Children’s Bill of Rights

30 03 2011

Stepmoms: When I received training in how to help stepfamilies from the National Stepfamily Resource Center, I got this document in their Smart Steps information for stepfamilies. The Children’s Bill of Rights has some wonderful guidelines to help both parents and stepparents talk to the kids about what they’re going through. Good stuff.

Stepfamily Training For Counselors

10 09 2009

The folks at the National Stepfamily Resource Center have joined forces with two other groups to offer a training session for clergy, therapists, counselors, and coaches led by stepfamily experts Dr. Scott Browning, Dr. Patricia Papernow and one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Kay Pasley. If you haven’t been to one of their trainings and are working with stepfamilies, you really should. It’s worth it! Here’s all the info:

The National Stepfamily Resource Center, the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, and the Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy present an:


 October 2-3, 2009

Lake Mary Marriott Hotel Lake Mary, Florida (near Orlando)

The intense challenges created by stepfamily dynamics are woven through every clinician’s practice. Your clients may be stepfamilies, stepcouples, individual stepparents, kids, single parents who have recoupled, or adults who grew up in a stepfamily. Don’t miss this opportunity to hone your skills with this critical population with two of the country’s preeminent stepfamily clinicians, Dr. Scott Browning and Dr. Patricia Papernow and one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Kay Pasley.

$150 ($75 for students) 13.5 CEU’s (The NBCC has approved these CEU’s as core hours for both LMFTs and LPC’s in Georgia and Alabama)

You will learn about:

  • 5 normal challenges created by “stepfamily architecture” and the ways in which these challenges impact adults and children and their relationships with each other
  • Evidence-based strategies that meet each of these challenges.
  • What children need from adults to adjust to stepfamily living
  • “The Loyalty Bind Talk” and the “Toxic Ex-Spouse Talk.”
  • The differences between effective parenting and effective stepparenting.
  • Easy errors in working with people in step relationships.
  • Psychoeducational, interpersonal and intrapsychic levels of clinical work with people in step relationships.
  • Interpersonal skills that help stepfamily members meet their challenges.
  • The art of psychotherapy with stepfamilies.
  • The most current research findings on this important family form

The workshop includes live demonstrations of therapy with a stepfamily and a stepcouple by Dr. Browning and Dr. Papernow

 HOTEL RESERVATIONS: Lake Mary Marriott, 1501 International Parkway, Lake Mary, FL. Call 407 995-1100 and ask for Family Therapy Association special rate of $99 per night.

REGISTRATION: For more information and the registration form:,,  or

The Natural Order of Things: Stepfamilies add a layer of complexity to life’s transitions.

27 10 2008

When John and Emily Visher, the founders of the Stepfamily Association of America, now the National Stepfamily Resource Center, discovered in their research that successful stepfamilies are flexible, creative problem-solvers, they weren’t kidding. Problem solving is a survival skill we all need. Just because you’ve passed through the first years of chaos and into a family that feels more stable doesn’t mean you’re done working consciously to create a happy stepfamily.

With every natural life change, stepfamily dynamics are split wide open again as people decide how they will relate in this new phase – for instance, when a stepchild goes to college or gets married or has a child of his or her own. Of course, this happens in first families as well, but in stepfamilies transitions call into question the very nature and definition of the family, since some of the members are not related by blood.

We recently experienced a transition that revealed the fault lines in our family. I discovered I’m pregnant. When we told the kids, they reacted about as I expected they would. Two were happy, and one had a frown while we explained that their dad would always be their dad and love them. We talked about how this event could bring up all sorts of different emotions for them – excitement, worry, jealousy. We assured them that the baby would just bring more love into our family and wouldn’t take away love from anyone. They all started coming up with names for the baby and a list of must-have toys. We told the ex, and she congratulated us. Everything seemed picture-perfect.

Until I saw a picture of the baby in my belly and it became real to me.

Then the cracks in our family began to show. Most surprising of all? They came from me. I found myself less and less tolerant of my stepchildren. When they followed me around the house because they like being with me, I felt stalked and claustrophobic. I wanted them to leave me alone as I contemplated having my own flesh-and-blood child.

My first pregnancy meltdown was brutal on my poor husband. The words “No mother wants her innocent child born into a stepfamily” actually came out of my mouth. And I meant them, too. The grief that erupted after I said that was so deep it seemed to come from a molecular level. All I could think was that my child will have to cope with the dynamics of living in a stepfamily.

The lines suddenly cracked wide open in my heart. I could clearly see Us (my baby and me) and Them (my husband and his kids). Every time my husband was asked to spend more money, more time with his first children (and they suddenly became HIS children, not OUR family), I became more and more resentful as I imagined all of the resources my own child would not have because of the choices my husband made when he was young.

These feelings were all things I knew intellectually I might feel. I had heard other stepmoms talk about what it was like. I thought I was prepared to deal with the transition from stepmom to mom and stepmom. And yet…the power of my emotional response floored me.

If you’ve read A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, you know that I am an action-oriented, let’s-DO-something-about-this kind of gal, but this time I don’t think there’s anything I can do but ride it out. The baby will come. Our family will react and settle into a new way of living together. The only thing to do is to be as open-hearted as possible. To allow the feelings to come. To acknowledge them and talk about them and let them be. Sometimes a good cry has amazing healing power.

And so do words. When I blurted that hurtful sentence to my husband, his response made everything suddenly seem bearable. “I’m so sorry that as a first-time mother you have to think about all these things.” I knew then we would be just fine.