Strengthening Your Stepfamily: Part 1


In her book, “Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t,” Patricia Papernow, EdD, discusses the five common challenges that a stepfamily can face and offers some straightforward guidance to help address them.

In my work with stepfamilies and in my own stepfamily experiences, I have witnessed and struggled with these challenges first-hand. In this series, we’ll break down each of the five challenges, discuss some common pitfalls, and talk about some ways to deal with these challenges.

Every stepfamily is unique.

First-time families always start with a couple first, and then later, parents.  But stepfamilies flip the order.  First, there are children (to either one or both of the partners) and then the couple forms. That flip creates some unique challenges that nearly every stepfamily faces.

Here is an overview of the five challenges that are common to stepfamilies.

  1. Insider/outsider positioning. Parents tend to be in the insider positions and stepparents often get stuck feeling like the outsider. These positions can easily become fixed and can create quite a bit of intensity for the couple and the family.
  2. Children struggle with too much change, loss, and pulled loyalties. The struggle of the children often gets missed by the couple as they are beginning their new life together.
  3. Parenting challenges can be polarizing for the couple leaving one another believing that the other parent is too strict or permissive.
  4. The stepfamily has to build a new family culture.
  5. Ex-spouses are an extended part of the new family.

We’ll discuss dealing with each of these challenges in more detail throughout this series.

Written By: Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT