Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Social Perceptions Continued

According to Anne Jones (2003), using a narrative approach in therapy can help an individual understand the primary concerns for stepfamilies. The narrative approach focuses on the client's account of their experiences and their social-cultural context. This approach focuses on storytelling and Jones suggests that only through stories told by the clients can the meaning and significance of important life events or themes be conveyed. For example children often report feeling like an outcast in school or at other social events and may believe this may be due to being part of a stepfamily.

Some positive areas of stepfamilies can be conveyed through the television series the Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough. These two series have popularized the term "blended family" (Jones, 2003 p. 230). According to Jones, words such as blended, reconstituted, and remarried have been used instead of the word step to help avoid any negative connotations that the word "step" holds.

Clinicians can help shape more appropriate policies by fostering the ideas for a new family on values that are not biology specific, but instead, based upon values reflecting affection and social and moral responsibility. They need to encourage more fluid constructions of the meaning of family and measures that aid in the fairness and greater stability within the stepfamily. This requires a shift away from the nuclear family images of how families should look and act.

The Child Act of 1989 gave stepparents the right to have and exert parental responsibilities for their stepchildren. This can only occur if the stepparent has lived within the same household as the stepchild for two years. This does not negate the biological parent's commitment or responsibilities for their children. It focuses more on the needs of children while also representing a new way of looking at families.

According to Jones (2003) when a stepfamily realizes and perceives themselves as one group and not two separate groups within a family, they are more likely to experience harmony and happiness with each other. Jones further suggests that a positive relationship between the stepchild and the stepparent will more likely lead to more positive attitudes and relationships within the stepfamily and enhance their ability to function happily.

Banker and Gaertner (1998) promote the Common In-Group Identity Model as the best route for stepfamilies to go. They try to help families to think in terms of we instead of us and them. Like Jones, their efforts are focused on helping stepfamily members see each other as one unified group of people.

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies