-items "_"

__ 7-1)  Review these common traits of a high-nurturance family,

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

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

__ 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)  See 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 the 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,

      _ selecting an effective stepfamily counselor.

      _ starting or selecting an effective co-parent support group

      Pause and reflect - how do you fee about all that you learned in this Part-1 overview of stepfamily basics? How many typical single parents and new-stepfamily adults would know what you now know?

Lesson 7, Part 2 - Essential Courtship Tasks

        A stepfamily begins when a single parent starts to date a potential new partner seriously. My clinical and personal experience is that typical needy stepfamily couples make impulsive, uninformed courtship choices, and later regret them.

      Part 2 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 articles 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 unawareness, 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 partners thoughtfully fill out these 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, discuss 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!

      Recall: "co-parent" mean any one of the adults providing significant care for minor stepfamily kids. Part 3 has two sections: (a) effective co-parenting basics, and (b) special co-parenting issues.

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

        Effective childcare is much more complex in multi-home stepfamilies than in 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 together. 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 36 years' professional research, Part 3 offers clear, practical in formation on  effective ways of managing these stressors IF family adults have committed to make significant progress 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 Lessons 1-6 and Parts 1 and 2 above!  Also, do NOT expect these Parts to provide a quick answer to any stepfamily crisis!

      I encourage you to read through all these items before starting to do them - get the big picture! Keep a long-range view, and consider journaling your thoughts and feelings as you do these steps.

__ 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 a practical 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)  Consider and discuss these suggestions for stepamily co-grandparentst.

__ 7-37)  Meditate on these ideas from and about your minor children.

__ 7-38)  Study and discuss _ typical child-development and _ special adjustment needs with each of your minor kids in mind,

__ 7-39)  Study and discuss these ideas about assessing each child's status with these needs   

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

__ 7-41)  Help each other agree on what "successful child visitations" are and how to achieve them.

__ 7-42)  Discuss these options for maintaining an effective legal parenting agreement

__ 7-43)  Read, discuss, and apply _ these basic ideas about divorced-parent relationships, and _ resolving common relationship barriers

__ 7-44)  Consider this experience-based opinion about common stepparent-stepchild problems.

__ 7-45)  See what you think about this summary of traits of effective stepparents.

__ 7-46)  Learn ways to minimize disputes over child custody

__ 7-47)  Read and adapt these important differences between stepparenting and traditional bioparenting. Few stepfamily adults can name them and what they mean.

__ 7-48)  Study and discuss _ these basic ideas on effective child discipline (Lesson 6), and then _ these extra guidelines for effective stepfamily child discipline.

      You now know enough to nurture your youngest stepfamily members effectively if your true Self guides you. Use your knowledge to help resolve any co-parenting problems that arise, like these...

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

         Every stepfamily faces common and unique problems. Scan all these items, and then do any that pertains to your dynamic multi-home stepfamily:

__ 7-49)  Discuss the pros and cons of conceiving an "ours child" and/or _ adopting a stepchild.

__ 7-50)  Options if a stepchild may move to another home (change custody)

__ 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 ways to optimize stepfamily holidays

__ 7-57)  Review these options for resolving conflict over kids living on their own (Lesson 5)

__ 7-58)  Retake and discuss this quiz on effective parenting  

      You've studied stepfamily basics, wise courtship decision, and effective-co-parenting options. Now sharpen your ability to....

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 Part 4 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 these common communication blocks to see if any are affecting you

__ 7-62)  Review _ this illustration of surface and primary problems, and _ this example of digging down to discover current primary problems. (Lesson 2)

__ 7-63)  Review these symptoms of incomplete grief, and these options for completing it.

__ 7-64)  Use these criteria to decide if you have a pro-grief stepfamily, and _ write down your stepfamily's grieving policy. 

__ 7-65)  Review how to analyze and resolve most relationship problems (Lesson 4)

__ 7-66)  Use this menu to learn options for communicating well with common problem-behaviors

__ 7-67)  Use this menu of common stepfamily problems to learn effective solution-options.

__ 7-68)  Retake this quiz on stepfamilies to demonstrate 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 my claim that...

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

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

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

  • most printed and online stepfamily information is superficial? And that...

  • the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle is spreading silently throughout our culture?


      This seventh self-improvement lesson 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 lesson breaks this complex subject into four sequential parts: learn...

  • Stepfamily basics,

  • Essential courtship tasks,

  • Effective co-parenting basics (stepparenting and bioparenting), and learn how to...

  • Solve common stepfamily role and relationship problems,

        The ideas in this lesson are based on 36 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..

      Consider using your knowledge now to help others recognize and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle. If you don't help - who will?

        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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