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Stepfamily

From Academic Kids

A stepfamily is the family one acquires when a parent marries someone new. As a Result it has often been said, "Step Families are born out of Loss".

For example, if one's mother dies and one's father marries a new woman, that woman is one's stepmother, and any children she already has are one's stepsiblings (if they were fathered by your father, however, they are your half-siblings instead of stepsiblings).

Although historically stepfamilies are built through the institution of marriage; and are legally recognized; it is currently unclear if a stepfamily can be both established and recognized by less formal arrangements; such as when a man or woman with children; cohabits with another man or woman outside of marriage.

This latter case in fact, has recently been recognized by most contemporary sociologists as a rapidly growing trend.

Recently it has been noted by social statisticians that as more couples divorce; fewer couples remarry; at least in the conventional sense of the word.

Many of these couples, often with children, re-couple with new partners outside of traditional marriage. To be sure many such relationships may be fleeting, however just as many seem to endure.

Historically and to this day, there appear to be many cultures in which these families are recognized socially, as defacto families. However in modern western culture it is often unclear as what, if any, social status and protection; they enjoy in law.

With regard to unmarried couples; one can easily imagine such social and legal recognition; most notably in the case of common law marriage. Unmarried couples today may also find recognition locally through community consensus.

Still it is not at all clear what formal parenting roles, rights, responsibilities and social etiquette, should exist between "stepparents" and their "stepchildren". This often leaves the parents in unexpected conflicts with each other, their former spouses and the children.

For all the confusion which stepparents may feel; It is often even less clear to the stepchildren what the interpersonal relationships are, or should be between themselves and their stepsiblings; between themselves and their stepparent; and even between themselves and their birth parents.

These relationships can be extremely complex, especially in circumstances where each "step spouse" may bring children of their own to the home. Or alternatively, in households where children are expected to actively participate in each of the newly created families of both birth parents.

Although most stepfamilies can agree on what they do not want to be for one another, they are often hard pressed to agree upon what they do want to be for one another. This makes it difficult for everyone in the family to learn their roles. It is especially difficult for the children, because the roles and expectations of them change as they move between the homes and families of both of their birth parents.

In building a new stepfamily it is important remember that:

               "Stepfamilies Are Born Out Of Loss".

It is vital for the success of the new family to acknowledge their loss and to process their grief.

Without thoughtful planning, stepfamilies may fail to take the time to grieve.

This is because the family members often feel a tremendous amount of role strain. They may choose to repress their feelings, and fail to communicate effectively with one another.

Or alternatively Family members may "act out" toward one another in order to test their roles and verify the security of their identity and assert their individuality in each family.

In either extreme, the family may become alienated and fail to create a healthy pattern of socialization.

Without proper, timely, mediation and Conflict Resolution, these strains can break the bonds so important to their success as a family. This may in turn make it even more difficult for the family members to forge trusting, loving and lasting attachments in their future relationships.Sadly for broken "ad hoc" stepfamilies there is very little legal guidance offered them in either family law, civil law or common law.In non common law States these stepfamilies; especially those in need of child support; are often frustrated by the legal process because they are told they lack legal standing and therefore find themselves unable to seek remedy through the legal system. However these kinds of families may find some relief in the principles of in loco parentis.They may also be able to seek equity through the Representative, Promissory and Acquiescent forms of Estoppel.



However, stepfamilies, which are earnestly striving to stay together, are often left with more questions then answers about how to succeed in relating to one another. These questions are particularly gripping today.

The last few centuries have seen the emergence of many new ideas about relationships and many new proposals for alternative family structures; all of which are now clamoring for recognition. The next century promises to make for lively public, legal and ethical debate.

Whatever lack of guidance may have been provided to stepfamilies by the legal community; has recently been supplied by psychologists, social workers, counselors, educators, ministers, and a wide array of support groups. Even many Lawyers are now actively seeking to assist stepfamilies.

In fact there seems to be a growing cottage industry entirely devoted to the counseling and support of stepfamilies.

However it behooves the family to do their homework and make sure the products and services they are being offered, are the ones they really need. Each family and its group dynamics are unique in itself. Therfore what works well for one family may be inappropriate for another.

In future articles we will try to address some of the challenge stepfamilies face, as well as some of the myths and misconceptions about stepfamilies.

We will also review some of services available to stepfamilies; and the methods that many successful stepfamilies have used; not merely to stay together, but to thrive together as well.-sjbde:Stiefmutter

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