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17 August 2008 1 Step and Blended Families William Diplock B.S.Sc. (Psychology) M.S.Sc.(Counselling) Clinical Leader and Relationships Counsellor (Relationships Australia) Private Practice at Mansfield, New Farm and Boonah. For Consultation phone: 0401 220 424 © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 2 Introduction The purpose of this seminar on Step and Blended Families is to introduce counsellors and other helpers to the complex dynamics involved in this type of family formation. And having gained a basic knowledge, how then to intervene differently and appropriately to this most important and valuable family form. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 3 Step and Blended Families What is your immediate reaction to the word STEPFAMILY? © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 4 Stepfamily Narratives in Mythology What narrative or media portrayals about stepfamilies are you familiar with? How might these narratives assist or impede our work with stepfamilies? © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 5 A rose by any other name? Stepfamilies A rose by any other name? What are the other names this type of family form is known by? Blended Synergistic Recoupled Reconstituted Remarried Prefabricated Binuclear © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 6 A Shift in Reasons Behind Stepfamily Formation From Death of a Spouse to Death of a Relationship Issues: Loss, Survival, Gain – goals, hopes and dreams © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 7 FACT: Stepfamilies are the most prevalent family form in the 21 st Century Australian Statistics (Refers to ABS Statistics). 30-40% of todays children will live in a stepfamily by the age of 18 Stepfamilies may be the prototype for the postmodern family. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 8 Step and Blended Families A Central Question: Are Stepfamilies Different From Biological Families in Terms of Their Emotional Life, Intra-psychic and Interpersonal Functioning?…. And If So, How are they Different? © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 9 Step and Blended Families Issues of identity Legacies from former first time families Divided loyalties Lack of child-free honeymoon period for the couple (a different boundary around the couple relationship) Different relationships (boundaries and established alliances between adults and children) © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 10 Step and Blended Families Heightened issues of belonging/exclusion (insider/outsider status) A separate developmental process (a set of stages within the overall developmental family lifecycle) © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 11 Step and Blended Families are different Treating stepfamilies as having the same needs and dynamics as intact families is a recipe for disaster. Six Key differences : 1. A need to build a viable family out of a sense of failure or loss 2. Family members come from different histories and expectations (like a company merger) © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 12 3. Only one adult is a biological parent – stepparent roles are socially and legally undefined (except for unhelpful stereotypes such as the Brady Bunch; the wicked stepmother / cruel stepfather) and as such, these roles need careful negotiation. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families are different
17 August 2008 13 4. Children may be members of two households. 5. Financial and parenting obligations to a previous family often strain the new couple relationship. 6. Stepfamilies are complex – they have family forests rather than family trees. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families are different
17 August 2008 14 Two polarised Value Positions or Dominant Discourses in Relation to Stepfamilies: The stepfamily is seen as damaged goods, i.e. an unfortunate consequence of the failure of normal or the ideal nuclear family, and inherently problematic and prone to dysfunction. The stepfamily is seen as a part of the ongoing narrative that emanates from our socially constructed reality of what it means to be a family, i.e. the stepfamily is seen as a valid and viable alternative to other family forms or familial constellations. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Position OnePosition Two
17 August 2008 15 Practice Implications: Position One (failure of normal) Diagnositic (objective) assessments of the stepfamily/couple made according to normative models of family life. Psycho-educational interventions Attempts to re-structure the stepfamily/couple boundaries and communications. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 16 Practice Implications: Position One (failure of normal) Identifying causal relationships between current experience and family of origin/first time histories Attempts to overcome prescribed deficits/disadvantages and problems. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 17 Practice Implications: Position Two (Valid Alternative) Seeks to explore and evolve richer (thicker) narratives or meanings to describe the stepfamilys/couples lived experience. Emphasises the best intentions and personal agency of stepfamily clients. Views the stepfamilys story as evidence of resilience and looks for resources and unrealised potential. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 18 Practice Implications: Position Two (Valid Alternative) Is sympathetic to the social, economic and political forces which impinge. Meets the stepfamily/with a curious, not- knowing stance and seeks to find and amplify examples of success or exceptions to problem stories. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 19 The Current Conventional Wisdom: Major (and sometimes conflicting) Truisms from the Professional Literature. Insecurity and loss result from having the dream of the first relationship/family shattered. Stepfamily couples often try to act as if they are the first time families and ignore the unique territory they inhabit. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 20 The Current Conventional Wisdom: Major (and sometimes conflicting) Truisms from the Professional Literature. Difference and divided loyalties often go unacknowledged in the couples search for reformation. It is helpful when the challenges faced by stepfamily couples are normalised. Nuclear family maps, or the prevailing family ideology, should not be imposed on stepfamilies as it forecloses many possibilities/solutions. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 21 The Current Conventional Wisdom: Major (and sometimes conflicting) Truisms from the Professional Literature. The success of the stepfamily depends on the strength and resolution achieved within the stepfamily couple relationship. The stepfamily progresses through a series of predictable/transitional developmental stages seldom completed before 5-7 years. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 22 The Current Conventional Wisdom: Major (and sometimes conflicting) Truisms from the Professional Literature. It is important to work through the grief of former marriage/family breakdown. There will be role ambiguity and a mismatch of expectations in stepfamilies/couples. Intra-psychic as well as interpersonal dimensions are relevant to stepfamily/couple work. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 23 Step and Blended Families and Therapy Stepfamilies seek therapy when emotional tensions are high, integration seems impossible, and the family is functioning in ways that increase, rather than reduce stress. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 24 One of the most important things a therapist can do is to help stepfamilies understand the differences between the stepfamily system and a biological system. This allows step family members to form realistic expectations for the stepfamily define alternative roles and rules adopt new rituals. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families and Therapy
17 August 2008 25 Stepfamilies that seek help are already at risk and what is said in therapy cannot be taken back Working with the entire family may increase the fragility of an already fragile system. The marital dyad lacks the history of the parent-child dyad; thus therapy that focuses initially on the couple rather than the family can be most beneficial. Once the marital dyad is stabilized, family therapy can be helpful. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families and Therapy
17 August 2008 26 Papernow (1993) recommends the use of interventions that; (a)Draw attention to unvoiced longings for something that cannot be, (b)Provide information that places fantasies in perspective and normalizes feelings, © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families and Interventions
17 August 2008 27 c)Separate shoulds from realities, d)Explore the losses involved in relinquishing fantasies, and e)Look for external influences that may be counterproductive. © 2008-2011 William Diplock Step and Blended Families and Interventions
17 August 2008 28 Step and Blended Families The therapists acknowledgement of the difficulty in integrating two families, with different histories and rules, can help members to normalize the stepfamilys struggle as merely anxiety-provoking, as opposed to pathological. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 29 Developmental Models Papernow (1993) Fantasy (the invisible burden) Immersion (sinking versus swimming) Awareness (mapping the territory) Action (going into business together) Contact (intimacy and authenticity in step relationships) Resolution (holding on and letting go) © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 30 Developmental Models Newman (1992) The fantasy stage The confusion stage The conflict stage The coming together stage The resolution stage © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 31 Stepparents and Stepchild Relationships Where it Works 1.The stepchild had a good relationship with the parent. 2.The parent and the stepparent were both clear that this was the role they wanted the stepparent to play. 3.The parent took a responsible attitude to discipline and enforced rules that had been previously agreed upon. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 32 Stepparents and Stepchild Relationships Where it Works 4.The child was responsive to friendly overtures, if not at first, then with time. 5.The stepparent genuinely liked the stepchild and was able to cultivate common interests. 6.The access parent was not trying to embitter the stepchild. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 33 Stepparents and Stepchild Relationships Where it Works 7.The child had developed skills in solving problems and generating friendships. 8.The stepparent gained the childs affection, before (if at all) trying to exercise control over the child. (Webber 1989:92) © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 34 Stepparents and Stepchild Relationships Where it Works The two crucial areas that need to be negotiated in order to find a mutually satisfactory stepparent role is discipline and nurturance. In some families, children actually prefer the company of the stepparent to that of the parent. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 35 Stepparents and Stepchild Relationships Where it Works The role that stepparents carve out for themselves may be different from that of parent, but it can be just as rewarding. It is crucial that parents are supportive of stepparents in the stepparents endeavours to find a place for themselves in the family. Many stepparents who have successfully developed good relationships with their stepchildren claim they had to work hard to gain the childs trust and confidence. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 36 Next Steps This has been a brief introduction to this important topic Our next steps include; Make yourself familiar with the following resources. Make a space in your heart for your clients to be your best teachers. You will learn more than you can ever know. Seek good supervision © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 37 Resources: Books Einstein, E. and Albert, L. (1986). Strengthening Your StepFamily Johnson, J. (1997). How do I feel about my Stepfamily STORYBOOK Newman, M. (2004). Stepfamily Life: Why it is different and how to make it work. Ridden, S. (2002). Hell…p! Im a Stepmother. Shimberg, E. (1999). Blending Families: A guide for parents, stepparents and everyone building a successful new family. Visher, E. and Visher J. (1988) Old Loyalities, New Ties: Therapeutic Strategies with Stepfamilies. Webber, R. (1995) (2 nd Ed) Living in a Stepfamily. Wisdom and Green (2002) Stepcoupling: Creating and sustaining a strong marriage in todays blended family. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 38 Resources: Journals Successful Stepfamily Therapy: Clients perspective. Pasley, K (1996) Successful Stepfamily Therapy: Clients perspective. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 39 Resources: Internet www.stepfamily.asn.au www.stepfamily.org.au www.focusonyourchild.com © 2008-2011 William Diplock
17 August 2008 40 Resources: Movies STEPMOM With Julia Roberts, Susan Sarrandon and Ed Harris. © 2008-2011 William Diplock
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