Stepfamilies have gone from being a therapeutic rarity to a staple of family practice. But with this dynamic comes a litany of unique hurdles that stepfamilies must navigate, including a child’s disregard for a step-parent, attachment wounds between parents and kids, conflict among children, and stresses the happy couple never anticipated.
In this video clip with Networker Editor Rich Simon, Patricia Papernow, an expert in working with stepfamilies, explains the two realities of new stepfamilies: adults are often enthralled and optimistic, while children are undergoing a series of losses.
As much a therapist might have experience in doing family therapy, the potential to make errors with stepfamilies is significant, Papernow says. Namely, she adds, parent-child relationships need to be nurtured as much as the new couple’s relationship. “In stepfamilies,” Papernow writes in her recent Networker article, “children of all ages need time alone with their parents and often experience stepparents as interlopers. Successful stepcouples don’t rush children into acceptance, nor do they privilege the couple relationship over parent–child ties. They honor both.”
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.
Patricia Papernow, EdD, is the director of the Institute for Stepfamily Education and a psychologist in private practice. She‘s the author of Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn‘t.