Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Systemic Family Development Model

One model that can be used to help address this complexity, takes into account the multifaceted dimensions of combining individual, family, and stepfamily life cycles. This model is the Systemic Family Development (SFD) Model (Laszloffy, 2002). The SFD model was developed to address two of the weaknesses of the traditional family life cycle model: 1) the assumption of universality of all family forms and 2) the bias toward a single generational level.

The SFD model is particularly useful for working with stepfamilies because it offers a process-oriented view of families and their development. A process-oriented view acknowledges that all families have a common process of development, but within that process there is a tremendous amount of variation. Laszloffy (2002) describes the SFD Model and this process thusly:

Within the SFD Model, the common developmental process that all families experience consists of the emergence of a stressor (a phenomenon that exerts force on a family system thereby pressuring it to change and adapt). The process of changing and adapting is known as making a transition. When a family makes a transition, shifts in family roles and relationships inevitably occur (p. 207-208) .

Applying this description to an example, it is reasonable to assume that the formation of a stepfamily is a stressor for the family system involved. This is a common developmental process. However, how this stressor affects the family and the ensuing transition is widely variable due to considerations of a possible endless variation of family life cycles, individual life cycles, the multi-generational nature of stepfamilies, and a multitude of other components involving dyadic relationships. In other words, not just the life cycles variations, but also the dynamic of the relationship between each individual in the stepfamily will affect the transition process after the formation of a stepfamily.

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies