Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Stepfamily Formation and Development

One issue that is useful to consider when interacting with stepfamilies is to assess the life cycle stage of the family at the time of stepfamily formation. In order to address this issue, it will be useful to contemplate both traditional family life cycle definitions and stepfamily life cycle development.

The most widely used traditional family development was developed in 1957 by Duvall (Laszloffy, 2002). Duvall, as cited by Laszloffy, defined family life cycle through eight developmental stages. These stages are as follows:

  • Married couple – no children
  • Childbearing families – Oldest child is 30 months old
  • Families with preschool children – Oldest child is 2 ½ to 6 years old
  • Families with school children – Oldest child is 6 to 13 years old
  • Families with teenagers – Oldest child is 13 to 20 years old
  • Families that are launching – Includes time period from first to last child leaving
  • Middle years – "Empty nest" to retirement
  • Aging Family – Retirement to death of both spouses

As Laszloffy points out, this model clearly has an assumption of a"traditional, nuclear, intact family form and does not consider families whose lifecycles are characterized by alternative developmental sequences (couples who live together but never marry, childless couples, and divorced, single-parent, or remarried families)" (p. 206). In contrast, Papernow (1993) developed the Stepfamily Cycle, which includes seven stages of family development, characterized into three sections: early, middle and later stages.

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies