Iishana Artra, PhD, CPC
What Does Success Look Like?
What used to crush us seems more normal now. We feel it, address it, but don't get caught up in it. We are each letting things be a little 'messy'.
We are not expecting each other to act like a regular family anymore, so we've relaxed a bit with each other. We know that we are learning as we go. But, we can do that because we each know the other really is working on the 5 keys, because those really do make so many situations easier to deal with.
Success in stepfamilies can mean improving one dynamic, like putting an end to scapegoating stepfamily members. Success can also mean staying together as a happier, healthier stepfamily long term.
Millions of stepfamilies make it; they stay together beyond the child rearing years. It is possible. They have made it past the toughest stages. They found clarity. Stepfamilies are inherently complex and involve intense emotions. That fact will not change. When you get clear about what is happening and why, you can learn ways to adapt and respond to stressful situations in ways that support your health and strengthen your stepfamily; then you are demonstrating stepfamily resilience.
Stepfamily resilience comes from how you think and act. With help, you can experience:
- Less surprise because you have realistic expectations
- Stronger partnership as a couple
- More conflict management skills
- More positive communication skills
You may also experience these benefits:
- More satisfying relationships at home
- Better mood
- Improved job performance
- Improved school performance
- Improved mental health
- More prosocial behavior
- Increased self-esteem
The Steps-4-Steps™ Approach Builds Safety, Wellbeing, and Personal Power
The most current evidence* of what helps stepfamilies is integrated into the Steps-4-Steps approach developed by Stepfamily Services. Our counseling, coaching, and workshops apply the Steps-4-Steps principles. Our services use the Steps-4-Steps approach to developing the 5 qualities (5 Keys) of stepfamilies that are associated with stepfamily success.
Addressing the Unique Challenges Faced by Stepfamilies
66% of stepfamilies break up. Why is it so hard? Although 1300 stepfamilies form each day, most help given is based on what works in original families. This is not only unhelpful, but can be harmful to adults and children in stepfamilies. Stepfamily Services only works with stepfamilies, it is our job to know how to provide effective support.
Support for Conditions that Impact the Effectiveness of Stepfamily Interventions
Conditions other than stepfamily dynamics and intervention also affect stepfamily adjustment. These conditions may also influence a first family. For example, consider the strengths and vulnerabilities each partner brings to the relationship and the social and economic contexts surrounding families.
StepFamily Services provides referrals to appropriate services as needed and we help couples to better understand and manage the effects of these factors on relationships within the stepfamily.
Because of their financial circumstances, low-income couples typically experience more difficulties and stresses that can challenge the maintenance of healthy relationships and marriages.
Negative conditions affecting some stepfamily couples, such as substance abuse, mental illness, and low literacy skills, can be addressed, whereas other conditions (e.g., ages of children, stepfamily complexity) are either unchangeable or beyond the scope of a stepfamily program.
Indicators of Results
To formally assess the outcomes of interventions, we are currently reviewing the following existing stepfamily assessment surveys and constructing our own.
- STEPFAMILY ADJUSTMENT SCALE (Crosbie-Burnett, 1989) -Stepparent role ambiguity -Mutual suitability of step relationships -Relationship with non-custodial parent
- STEPPARENT ROLE QUESTIONNAIRE (Hetherington & Clingenpeel, 1992) -Communication with ex-spouse -Relationship with children -Parental role
- LOYALTY CONFLICTS ASSESSMENT QUESTIONNAIRE (Clingempeel 1981)
- CONTENT OF CO-PARENTAL INTERACTION (Ahrons & Goldsmith, 1981) -Cooperation & competition
- FEELINGS AND ATTITUDES TOWARD FORMER SPOUSE (Ahrons & Goldsmith, 1981) -Guilt, anger, compassion, parenting skills, psych distance
- DIMENSIONS OF ATTACHMENT TO THE SPOUSE IN DIVORCE (Kitson, 1982)
- EX-SPOUSE PRE-OCCUPATION SCALE (Berman, 1998)
- ACRIMONY SCALE (Emery, 1987)
- STRENGTHS AND DIFFICULTIES QUESTIONNAIRE (Goodman 1997)
- THE FAMILY ENVIRONMENT SCALE (Moos and Moos 1981)
- PERCEPTIONS OF STRENGTHS QUESTIONNAIRE (Williams and mcgee 1991)
- CHILDREN’S PERCEPTIONS OF CONTROL (Connell 1985)
- SECURITY SCALE (Kerns, Klepac, et al 1996)
- WARMTH AND HOSTILITY (QUALITY) SCALE. (1993)
* The Steps-4-Steps design draws from effectiveness studies published by leading clinician/researchers in the field, such as Dr. Patricia Papernow; Elizabeth Einstein, MA, MFT; Ron Deal, Francesca Adler-Baeder, PhD, CFLE; Jeannette Lofas, PhD, LCSW; and the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An excellent summary of the current literature and recommendations for stepfamily couples education can be downloaded here.