group, continued from p. 1
we have a group name? A logo?
athletic teams, some support-group members feel more group pride and loyalty if
theyve co-operatively forged a name, logo, or even have picked a symbolic or real
mascot. Whether these would help you depends totally on who you all are as a unique
The adjective "step" offers possibilities for fun, nutty, or inspiring
titles ("The Tuscaloosa High-Steppers", "Seattle Step Stars",...). Enjoy
kicking this around at a group meeting from time to time. Your kids are rich sources of ideas and energy here!
group-process guidelines will help us meet our goals?
There are key factors that greatly shape
a co-parent support group's effectiveness. I suggest you evolve and
enforce clear group policies on these points...
Smoking and other drug usage
Griping and whining vs.
Punctuality: Most members will feel better about the
group if they can count on knowing when each meeting will start and end. People arriving
after the meeting has started - or leaving before the end - disrupts focus, mood, and
That takes everyones time to rebuild. If meetings consistently run longer
than advertised or agreed, members (specially those with baby sitters) can feel stressed
and resentful, and lean toward dropping out. You may find it useful to ask that if people
are unavoidably detained, they be responsible for calling and letting the host/leader know
Every group has a unique blend of members’ needs about timeliness. If in
doubt what your group’s blend is - ask everyone what they need!
and other drug usage: An increasing number of people feel second-hand tobacco
smoke is unpleasant and unhealthy. And a person who attends a support group
meeting "under the influence" may distract
others and turn off new people.
If your group tolerates members being high or
enabling them (promoting an unhealthy habit). Thats
opposite to your (presumed) shared goal of fostering personal, stepfamily, and group
Poll all members on this point when you organize, and agree on a
clear policy on chemical usage. Note that if your policy says "We ask that people
who have just used mind-altering drugs not attend", that implies if someone comes in
high, your leader must ask them to leave.
Confidentiality: Effective support groups
feel consistently safe - i.e. members can reveal personal details of
their lives without fear of ridicule or reporting sensitive things to the outside world.
It helps to build group trust and intimacy if you remind everyone at the start of each
meeting "Whats said here stays here."
ongoing option is for people who share sensitive information to ask everyone to keep it
within the group. If someone discloses probable criminal behavior or child
or elder abuse or neglect,
you have a moral and legal obligation to report those immediately to the
time" and interruptions: A standard group task each meeting is to balance the
time available with members needs to vent, discuss, problem-solve, and get feedback.
One way of doing that is for the leader to ask people to say during their initial
check-in if they want group air time.
Then try to manage the group process so that
those who need time get enough. A structured way
of doing this is to divide the "business" time available by the number of people
who want time, and allocate the resulting number of minutes to each person.
Have the group
stay alert to how interruptions feel to them. Some
interruptions can feel supportive, and others can distract from where the speaker is
"going" or derail them completely. Talk together about how you all want to
handle the latter. One option is to give responsibility to each speaker about their own
tolerance for interruptions, and invite respectful
Confrontation: A challenging aspect to any support
group is how to handle members inevitable disagreements.
Peoples values on co-parenting, marriage, finances, and "family health"
vary widely. Your group will evolve a policy - spoken or unspoken - on what you all do
when one member describes something that one or several others significantly disagree with.
stepfamilies are riddled with emotional, controversial topics: child
visitation, and custody; money management; relations with ex mates;
rejection; adoption, privacy; etc. I suggest that when
your group (and they will!), ask the disagreers to give their reaction in
the form of a respectful
rather than a blaming or
I-messages avoid name-calling
and using adjectives like stupid, childish,
idiotic, and ridiculous.
"I messages" sound like: "Jack, when you describe using a belt to
reprimand your stepson, I get really uncomfortable. Im afraid that kind of
action will generate fear, resentment and shame in Georgie. Are you open to feedback on
other ways to enforce your discipline?"
The focus here is on the disagreers
reaction, rather than blaming or accusing the original speaker. The group-divisive
alternative is to come out with something like "Jack, thats outright child
abuse. How can you do that? Millie, how can you let him do that to your son - are
Stay focused that you are a support group, not the Grand
Inquisition. If someone is doing something that
seems harmful, then respectful
is a gift.
Not confronting is
which is potentially hurtful, and erodes
Self respect. Stay aware also
that youre not there to win the co-parenting Olympics. Hopefully, members come to
encourage and learn, not compete with others.
Griping and group conflict vs.
problem-solving. Probably the biggest support-group killer is that meetings turn into predictable
"bitch sessions." People can leave such meetings feeling like stepfamily life is
gloomy, awful, and chaotic - and that theres no way out, or reason to hope.
basic decision that all founding members need to make is whether theyre meeting to
find effective solutions to their confusing stepfamily dilemmas or not.
Its easy to complain, whine, and play "Aint it awful." Its
harder - and far more rewarding - to use the groups empathy, wisdom and
creativity to seek effective new attitudes and behaviors.
The next step
here is for the leader or another member to confront the griper/s. Say
something like "Sandra, I feel were over-focusing on your problem. Are you
ready to shift now to decide what changes you want, and options for getting that?"
Another way of confronting respectfully is for any member to ask the speaker
do you need from us right now?"
mates' arguing or fighting excessively in the
group is divisive and wastes time, It usually occurs because true Selves are
disabled and people aren't using effective communication
Hear and validate
them: "you two are really
having trouble finding a win-win compromise here. Youre in
a standard loyalty (or values) conflict,
and your subselves' frustration and anger seem to be blocking you from
Re/focus them: "Are you willing to have us help
now?" What if they say
them: verbal combat in one couple can use up a whole meeting.
Interrupt them respectfully, and ask each partner what they
- specifically - from each other and the group. Such interruptions will
be easier if everyone has a clear idea on what the groups consensual "air
time" policy is.
Refer them: unless you have a trained clinician present
and are a therapy group vs. a support group, suggest to a couple having the
same problem/s meeting after meeting that they seek
your group will evolve a list of local stepfamily-aware professionals to refer to.
Learn from them:
Conflicted couples are a key reason
co-parent support groups exist. If a couple is at an
in your group, observe
them empathically and try to understand why they get stuck. Its often far easier to
see the causes in another couple than in your own primary
group-policy item is on ...
Communication occurs to fill
peoples current needs. Six universal needs are...
1) to feel respected by your Self and
your current partner/s (always present),
2) to cause
including regulating the emotional distance between the
speaker and listener/s,
3) to vent - i.e. to feel empathically understood
and non-judgmentally accepted,
4) to get or give new ideas or
5) to feel intellectual and emotional
and/or typical people need...
6) to avoid something
members specifically ask for help or suggestions, assume their need is to vent.
Avoid a barrage of advice-giving.
It can feel like a shaming putdown if a group member says "Well, obviously,
what you should do is...". Two helpful alternatives to "fixing" (advising) are ...
focus constructively (vs. critically) on
the person or
couple is trying to solve their problem - i.e. focus on their process.
Typically couples (or co-parents and kids) fight and argue, rather than
thats the real problem; and ...
- Join with the speaker/s (when theyre ready) and
brainstorm alternatives they can pick from.
- have the group read and
discuss this Lesson-2 article on win-win
problem-solving and this
What is "effective
This factor alone can make or break the eventual success of your support
families, I’ve never seen a well-functioning support group without
one or two
leaders. A key reason most groups end (or never get going) is because
the leaders are burned out, ambivalent, or ineffective - i.e. inexperienced and/or
What does this key role entail?
Some typical leadership responsibilities:
Provide the initial support group vision, spirit, and dedication;
Organize and conduct the initial meetings;
Hold planning meetings to determine the support groups aims,
policies, and logistics;
Arrange for volunteers to share the group’s
Delegate to and co- ordinate them, resolve conflicts in and among them, and recognize and
appreciate them regularly for their efforts;
Conduct each support meeting effectively, or
delegate that to another
effective co-leader. Set each meetings tone (e.g. optimism vs. gloom) and agenda,
and follow it - unless unexpected crises arise.
Balance meetings’ content dynamically between
issues and group administration tasks. Effective, here, means that most of those
attending get their major needs met in a way every-one feels good enough about.
Act as community spokesperson for the group, or delegate that job and
Stay aware of general and special group
and co-ordinate the talents and resources of group members and the
community to meet them.
Balance personal stepfamily needs with all
group members’ needs.
Avoid overusing the group as a personal resource.
Make clear, timely administrative decisions
process. Confront problems promptly and assertively. Facilitate
group problem-solving supportively, when members conflict.
Negotiate with any guest speakers,
and co-ordinate their time, focus, and participation.
Monitor what group members come for, and whether they’re getting
enough of their needs met. If not, take responsibility for problem-solving
Take (or delegate) overall responsibility
for recruiting appropriate
new members, and do so.
Ask for help with these responsibilities, and
when they feel too much.
effective leader, and hand the baton to them
when feeling burned out, or personally "done". Then let go; and
Enjoy doing all this,
(usually), over time!
Because this is
asking a lot of one person, having co-leaders can guard against overload, burn-out,
illness, and responsibilities "falling through the cracks."
+ + +
You just read an overview of how to
initiate an effective co-parent
support group. The next task is - once you're up and running...
After the first general session,
what will keep people coming back? What will attract new people? Both questions
hinge on "What do typical stepfamily co-parents need"? Some suggestions, after
taking part in ~15 co-parent support groups:
Keep clear and focused on your group's goals
Screen new people's needs
Choose useful meeting topics and guest
Learn how to resolve group-process problems
set up an email list or phone-tree
Let's look at these briefly...
Keep Clear and Focused on Your Group's Goals
vent and feel empathically heard
and accepted about
their stepfamily frustrations, confusions - and successes!,
get consistent respect, validation, and
from knowledgeable and respected peers;
learn realistic step
and effective co-parenting and re/marital solutions, via caring feedback and suggestions;
commune and belong with similar-enough women
be compassionately confronted, (vs. enabled) when
get away together for a while, and enjoy time as a
share and be helpful to peers and kids; and
build and keep realistic (vs. idealistic)
re/marital optimism, faith, and hope.
Waste their energy, money, and time - i.e. get few or no
Listen to pessimistic others complain, whine, blame,
and drone on repetitively;
Be ignored, interrupted, criticized, lectured to, competed with, or
Feel overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of some other
members situations and needs;
Be repeatedly stymied or discouraged;
Be burdened with unproductive group administrivia.
If your leaders and members
stay aware of these two sets of typical needs and help each other fill them together, your group will thrive! About one of six U.S. families is "in
step," and the co-parents in many of them are confused, isolated, and needy. So there
will always be stepfamily co-parents in your area who can benefit
from and contribute
to your group!
I encourage you to evolve and use a concise (one page or less), flexible group
mission statement and a clear policy statement
to keep everyone
focused each meeting on what youre trying to do together, and how.
Another way to keep your group productive is to...
Screen New People
effectiveness of your support group depends largely on whether the
needs of individual members
match the capabilities and motives of the group. One way of optimizing this balance is
to screen people before they come to the group - or after theyve come once.
main thing to screen for is whether they need support or professional
In any vocal or media advertising of your group, its a good idea to have
prospective participants call a designated group member and describe something of their
stepfamily situation, what theyre looking for, and why.
These are some indicators that
or a therapy group, is probably more appropriate than a
support group: The inquiring person
describes recent or current ...
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or family events;
addictions to alcohol, food,
or prescription or street drugs (self-medication for unbearable
Probable or certain physical, verbal,
spiritual, or emotional
abuse in the home or family;
Serious adult talk of
marital separation or re/divorce;
Hospitalizations for emotional conditions (e.g. major
depression) and/or a family member taking medications for same;
Repeated "excessive" interference in the stepfamilys
life by a relative or "authorities;"
Reported extra-marital affairs or law-breaking behaviors or
events by stepfamily members;
Kids running away, flunking school, doing drugs, being
kidnapped by bio-relatives, or custodial bioparents refusing
Prolonged court battles between ex-mates over
custody, support, visitation, or other issues;
An ex-mate stalking, harassing, or
other excessively hostile acts, including "parental alienation."
a complete list. You see the theme. Grow your group's attitude that the best way of
supporting co-parents involved in such current situations is to compassionately and
assertively point them at qualified professional help - and then give them full
responsibility for their own choices.
telling a group applicant that you feel, after listening to them, that theyd really
be better off getting professional help (and giving them referral names, if you have them)
helps both them and your existing group members.
If in doubt, call your groups
qualified mental-health consultant or find one.
If an adult describes a home
excessively controlled by a willful (step)child, suggest they investigate local
ToughLove support groups, which are for any caregivers in such situations.
Search the Web for info on them.
anyone in your group describes what you feel is probable or certain current child or
spouse abuse or illegal activity,
you have a moral (and probably a legal)
obligation to call the police immediately to report that.
Another key factor
in helping your group thrive over time is the topics you focus on.
Support groups can be discussions and socializing only, or they can also
include a learning experience. There is a wide range of topics that
typical stepfamily adults need to know. Several sources of these topics
Group members can volunteer to study
and make presentations on these topics, or you can invite guest speakers
with special expertise in a topic. You may also
Rent a stepfamily-related
video or DVD from your local library. The reader's services and Media staff
should be able to locate some for you, and help you get them for showing and discussion.
The National Stepfamily Resource
Center (NSRC) can provide a list of current media titles.
Have a guest panel of older
stepkids. This can be challenging to organize, and very rewarding. If you are
blessed with three or more teen or preteen stepkids who would agree to "instruct"
your co-parent group on what they (the kids) experience and need - ask them!
pre-panel group meeting, ask your members to form questions like those below. Consider
writing them out and giving them to the panelists in advance, so they can think about
you see yourself as living in a stepfamily now?"
"What do you like about being in your stepfamily?"
"Whats hardest for you these days about being a stepson (daughter)?"
"Who do you include as real members of your family now?"
"What would you change in your
(multi-home) stepfamily, if you could?
"Whats it like having a stepbrother / stepsister?"
"Whats it feel like being split between two homes?"
"How do you feel about the way visitations (with non-custodial bioparents) are going for
you all now? What would make them better?
"What worries you the most about your (multi-home) stepfamily now?"
"If you could teach stepparents one thing, what would it be?"
Have an unrelated
adult act as "talk show host" and invite the kids to honestly react to such
open-ended questions one at a time. Guidelines: no blaming, judging, arguing, or
interrupting! One option for avoiding the awkwardness of kids speaking in front of
their own co-parents: hold the panel without the adults, and videotape it for replay and
Consider having a
couple of all-family events during the year as part of your program. Picnics, bowling
or Halloween costume parties, or camp-outs are some (of many) options. Such gatherings
help everyone turn abstract names into real people, and raise the level of exchanged
interest and caring among members. Theyre apt to be fun, too!
first most of the kids and adults havent met, it can help to have a safe
"ice-breaking" exercise or game at first to help everyone relax and join in.
your kids for ideas!
After the first
general session, what will keep co-parents coming back? What will attract new people?
Both questions hinge on "what do typical stepfamily adults need"? A key factor
is how the group generally reacts to members' stepfamily "problems."
When people leave a
co-parent support-group meeting with some practical new ideas on how to manage a difficult
situation at home - everyone feels good! Some suggestions on how to promote that:
After someone has vented for a while, ask
something like: "do you need to be heard more now, or do you want us to help
If they choose the former
- honor that. If the speaker/s
want to problem-solve (vs. venting),
ask them to honestly discuss three questions:
"Specifically, what do you (each)
need in this situation?";
specifically, have you tried, and what did you get?";
in the way (of you each getting most of what you want)?" This
works best if the speaker/s report factually, vs. blame!
or discounting the speaker/s or telling them what they need. Theyre
the experts on their own needs, feelings, and limits!
Be alert for the speakers
unconsciously using biofamily expectations rather than appropriate stepfamily realities in forming their goals.
If you feel they may
have unrealistic expectations, ask if they're willing to do some
open minded reality-checking with other veteran co-parents or authorities.
Another option is to refer them to this
empathically: Paraphrase back to the speaker/s concisely and specifically what
you hear their wants are (including any guesstimated stepkids and other
co-parents' wants!), until you get agreement.
nonjudgmental feedback process
usually generates more clarity on what people really want. It can sound like
"So you want your stepson to acknowledge you more when you sit across from him at
dinner - and you want your mate to support you in this.";
Usually, stepfamily conflicts and dilemmas
come in layered clusters, rather than neatly packaged one at a time. Help the speaker
separate their layers and clusters.
specific problem at a time to work on, and stay focused on it.
and avoid bringing up related and separate problems. Be alert for generalities:
"I want us to feel more like a regular family" is too big and too general.
generalities down to small targets. "I want to get clear on how much money
to contribute to my stepdaughters college fund" is specific and manageable.
the most "popular" group of
stepfamily stressors usually involves unfinished conflicts with co-parenting
Note your inevitable decision about whether such ex-mates are
of your multi-home stepfamilies or not.
Your kids certainly include them!
If you dont consider
their needs equally with your kids and your own, I
believe you have little chance to problem-solve effectively.
You also guarantee putting your kids painfully "in the middle" - which
promotes their shame, frustration, insecurity, acting out, and rejecting their stepparent/s.
Consider asking a volunteer member of your
group to role-play each of the speaker/s missing stepfamily
members who are involved in this problem-solving situation - including
mates, kids, and absent stepparents! Ask them to "speak for" the missing adult
or child in as realistic a way as possible, and say honestly what they feel and
Stay aware: this is an awareness-raising exercise, not an acting competition or a blame festival! Even if the stand-ins aren't on target, the process can
help focus on and clarify what everyone feels and needs.
Once agreed on
who wants what, brainstorm as a group on options for meeting
needs, not just the speaker/s needs. Dont shoot down ideas as they
emerge, just collect possibilities. Be free to be as nutty and creative as possible.
steadily on what might work, vs. what wont.
Avoid this turning into a
contest over "Who can think of the best idea." This is a team effort
which often everybody can win, for the group brainstorming process usually
generates helpful ideas for each member on their own stepfamily issues...
Stay focused on stepfamily members
their personalities or actions. Stay focused on your shared
If it turns into a competition, a lecture, or a blaming carnival, rather
than a team effort - stop and refocus the group on it’s own process.
Ask how the current process feels, and whether it feels productive - or
"is this (process) why you came here?"
Stay with this process until (a) the speakers say
"Thanks - thats enough" or (b) you run out of group time. Stay clear on who
the stated problem: the speaker does, not your whole group or another group member.
You each retain the responsibility for attending your own needs.
If a member who
requested group brain-storming doesnt offer feedback on the outcome over time - ask
them respectfully "What happened?" Youre all unique students
teachers here. Everyone can learn from each others individual co-parenting and
re/marital experiments and actions.
Stay aware that some people need to vent more than to
problem-solve at times - but that can be done to excess. Venting doesn't
anything. Incidentally, you can use this same problem-solving framework on
your group-process conflicts, just like members' stepfamily conflicts
You can see that
problem-solving process takes
time, dedication, and concentration to harvest its full benefits. If you use a
group session for problem-solving, allot at least 30" or more for one problem. If you
have too much other business - including too many people who need to vent - postpone this
process, or encourage the problem owner/s to do it at home and share the outcome.
Notice that this group
problem-solving process invites your members to act like a
What would happen if each member took this conflict-resolution process
home and practiced it consistently in and between their stepfamily homes?
Another way to help
your group thrive is to...
Use an Email List and/or "Phone-tree"
extend your groups support, ask members to set up an email list
and/or a phone-calling
tree. If any group member falls into a stepfamily crisis, theyll have some
support people to contact right away rather than waiting a
week or more for the next meeting.
A phone tree can also help effectively
broadcast group news (e.g. "meeting canceled, rescheduled, or moved
because..."). This helps protect the groups leader/s from telephone
We just reviewed
five ways to keep a co-parent support group running successfully:
Keep clear and focused on your group's goals
Screen new people's needs
Choose useful meeting topics and guest
Learn how to resolve group-process problems,
Use an email list or phone-tree to stay
connected between meetings.
Q&A about co-parent
1) When is a co-parent support group
2) What is an
effective support group?
happens in a typical
find co-parent local support
5) How can we
evaluate a prospective
risks in participating in a
co-parent support group?
7) What if one partner wants to use
a group and their mate doesn't?
8) What are
common problems in a
co-parent support group?
9) What are the traits of an
effective support-group (co)leader?
10) What's involved in
starting an effective co-parent support
11) Are there support groups for
12) Are there
resources available to help us
start or maintain a co-parent support group?
If you don't see your
question here, please
When is a co-parent support group
The best time for typical
stepfamily co-parents to seek an effective support group is before
they're in a crisis - i.e.
in the first several years after co-committing and
don't know what they need to know about inherited psychological
information with other stepparents and bioparents early can motivate
them to study these vital topics.
stepfamily mates will have taken this
They may also want to attend a co-parent (vs. "stepparent") class if they can find
one. In classes that meet for several weeks, student couples often bond and
form informal support groups that continue after the class ends.
When stepfamily mates and relatives are seriously
stressed, they should consider qualified
rather than a support group.
Typical lay-led support groups
can provide priceless empathy, validation, and encouragements - and
they often lack the knowledge, wisdom, and
group-dynamic skills to guide troubled couples toward effective
Group leaders who don't refer couples
in crisis to
professional helpers can evolve a room full of people bitching,
blaming, venting, and playing "ain't-it-awful," vs. helping each other do
What is an effective
It's one which fills the stepfamily-related
needs of it's participants well
enough, often enough. This suggests the value of co-parents knowing
specifically what they need as they seek or start
a group, and how to evaluate a group before joining. Typical co-parents attend mutual-help groups to...
vent, and be
heard and accepted without judgment;
feel validated, normal, and respected;
learn and problem-solve;
socialize and help others (i.e. to feel useful); and to…
build and keep realistic hopes .
Can you think of other motives? See
this for more
What happens in a typical
Every group is unique and will have its own
support-group sessions include...
a welcome to old and new members,
and an invitation to each person to "check in" - i.e. to say a few
words about how they are and what they need from the group in this
an agenda summary, and any group
"business" discussion like finances, advertising, location, or
perhaps an opening prayer and/or
reminder of the group's purposes;
a venting and problem-solving
period, moderated by the group leader/s;
an optional focus on a particular
topic or theme, perhaps with a guest
some unstructured "social time" with refreshments; and...
closing words, and reminders about the
How can we find local co-parent support
My experience is that stepfamily (co-parent) support groups are rare because
(a) typical family-support organizations are under-funded and overworked, (b)
their leaders often aren't aware of the great need for stepfamily support
groups; and (c) co-parents aren't making their needs known.
To find if any groups exist near you,
search the Web for
"stepfamily, blended family, co-parenting, or stepparenting support (or self-help)
call local churches, hospital
outpatient-service departments, school counseling departments or
PTO's, and public and private mental health agencies. Be alert for the difference
between stepparent groups (stepmoms and/or stepdads only),
and co-parent groups (all stepfamily caregivers).
If you find no groups, consider
starting one (Q10 below) with other interested
co-parents, and/or search the Internet. There are now many active
"forums," "message boards," and "chat groups" for
co-parents. Investigate the Web links here for starters.
How can we
evaluate a prospective group?
long the group has existed, and whether it has a reputable
are the goals
of the group, and who is it for?
often does it meet, where, and how long are the meetings?
Who leads the group, and
what are their credentials in (a) stepfamilies, and (b) group
How many people
usually attend. Is there a limit?
are the group's guidelines and
policies about punctuality, confidentiality, punctuality, spirituality,
group conflicts, sobriety, child care, and referrals to professional help?
group participants screened in any way (preferable), or is the group open to anyone?
meeting agendas free-form, or are there
discussions? (preferable). Are there guest speakers?
the group open to courting co-parents, or just those who have already
vowed their commitments?
Does the group use and/or
refer to a local mental-health consultant? If so, who, and does s/he
training in stepfamily realities and problems?
Are there any racial, religious, gender, and/or spiritual themes or
biases in the group?
find or start a group, an indefinable trait that will affect your experience
is the unique "chemistry" or "personality" of the mix of participants,
leader/s, and the site. Some groups feel better than others...
Are there any
risks in participating in a
co-parent support group?
be alert for in any support group are...
A leaderless (unfocused.
unfulfilling) group, or
leader/s who aren't experienced with group dynamics and/or
allow problems or promote
excessive griping and venting, rather than emphasizing education and problem-solving.
Attending such a group is often
demoralizing, frustrating, and a waste of time if you're
looking for encouragement, constructive
referrals, and group help on
The other risk is group leaders or sponsors who provide or allow inaccurate or misleading information
and/or advice about stepfamily
- i.e. who unintentionally promote unrealistic expectations and ineffective
solutions to your stepfamily
These are apt to increase
your stress and confusions and your need for support! To guard against
accidentally choosing such a group, invest time and effort in (at least)
and read and discuss
What if one partner wants to use
a group and their mate doesn't?
Such couples have a significant
Evolving an effective
strategy to manage these inevitable family stressors is more important than choosing a useful support group.
Guarantee: your related
riddled with values conflicts and associated relationship
- specially in your first several
to see if the "anti-group" person
accepts that you're in a
stepfamily, and (b) knows what that
If so, s/he'll believe that you're all at significant risk of years of
stress and eventual psychological or legal
Option: work at
you haven't yet. Procrastination, ambivalence, or
reluctance to do this suggests one or both of you may be ruled by a
resources to ensure that your
surface needs ("I just want to talk to other stepparents
") to discern the
of my personality are confused, insecure, guilty, and worried that I'm
doing something wrong, and they really need credible, empathic
validation and reassurance from others whose judgment I respect and
As teammates, review your short-term and long-term
to see if they
match. If not, you mates have a major
article and these common communication
and tips to see if
is hindering an acceptable compromise about attending a
What are common problems in a
co-parent support group?
A problem is one or more unfilled needs
(discomforts). Support-group "problems" occur when the participants don't get their
needs met (Q2 above).
Most such problems result from poor group planning or leadership (below) and stepfamily ignorance.
Problems may include:
excessive griping, blaming, and
one or more members dominating the
inaccurate, superficial, or
impractical stepfamily advice
leader/s allowing arguing,
interrupting, and disrespect
not enough relevant, accurate
lack of confidentiality
not referring to competent
professional help when appropriate
not starting or ending on time
an uncomfortable or distracting
participants smoking or using
Support-group planners and
leaders should know how to avoid or manage problems like these. The
participants share ultimate responsibility for
their needs clearly
and respectfully, and for deciding whether to continue attending or not.
are the traits of an effective support-group leader?
group leader (a) stays aware of what the participants
need, and is able to guide
the group so that most people get most of their needs met well enough most of the time. To do this consistently, leaders need traits like
s/he is in effective true (vs. pseudo)
genuine enjoyment of socializing, an interest in families,
a strong motivation to fill personal and
group-participants' needs, and enough
self-confidence to work at guiding the group despite significant
of, and experience with, (a) group dynamics, and (b) managing common "group
problems" effectively using these
Knowledge of stepfamily
Enough personal support + time for the
balance in their lives.
Can you think of other core requisites for effective
What's involved in
starting a co-parent support
Tailor and build on the experience-based suggestions
in this article.
Are there effective support groups for stepkids?
They are rare. Typical stepkids have a
daunting array of concurrent
developmental and family-adjustment needs. In
36 years' full-time
professional work with Chicago-area stepfamilies, I only found two
groups to help stepkids with these complex needs. One was at a suburban
public high school, and was created and sponsored by two dedicated social workers. The
other was sponsored by a community mental-health agency, and was for the
kids of adults who were attending their own support group.
Average co-parents and mental-health workers aren't aware of
the scope or complexity of stepkids' needs, and kids can't
understand or articulate them. The net result is that most kids survive as
best they can, unintentionally stressing their co-parents who have their own array of
One bright spot in this picture is the non-profit
Rainbows organization, which sponsors lay-led grief-support groups for kids and
adults around the country. A main focus is helping children of divorce or
parent death grieve their losses (broken bonds). This partially counteracts many wounded,
unaware co-parents who unintentionally
the family "anti-grief"
they grew up with. This toxic bequest is the reason for this Web site.
contact your church,
school PTO or PTA, or local mental-health agency and ask if they would
do a needs-assessment survey
to see if organizing a support group for stepkids in your community
would be justified; and...
scan the non-profit
National Stepfamily Resource
Center (NSRC) for possibilities.
Are there any resources available to help us start or maintain a
co-parent support group?
choosing resources for your group, consider this
perspective on evaluating stepfamily information and advice.
start with this
article. Then review the resources below.
none of them acknowledge these
and the scope of information you'll find in
If any of the following is inaccurate, please let me
Stepparenting is a 158-page softcover workshop guide covering
developing roles and creating a new
divided loyalties, the "instant
love" myth, competition, discipline, and family rules. Questionnaires, checklists,
exercises, and a bibliography are included. Available from the
Children and Families) ~$20;
for Adults and Children in Stepfamilies -
developed by Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder and colleagues. This 12-hour research-based,
educational program curriculum is for remarried or partnering couples and
their children, and focuses on building couple and family strength. The
program uses informational presentations, hands-on exercises, group
discussions, and media.
The 250+ page Curriculum includes: leader lesson
guides for adult and child programs, background readings, hand-out masters,
resource list pre/post evaluation questionnaires, two videos (the movie,
"Stepmom" and "Smart Steps Video Vignettes"), and CD with power point slides,
hand-out files, and evaluation forms). Order from the
and Operating Support Groups: a Guide for Parents; (1992); 22 pages, published
by The Family Resource Coalition of America:
(now "Family Support America") 200 S.
Michigan Ave., 16th floor; Chicago, IL, 60604: Item # CO13, about $5.00. (312)-341-0900;
"...This manual defines support groups,
gives (parents) tips for planning the first and subsequent meetings, and offers
maintaining a healthy group...."
This is written for parents in general, not
stepfamily co-parents. Its a wealth of practical ideas from those who have done
it before. Other references are included.
Strengthening Stepfamilies, by Linda
Albert and Elizabeth Einstein (1986), is a
set of three audio tapes, participant workbooks, exercises, and leader materials. It's
flexible and modular, and can be done on a weekend or (better) in five sessions.
Main topics include "The Stepfamily
is Born of Loss"; "Realistic and Unrealistic Expectations"; "Effective
Stepparents"; "Stages of Stepfamily Living", and "Building Family
Unity". Tapes include vignettes on other step topics: money, conflicting needs,
ghosts from the past, "instant" love, having a new child, adoption, sexuality,
recognition, step-sib rivalry, grandparents, and others.
Designed for study groups of up to 15
people, the kit is available from
Guidance Service, Publishers' Building, P.O. Box 99, Circle Pines, MN
55014-1796. The kit is approximately $150, and participant packets are $23-$25 each. Order
online (select "Parenting") or call AGS at 1-800-328-2560.
American multi-home stepfamilies are far more
stressful than typical
intact (one-home) biofamilies, and are prone to
psychological or legal re/divorce. Typical stepfamily
adults and kids
need a lot of education, patience, and knowledgeable
for years after they cohabit and merge.
experience with over 15 Midwestern co-parent support groups, this
two-page article covers......
is support (as in "support group")?
Ways to start a group
How to maintain (run) an effective group,
about co-parent support groups.
+ + +
Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what
you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what
Is there anyone you want to
discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
page / Lesson 7 /
intro / course outline
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