Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Key Definitions

A Guide to the Terms
Used in this Web Site

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/tools/terms.htm

    Updated 01-11-2015

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      To plan, negotiate, and problem-solve effectively, your family members and supporters need a clear, common language. My professional experience is that average adults often have undeveloped family and relationship vocabularies, and they accept that. That promotes fuzzy thinking, misunderstandings, arguments, and accumulations of unresolved conflicts.

      These promote frustrations, resentments, and distrusts, rather than effective communication, family problem-solving, and healthy bonding. Words and the ideas they symbolize are our basic tools for nurturing healthy inner- family and interpersonal relationships. Do you agree?

      To improve the effectiveness of your communications, these two  pages define basic wound-recovery, relationship, communication, and family terms. How many of these can you explain to another person now? Follow the links for brief information on each term.

       This glossary assumes you're familiar with the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it.

Definitions in alphabetical order.

      Some of these links open informational popups, and others lead to paragraphs in this page or in other articles in this site.



Affair (marital)

Assert, Assertion

Awareness bubble

Bio- (prefix)

Blended (step)family

Bond, Bonding



Break the cycle

Character or Psyche








Divorce , Divorcing


Dual-role parent




Extended family

Extended stepfamily


Family functioning

Family identity

Family map (genogram)

Family mission statement

Family roles and rules

Family structure

Family system

Grief (mourning)

Grown Wounded Child (GWC)

Grown Nurtured Child (GNC)


Half brother / sister

Healthy / toxic relationship

Inner family (of subselves)

Inner pain

Integrity (personal)

Loss (broken bond)

Loyalty conflict



Needs, Needy

Neglect (caregiver)

Nuclear family

Nuclear stepfamily

Nurturance level (family)


Parent (noun)

Parent, Parenting (verb)


Problem solving

Recovery (from inner wounds)


Relationship triangle




Step- (prefix)

Stepchild / son / daughter


Stepfamily identity



Team / Teamwork


True and false selves


Values conflict

Wholistic health

Wounds (psychological)

      Experiment: before you read about any of these terms, say your present definition out loud.

Also see (new windows)...

BIO- (prefix) - denotes some aspect of a biological (genetically-related) family. For example, biofamily role-titles are bioparent, biomother, biofather, biosister, biobrother, bio-grandparent, biochild, and bio-kin. The prefix is useful because "standard" (pre-divorce) biofamily roles are often very different from their post-divorce and stepfamily counterparts.

BLENDED (STEP)FAMILY - People who dislike the unpleasant associations of "stepfamily" often use "blended family" instead. In a true blended ("complex") stepfamily, both mates have prior kids. Each mate has two roles: stepparent and bioparent.

      If a childless stepparent conceives a child with a bioparent partner, that does not make them a blended stepfamily. All blended families are stepfamilies, but not all stepfamilies are blended. Confusing, isn’t it? See "stepfamily"


CHILDHOOD - Before reading more, evolve a thoughtful answer to three questions: "What was your childhood?"; "Was it good or bad?;" and "What factors influenced it the most?"

      In this site, childhood means "The period of time in a person’s life between their conception and their leaving home as a truly independent, self-supporting adult." Clarity on this is important in fully understanding "childhood deprivation," which is the heart of the ''Grown Wounded Child'' (GWC) idea in this course and related guidebooks.

      It’s possible that neglect (nurturance deprivation) starts while we're in the womb. Some neo-natal researchers suggest that how a pregnant woman copes with chronic stress (e.g. with unbalanced diet or harmful drugs) can chemically affect the development of her fetus.

      Some people wonder if fetuses may be organically traumatized by loud noises (like marital arguing) or "commotion" outside their mother’s body. My hunch is that seriously wounded Moms may unconsciously deprive their kids of primal nurturance in complex ways we haven’t identified yet. What do you think?

      Major factors that affect the wholistic health of your childhood are (a) family, school, and church nurturance levels, and (b) significant traumas. Assessing how each factor affected filling a child's developmental needs can help to validate and recover from psychological wounds. 

      Every parent needs to ponder...

"How nurturing were my and my mate/s’ childhoods?" (low > moderate > high); and...

"How wounded were each of my and my partner's childhood caregivers?"

It’s possible a child has a moderately healthy family and still be emotionally deprived and traumatized for several years in a low-nurturance school, activity, or church -  though aware caregivers would prevent that.


COMMUNICATION occurs when any perceived behavior of one person or personality subself significantly affects another person or subself spiritually, psychologically, mentally, or physically. "Significantly" is a subjective judgment. Because silence, withdrawal, or no contact may affect the receiver, there is no such thing as "no communication."

      All behavior aims to reduce or prevent physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual discomfort (needs). There are six universal needs people seek to fill by "communicating." One is the constant need for self and mutual respect, which shapes all human communication and relationships. 

      Effective (vs. "open and honest") communication happens when each person involved feels clearly that they...

  • got all their current needs met well enough,

  • in a way that leaves them feeling good enough about themselves, their partner/s, and their shared process. 

Three widespread factors that cause ineffective communication are unseen psychological wounds + ignorance of communication basics and skills + personal unawareness of internal and interpersonal dynamics. Studying and applying Lessons 1 and 2 can improve all three of these.


CO-PARENT - "Co-" is from the Latin "com-," which meant "together." Co-parents are two or more adults in any family who intentionally nurture dependent kids together. Active grandparents, aunts, and uncles and some older teens can act as co-parents

      A co-parent can be a bioparent. a childless stepparent, or involved adult relative. Legally and physically, divorcing-family and stepfamily co-parents are custodial, noncustodial, or share joint custody. "Parent" can be a family role, (noun) a nurturing process, (verb) or a person who conceives and/or nurtures a child (noun).

      Some caregivers have stepparent and bioparent roles ("dual-role co-parents"). A nuclear stepfamily may have three or more co-parents living in two or more related homes with their resident and visiting bio-kids and stepkids. The complex multi-generational and social environment that typical kids, co-parents, and co-grandparents live in differs in up to 40 ways from intact biofamilies!

      The term co-parent is emotionally neutral. That helps offset our old cultural bias that bioparents are "better" or more "normal" or "natural" than stepparents or foster parents.


ENMESHMENT - In human relationships, this term means two or more people who don't have clear identities ("This is who I am, as a person") and boundaries (limits) that separate one individual from the other. Thus an enmeshed person can't distinguish the difference between my needs, feelings, opinions, and priorities and yours. This condition is clear evidence of psychjological wounds.

      Enmeshment is the polar opposite of two people being independent - meaning neither has a strong need to care about or need the other. A middle option is an interdependent relationship, where each per-son has a clear, stable identity, and stable boundaries. These combine to let them relate together as co-equal partners out of conscious choice, vs. unconscious compulsion ("I can't live without you!")

      Codependence (relationship addiction) is a form of enmeshment where the wounded person progressively loses awareness of her or his own needs, feelings, and goals, and focuses consciously on living from those attributes of another person. The roots of this condition (vs. "disease') seem to be two common psychological wounds: excessive shame and obsessive fear of rejection and abandonment - i.e. terror of being self-responsible and alone.

      Whole households and families can be enmeshed, in that each person's life and "business" is seen as being each other member's business - e.g. everyone listens to each others' phone calls, and reads other member's personal mail. A member's asserting for personal privacy evokes strong criticism, scorn, and resistance from other members - "Why do you feel you need to keep secrets from us?!"


EXTENDED FAMILY - Traditionally, an extended bio(logical) family is comprised of a child’s several generations of living genetic and legal relatives other than siblings and parents – i.e. the group of all aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Thus a nuclear family + extended family = "the whole family." Some people use "extended family" to mean all related members. Classically, a child’s extended family is at least two bioparents, and four DNA-related grandparents. Who comprises your extended family now? The adjectives nuclear and extended can clarify who you're talking about and reduce misunderstandings.


EXTENDED STEPFAMILY - Who comprises "the whole stepfamily"? Including all blood and legal relatives of three or more related co-parents and their minor and grown kids,  typical extended stepfamilies can have 100+ members, living in a dozen or more related homes all over the continent.

      The number of possible relationships among all members is often boggling. How many of your multi-generational family members would know what "extended stepfamily" means and who it includes? Common stepfamily stressors are confusion and disagreement over stepfamily identity and who belongs (is a family member).


FAMILY - two or more people who feel significantly bonded by some mix of emotions, commitments, history, genes (perhaps), legal contracts (like a marriage license, parenting agreement, or Order of Protection), last names, memories, customs, and ongoing dependencies. Many families include one or more minor or gown children, and others do not.

      Families exist in every age and culture because they fill some core child and adult needs better than any other human grouping. Can you name these specific core needs? Would each of your relatives say their current family fills all their primary needs well enough?

      There are many kinds of human family: biological or "birth family," absent-parent (usually called "single parent"), foster, bi-racial, multi-cultural, adoptive, communal, childless, step, same-gender partners, and psychological (non-DNA-related). Each family type is normal (has existed in all cultures and eras), has some things in common with all others, and some facets that are different (vs. better).

      When people have no bonds or relationship with genetic relatives, they may select other adults and kids (a psychological family) to try to fill the needs that a genetic family would otherwise. In the best case, psychological families can be as nurturing, functional, and durable as healthy intact biofamilies.

      As global human health has vastly improved in recent centuries, intact two-parent biofamilies are becoming the norm except in war-torn and disease-dominated societies. Typical multi-home stepfamilies differ in more ways from traditional intact biofamilies than any other family type does.

      Families who consistently fill all members’ mental, spiritual, psychological, and physical needs well enough (vs. just the kids’ needs) can be called "high-nurturance." Do you agree? If so, did you grow up in a high-nurturance family? What's the nurturance-level of your current nuclear and extended families? Would other members agree?

      Gauge your basic knowledge about families with this quiz. Lesson 5 in this online self-improvement course focuses on growing a high-nurturance family.


FAMILY FUNCTIONING - People and the media describe some families as "dysfunctional" - often without knowing what that means. Premise: families have existed in every age and culture because they fill members' needs better than other human groups. To nurture means "to fill someone's needs." So a "functional" or high-nurturance family is one that consistently fills all members' needs well enough - in someone's opinion. What needs?

      All healthy adults and kids have primary needs. Kids in intact biofamilies also have developmental needs which require adult help to fill. Children of divorce and abandonment and typical stepkids have additional sets of family-adjustment needs.

      A high-nurturance family consistently fills all these adult and child needs well enough. Any family may be judged to be somewhere between "very low nurturance" (dysfunctional) and "very high nurturance" (functional).

      Typical high-nurturance families have characteristic traits - can you name them? Young kids raised in families with too few of these traits survive by developing up to six psychological wounds.  The wounds have significant impacts on their adult contentment, relationships (like psychological or legal divorce or never marrying); parenting effectiveness; wholistic health; and longevity.

      Lesson 1 in this site provides an effective way to assess for significant wounds, reduce them over time, and break the ancestral cycle of family dysfunction. Lesson 5 explores healthy family functioning.


FAMILY SYSTEM refers to the combination of…

  • All the emotionally, spiritually, and genetically-important people comprising a nuclear or extended (multi-generational) family, plus…

  • the needs and resulting relationship roles and rules that govern how these people behave together normally and in conflicts and crises; and…

  • the physical and invisible boundaries that separate this human system from other systems, like neighboring families, their city and church community, the nation, and the local and global ecosystems.

      Walls and doors, clothing, "personal space," and words like "no" and "yes" are basic tools we use to define the physical and emotional boundaries between our human systems.

      Awareness of these five facets of your dynamic family system can help all members understand how a change in one part of the system (like a birth, divorce, graduation, geographic move, death, injury, and financial change) affects all family members, roles, rules, and sometimes the boundaries of the system. Understanding systemic changes and their impacts on family members can help adults adapt and grieve well, and guide kids to do the same.

      All systems are composed of cascades of smaller subsystems. Each organ in the system of your body is a subsystem. Each household of kids and adults is a subsystem of your larger multi-generational  family system. Common nuclear-family subsystems are parent-child, spouse-spouse, siblings, and perhaps child/ren-pet/s. 

      Typical multi-home stepfamily systems can take four or more years to stabilize after commitment vows and cohabiting, because of the great complexity of merging three or more co-parents’ prior extended- biofamily systems into a much larger meta-system – a system of systems (Lesson 7)!

      For more perspective, see this useful Web site and this article.


GROWN WOUNDED CHILD (GWC) - an adult who survived a low nurturance home and family led by unaware, wounded caregivers. Typical GWCs were significantly abandoned, neglected, and abused (traumatized) in their early years - i.e. they didn't get healthy, informed help filling their developmental needs.

      To adapt, typical GWCs automatically develop protective false selves and up to five more psycho-logical wounds The wounds significantly hinder kids' wholistic health, relationships, and self-actualization, until hitting true bottom (usually in midlife) and committing to personal healing.

      Depending on many factors, each GWC falls somewhere between "a little" wounded to "moderately wounded" to "massively wounded." The latter often make headlines as sociopaths, criminals, "borderline or multiple  personalities," "suicides," "tyrants," "serial killers," and "abusers."

      Most of the hundreds of troubled persons and couples I’ve met as a therapist since 1981 have been significantly wounded, and were unaware of that and what it means. Most were in protective denial of their wounds, and the early-childhood neglect that caused them.

      Until typical GWCs break their denial and begin true recovery, they (a) repeatedly pick wounded partners (and often divorce), and (b) pass on psychological wounds to their dependent kids – just like their ancestors did. Neither reflex is intentional. They both can be avoided through learning and intentional personal healing. 

       Many human-service professionals (like me) seem to be significantly-wounded survivors in varying stages of denial or true (vs. pseudo) recovery. I’ve been in proactive personal recovery since 1986. It works! In these articles, Lesson 1 focuses on adults assessing for and reducing psychological wounds and unawareness and helping their kids to develop and trust their true Selves.

      See this article for more on detail Grown Wounded Children.


GROWN NURTURED CHILD (GNC) - a "GNC" is an adult who grew up in a high-nurturance home, extended family, and childhood. Typical GNCs' inner families (personalities) are usually led by their true Self , and they are wholistically-healthy persons and effective parents. They usually choose other GNCs for partners, and maintain mutually-satisfying long-term relationships with them. 

      I suspect that American GNCs are a small minority, judging from our horrendous crime, abortion, abuse, welfare, suicide, addiction, litigation, obesity, divorces, and homelessness statistics. This is relentlessly promoted by...

  • public ignorance and denial, and...

  • indifference to (a) epidemic unwise marriages and child-conceptions, and (b) unqualified childcare.

Both can be prevented!


HALF BROTHER, HALF SISTER - Unlike traditional biofamilies, stepfamilies can have dependent and/or grown his, hers, and ours kids. When a mom or dad conceives kids with two or more partners, the kids share only the parent's genes. A half-sibling does not have the role or title of stepchild (has no stepparent), even though s/he’s a member of a multi-home nuclear stepfamily.

      Do typical half siblings feel the same kind of psychological bonds that full biological siblings do? Would you feel good about being a half anything? Because half-sibs are a small minority in our culture,  they can feel inferior and/or abnormal, even if they’re consistently treated as having equal dignity and value by family members. 

      Their co-parents may "leak" unconscious beliefs that half siblings are somehow "sub-standard," or are "deprived" of "normalcy." Without co-parent awareness and effective nurturing, such leaked beliefs can lower an "ours" child’s self respect, which can effect their stepfamily and other relationships.

      A previously-childless stepmom or stepdad who conceives an ours baby can show unconscious favoritism for their new child vs. their stepkids, despite determination not to. Kids of divorce are often hypersensitive to potential caregiver rejection and abandonment. Imagined or actual co-parent favoritism generates understandable resentments in both the "lesser" kids and their loyal bioparents and bio-kin. 

      Without stepfamily awareness (Lesson 7) and effective communication skills (Lesson 2), these resentments cause significant loyalty conflicts and associated relationship triangles, household tension, and escalating re/marital strife. Blood is (usually) "thicker than water"!

      A common stepfamily myth is that having an ours baby will nourish a troubled re/marriage, and strengthen a conflicted co-parenting home. There is a significant risk that the reverse will be true.


HEALTHY / TOXIC RELATIONSHIP - premise: two people have a relationship when the perceived behaviors of one significantly affect the wholistic health, functioning, and growth of the other – in someone’s opinion. Significantly is a subjective judgment.

      From this, a healthy relationship is one that helps to fill (vs. impede) each partner’s key primary needs well enough, over some time period - according to somebody. The wholistic health of any relationship (toxic > low > high) can be judged by at least three people: person A, person B, and an outside judge.

      Their opinions may mesh or clash, depending on their definitions and rankings of "key wholistic needs." One way of describing the wholistic health (nurturance level) of a nuclear or extended family is to say "it is the sum of the basic wholistic healths of each of the relationships that comprise the family."

      A toxic relationship is one which consistently impedes filling one or both partners’ current and long-tem primary needs. Symptoms of a toxic relationship occur when one or both partners often feel significant inner pain or emotional numbness, and are often controlled by a protective false self. Until in meaningful wound-recovery, the ruling subselves of such people usually choose and endure toxic relationships because they distrust or don't know other options.     

      Clarity on what "healthy (interpersonal) relationship" means can help people assess whether they had a nourishing or toxic relationship with key childhood caregivers. It can also help assess and improve the relationships among the subselves comprising their personality.

      Lesson 4  in this self-improvement course focuses on healthy relationships.


NEGLECT (by a caregiver) – What if a person in power (like a parent) unintentionally does things that "significantly harm" a dependent person? If the power-person accepts responsibility for the dependent’s welfare, such harmful behavior is neglectRestated - in a family context, neglect means intentionally disregarding the needs and welfare of a dependent child or adult. Self-neglect occurs when the dependent person is you.

      Premise - adults who...

  • conceive children and/or...

  • agree to provide part-time or full-time care for other people’s children, and who...

  • clearly fail to...

are neglectful (vs. "bad").

      The opposite of caregiver neglect is nurturanceintentionally, consistently helping to fill dependent kids’ key health, growth, and special needs. Until well into personal wound-recovery, people controlled by false selves routinely neglect aspects of their own wholistic health. For sobering evidence of how wide-spread self-neglect is in America, see this research summary.


NUCLEAR FAMILY - A nucleus is the core of something, like the yolk of an egg. Traditionally, the nucleus of a biological family is (both bioparents + all dependent kids). More broadly, a nuclear biofamily refers to all people regularly living in a minor child's main home. Use "nuclear family" when you want to focus on co-parents and dependent kids, rather than the larger multi-generational group of all biological and legal relatives in their extended family.


NUCLEAR STEPFAMILY - includes all three or more co-parenting adults and the minor and grown stepkids regularly living in one or more of their related homes. This term helps identify which part of a stepfamily is being discussed. If one of a stepchild's bioparents is dead or out of contact, s/he's still a member of the child's nuclear stepfamily system because of their ongoing genetic, emotional, ancestral, and often legal, and financial influences.

      Considering membership, family identity, communications, adjustment tasks, roles and role-titles, rules, finances, legalities, holidays, family gatherings, names, loyalties, vacations, and general stability, nuclear-stepfamily systems are far more complex than intact nuclear biofamilies! Reality-check this with any veteran stepfamily adult or child!

       Ask a typical stepfamily co-parent or child "Who's your family?" They’ll usually identify the people regularly living in and visiting their primary home. Typical stepfamilies work best when all members respect the needs, opinions, and feelings of people in all their related co-parenting homes.

       Co-parents do themselves and dependent kids a favor by consistently saying "My nuclear stepfamily lives in two (or more) co-parenting homes. We’re a group of related kids and adults with a common mission and shared strengths, resources, and family-merger tasks." Would you say something like that? Would your co-parenting partners?


PARENT (noun) - A biological parent is someone who contributed half the genes of a living or dead child, and usually their last name. A psychological parent is any person who tries to fill the primary wholistic needs (nutrition, shelter, safety, stimulation, health-care, guidance,…) of a dependent child, part-time or full time, whether genetically related or not. So the noun parent can refer to a person, a role, or both.

      We’ve evolved unique labels for many different types of parent (child nurturer), to symbolize key differences in their responsibilities, roles, and relationships with their kids. For example, (bio)mom, (bio)father), bioparent, foster parent, day-care provider, governess, (legal) guardian, au pair, nurse, and adoptive parent. All have some legal responsibilities for their dependent kids, while stepparents have few or none This varies by the State of residence.

      Wholistically-healthy bioparents and bio-grandparents instinctively feel a fierce primal bond with their DNA kids and grandkids, which typical psychological (non-DNA) parents and grandparents can only approach. Yes, there are exceptions! Highly- wounded bioparents may not be able to bond with their genetic (or any) child/ren, and must pretend to do so in a world where genuine bonding is prized and expected.


PARENT, PARENTING (verb) is the dynamic process of intentionally trying to fill a dependent or grown child’s primary developmental and other needs. Caregiving may mean parenting, or may mean intentionally providing for only special needs - e.g. a nurse, teacher, or street-crossing guard provides limited childcare, not full parenting.

      Some men and women are more effective at parenting than others. Can you describe what effective parenting is - specifically? If co-parents have unclear or significantly-conflicting definitions of effective parenting, will that harm dependent kids? Can a family with one or more ineffective parents achieve high-nurturance traits? See Lesson 6.  

      Premise: An effective parent is one who...

  • wants to patiently and empathically help fill the developmental and special needs of a child, from dependence to stable young-adult independence and social productivity; while...

  • staying (or becoming) wholistically healthy, balanced, nurturing and growing themselves, and...

  • wanting to maintain a stable-enough high-nurturance family environment and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

 How does this compare with your definition? Your other family adults' definitions?


RE/MARRIAGE and RE/DIVORCE - The "/" notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. The English author Samuel Johnson observed 200 years ago that "remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience." Unlike Johnson, "remarriage" here doesn't mean a divorced couple who marry each other again. Most (~70%) divorcing or cohabiting American co-parents form or join stepfamilies.

      "Marriage" means many things: a legal contract, a vowed commitment to another, a commitment ceremony, a social and legal status, a state of mind, a special (often conjugal) relationship between two partners, a cultural and social "institution," and a spiritual and religious covenant and sacrament. Mates may or may not share the same mix of meanings for "we're married." A divorcing person may change their original definition of "marriage"...

      Similarly, "divorce" can mean a legal process, an emotional/spiritual process, a court event, a state of mind, and a societal event, statistic, and stressor. Mates can begin divorcing psychologically long before physical separation and/or legal dissolution occurs.

      Some couples may legally divorce, and one or both mates remain emotionally bonded by needs, longing, hatred, resentment, guilt, and/or love - specially if they conceived one or more kids. Ongoing post-separation court battles over child custody, visitations, education, health, religion, and/or finances are a clear symptom.

       People casually agree that "divorce" is traumatic, without defining what they're referring to. Often the stressful household relationships leading up to spousal separation cause far more losses and personality wounds than the legal divorce process or decree.

      For more perspective on re/marriage, see this article and these Q&A items. For three practical steps to prevent divorce, see this.


STEP- This prefix comes from the thousand-year-old English root "stoep-," which meant "not related by marriage," deprived, or orphaned. Orphans were common in William the Conqueror’s world. Like "bio-," the prefix "step-" denotes a group of social relationships and family roles like stepfamily, stepparent, stepmother, step-grandfather, stepsister, step great-aunt, step-cousin, and others.

      If the relationships, and the developmental stages and tasks in typical stepfamilies were the same as in average intact biofamilies, we wouldn’t need these many terms and titles. Their respective roles, structures, and developmental phases are often (confusingly) the same and different, so we need "step-" and "bio-" terms to discuss stepfamily matters effectively!

      For some people, words beginning with "step-" are unconsciously associated with second best, abnormal, failure, inferior, weird, or strange. Such words are constant reminders of prior divorce or death losses, pain, guilt, shame, sadness, and inadequacy. Cinderella and our unaware media steadily remind adults and kids to regard anything "step-" as abnormal, and implicitly flawed or "not as good."

      Many shame-based (wounded) adults and kids are extra sensitive to such disparaging word-associations. To minimize unpleasant feelings and social scorn, they often intentionally or unconsciously avoid or disparage "step-" terms, identities, and role titles, which really do fit their complex stepfamily relation-ships.

      This avoidance - and adult and societal ignorance of stepfamily basics - promote unrealistic role and relationship expectations, hurts, frustrations, confusions, disappointments, and conflicts. Clear, appropriate family terms and role-titles count!


STEPCHILD, STEPSON, STEPDAUGHTER – these titles describe the family role filled by any minor or grown child of a bioparent who is committed to a new mate (a stepparent). Serious co-parental  courtship creates paired stepchild-stepparent (and related) roles. The co-parents’ commitment ceremony and marriage license creates legal responsibilities for these roles.

      A stepchild’s bioparent may be widowed, divorcing, separated, or never married. A stepchild may or may not be legally adopted by their stepparent/s - most are not. Roughly 20% of the students in typical American schools are stepkids - more in inner cities. Roughly another 20% now live in absent-parent homes, and will have the role of stepchild before they register to vote.

      Depending on many factors, typical minor stepkids have up to four sets of concurrent needs to fill:

  • normal development toward adult independence, while ...

  • adapting to up to six psychological wounds, which hinder ...

  • grieving and adjusting to biofamily reorganization from...

    • bioparent death or divorce, and...

    • new-stepfamily cohabiting and complex biofamily mergers.

These can combine to total over 60 concurrent personal needs for a given minor child. Few family adults and mental-health professionals can name, let alone provide informed, effective guidance on, all of them. Can you?

      Stepfamily breakups add a fifth set of concurrent adjustment needs. Without hard evidence, some authors estimate that over half of American stepfamily mates re/divorce legally, most within seven years of their vows. Millions of others choose to endure psychological divorce. I can find no meaningful research on the effect on typical minor girls and boys of several family breakups...

      Stepkids can be emotionally influenced by three or more or more co-parents, in two or more homes. They may have biosiblings, stepsiblings, and half-siblings who have different last names, sometimes different from their own (remarried) biomom. Stepkids can be nurtured, ignored, or hassled by 12 or more co-grandparents and many biological and step-relatives

      All their step-relatives together, including some they’ll never meet, would fill a small hall. Could sorting out, clarifying, and stabilizing this dynamic web of strange step-relationships boggle an average child trying to negotiate middle school, puberty, global warming, terrorism, and high school? Ask your nearest stepchild.

      For more perspective on stepkids and stepparents, follow the links, and/or study Lesson 7. ..



STEPFAMILY - Many lay people and human-service professionals are vague or unclear on what this term means. A stepfamily is any emotionally-bonded family including at least one part-time or full-time (custodial) stepparent, and one resident or visiting, minor or grown stepchild. Most stepfamily roles, rules, and dynamics begin when co-parent couples begin to date seriously - well before exchanging vows.

      All emotionally, genetically, and financially important relatives to (a) each stepchild, (b) each of their bioparents, and (c) each stepparent, are members of their multi-generational stepfamily. Some may not want to be. Others will feel confused or ambivalent about membership, or may not realize they're in a "stepfamily."

      Implication: all ex mates who conceived a biochild and later divorced are ongoing members of a child’s stepfamily, whether they and/or other co-parents like that or not. Scan this stepfamily genogram  (map) to make this more vivid.

      There are almost 100 structural kinds of multi-home stepfamily, because of combinations of co-parents’ prior divorce or death, ex-mate re/marriage, child custody, stepchild adoption, and "ours" kid conceptions, Unlike traditional biofamilies, this diversity guarantees that stepfamily adults and kids will rarely or never meet a person in a stepfamily like theirs.

      This often promotes feelings of isolation and abnormality for insecure kids and adults. These increase the need for co-parents’ intentionally evolving a stepfamily-aware support network.

       Media authors and commentators use a creative set of family adjectives to avoid the negative taint of "step-": bi-nuclear, rem(arriage), combined, reconstituted, merged, blended, reconstructed, serial, second, bonus, and co-familyThese well-meant terms promote stepfamily ignorance, denials, and myths. That promotes toxic unawareness and unrealistic stepfamily expectations, which cause disappointments, hurts, frustrations, and significant stress. 

      To minimize stress and avoid re/divorce trauma for everyone, study and apply this ad-free online self-improvement course!


STEPPARENT - Before reading further, try saying your definition out loud, and compare it to this: a stepparent is a man or woman who is...

  • emotionally committed to a divorcing or widowed bioparent, and...

  • chooses to fill the role of part-time or full-time nurturer, guide, and supporter to one or more of their partner’s children from a prior union; The stepparent...

  • may or may not have biological and/or adopted children of her/his own,' and...

  • probably has fewer legal parental rights and responsibilities than a biological parent in the same state or province, unless s/he legally adopts their stepchild/ren.  

Note that stepparent, stepmother, and stepfather are family roles (sets of responsibilities), not the person filling the role. If you feel that a stepparent role is somehow "inferior" or "abnormal," grant that the woman or man accepting that challenging role is not an inferior person!

      Note also that people filling stepmother or stepfather roles can be married or not, custodial or not, a bioparent or not, and a different nationality, race, gender, culture, and/or religion than their mate or stepchild/ren – or not. 

      Research suggests that typical first-marriage mates are significantly more alike in these factors than average step-couples. Wider age gaps and older female partners are also more common in re/marriages. This implies that there are more apt to be values conflicts in stepfamily relationships than in typical intact biofamilies. My personal and clinical experience validates this. The "/" in re/marriage notes that it may be one partner's first union.

      A stepparent may be emotionally committed to (love) a bioparent, and not really want to relate to or nurture their mate’s prior kids. Such men and women provide co-parenting out of ambivalence, duty, guilt, and/or fear of something. This lose-lose-lose scenario can occur when a minor stepchild unexpectedly moves from one bioparent’s home to their stepparent's home. 

      One of 60 common stepfamily myths is "Your (or my) biokids will always live with their other bioparent." Another is: "Your grown child will never come to live with us." Over time, the first of these expectations proves false in ~30% of U.S. stepfamilies!

      For more perspective on stepparenting, see this link-index and these Q&A items.


: Family adults seek cooperation and genuine teamwork in and between their related homes. (Right?) Yet many have only a vague idea about how to co-create effective teamwork.

      What distinguishes a team from other groups of people? Sports teams compete with each other to see who's "best." Other teams are noncompetitive. A team is two or more people who chose to, or have to, help each other achieve a common goal. When team-members achieve their personal and group goals in a way all feel proud of, they can be called effective.

      Have you ever been part of a really effective team (or committee, troupe, troop, clan, gang, squad, cast, task force, or class)? If so, what made it effective? Compare your experience to this premise: Elements of an effective team include...

One or several clear goals that are (a) understood and (b) genuinely valued by all team members; and...

An evolving plan to achieve the goal/s, including agreement on who is responsible for what (clear roles), when, and how (team rules); and...

One or more people who choose to lead the team. Effective team leaders are adept at...





















and matching team-members' talents and interests with steps in the plan (responsibilities)

      And an effective team of any sort...

maintains enough human and other resources to progress toward the team's goals; and...

needs freedom and social stability to act on their goals.

      Typical family adults can profit from sharing a common definition of "effective teamwork" in four or five domains: their...

  • inner family of personality subselves;

  • their household,

  • their multi-home extended family

  • any professionals they hire, like lawyers, tutors, doctors, clinicians, and child-care helpers; and...

  • any family support group they participate in.

      In this site, Lesson 5 offers resources to build an effective high-nurturance team of family adults. Lesson 7 extends this to focus on building an effective stepfamily team over time, despite major challenges. Typical stepfamily co-parents must over-come major barriers as they work together to master biofamily-merger tasks.


TRAUMA - This and the related words "traumatic" and "traumatized" are emotionally evocative for most people. Try saying out loud what you associate with them now. ("A trauma is ____ ...") Like other "hand-grenade" terms, many people casually use these without really defining what they mean.

      Because people vary in defining what a "trauma" is and what it causes, misunderstandings can occur if speakers don't clarify what they mean in important conversations. Example; "I was SO traumatized this morning - I lost my car and house keys!" has a far different scope of meaning than "My doctor just told me I have pancreatic cancer and will die soon!"

      A general definition trauma is "an expected or actual event that causes extreme emotional, mental, and perhaps physical and spiritual discomfort and injury." Extreme is a subjective judgment. How does this compare with your definition?

      This self-improvement Web site proposes that ineffective parenting of young children traumatizes them, which may promote significant psychological wounds. Without informed intervention, these wounds get passed on to their children, continuing the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is silently crippling our culture.


WHOLISTIC HEALTH - Here, wholistic (or "holistic") means (mental + spiritual + emotional + physical). Health means "functioning and growing at normal human potential." Any adult or child can be judged to be somewhere between "very wholistically healthy" and "very wholistically unhealthy."


  • a person's physical health is directly proportional to their psychological + spiritual + mental health. Those are directly proportional to the degree of false-self wounding present, if any - i.e. whether the person's personality is guided by a false self  or their true Self. self-improvement Lesson 1 here offers a way of assessing who's in charge, and freeing the resident true Self to lead.

  • a family’s (or any group’s) degree of wholistic health and its nurturance level are directly proportional to the personal wholistic health of it’s individual leaders.

How do you feel about these proposals? On a scale of one (very low) to ten (very high), how would you rank your current wholistic health? ___ Your family's nurturance level? ___

      For more perspective on wholistic health, see this article and this sobering research summary.


FAMILY IDENTITY - Unless you're blind, your brain constantly compares visual images to those stored in your brain to identify what you're looking at - a frog, a mailbox, a sunset, your face in the mirror, etc. We order our complex world by categorizing things into unique identities with certain characteristics. (A frog is not a radish because...).

      All families are the same in some ways and unique in others - e.g. dwelling, education, number of members, race, ethnic background, religious and political preferences, wealth, health, names,  lifestyle, etc. Most people unconsciously make comparative judgments about their own family's status compared to other family types. This is a modern form of the ancient human reflex of judging "our tribe" to be inferior or superior to "their tribe."

      Current examples are the common social bias that divorcing families and stepfamilies are "inferior in some ways" to traditional intact biofamilies, Some feel that Catholic or Jewish families are "better" (or worse) than Muslim, Hindu, or Navajo families, and Christian families are superior to (or "more fortunate than") atheist clans.

      Family identity can be a significant source of personal and social pride or anxiety and embarrassment in families controlled by wounded (shame-based) adults. Such people are often highly sensitive to being seen as "better" or "worse" than other people or groups, and may need to aggressively boast or disparage others to maintain the illusion of self-respect.

      Families run by adults guided by their true Selves are apt to view all families as equal in worth despite their differences ("We're all part of the human family.")    


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