National Stepfamily Day is coming up on Wednesday, September 16th. This holiday is carrying growing significance throughout the country as almost half of households are blended families. I had a chance to interview Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., licensed clinical social worker and founder and president of The Stepfamily Foundation.
How did National Stepfamily Day get started?
of years the stepfamily was bemoaned. It was a mischief, a monster to
avoid, it was dealt with by put downs, denial and discounts.
The Stepfamily Foundation (http://www.stepfamily.org)
was formed in 1975 to help this growing group of families. Jeannette
Lofas, PhD, LCSW has dedicated her life to helping stepfamilies blend
together into a single unit. She was one of the first professionals to
examine the dynamic of blended families, and her groundbreaking research
produced a healthy method for successfully blending families that has
an unprecedented success rate. The not-for-profit is still responsible
for organizing research and training professionals.
wasn’t until 1997, that the United States finally declared September 16
as National Stepfamily Day to recognize and show appreciation for the
importance and value of stepparents and extended families. Mostly
celebrated with a picnic at a park, it has slowly gained recognition and
popularity since it’s inception. It was a long road to earning this
day and bringing the trials and tribulations of blended families to the
Why is it important to have a day to recognize blended families?
the U.S. Census estimates about 50% of families are some form of
stepfamily. The stepfamily has become the modern family. And being
part of a blended family is not the same as a biological family. The
structures do not work the same way and the family unit does not run the
same way. The first step to living in step and becoming a healthy
blended family is recognizing the differences.
What are some good resources for parents in blended families that are struggling to coalesce?
Lofas, PhD, LCSW, founder and President of the Stepfamily Foundation
and is available for one-on-one counseling. She also has a 86% success
rate with her clients.
How can step-parents maintain a good relationship while still being respected as an authority in the household?
In honor of National Stepfamily Day she offers up some basics tips and rules for anyone currently struggling to make it work.
Build "Couple Strength." Almost everything you do builds or takes
away from couple strength. Know that you come from different points of
view about many ways of doing things. Honor your differences and create
new norms and forms together.
· Displays of affection in front
of the children, initially can lead to acting out and fear of loss of
their biological parent. In the beginning, keep your loving behavior
· The couple comes first (after you are married). A
strong, supportive couple relationship sets the cornerstone and helps
children build self-esteem.
· The couple recognizes that the
family is a blended/stepfamily and knows how stepfamilies function and
does not expect this family to act like biological family. It cannot
and will not.
· It is OK to have discussions. Arguments are
out. Agree to agree. Agree to disagree. And, work it out. Call time
outs for the couple when things get "too hot." Remember you are
partners. He is the male head of the household. She is the female head
of the household. You are partners in creating a stepfamily. Creating a
stepfamily that works looks like the couple deciding on how they are
going to manage all aspects of their household. Partners decide on
rules, regulations, discipline styles, job descriptions, use of time,
energy and money, etc.
· Establish concrete house rules and
structure. Rules need to be written in the positive form. The couple
must decide on the rules and define job descriptions themselves and of
each member with positive and negative consequences.
biological parent disciplines his/her children and the stepparent says,
“As you know your Dad/Mom and I have decided, in this house we...” The
stepparent disciplines based on rules agreed and presented to kids as a
couple. And the couple must make sure the children treat the stepparent
· The couple must maintain their positions as male
and female heads of the family. They cannot allow the children to
dominate. The male and female heads of the household teach the children
the models, forms and norms as to how we live and act with each other
within the stepfamily.
· The couple in the stepfamily takes
responsibility for creating a predictable structure of events, manners
and responsibilities for in house and visiting stepchildren. The couple
agrees with each other and backs the other up so the children have
consistency, which is a necessary foundation for creating intimacy and
· Make sure meals with the children are not
child-centered chaos. Plan to converse, know what is going on in each
other’s lives and thoughts. The adults set the tone of dining. We come
together not to eat, but to dine. Teach kids good manners. Good
manners allow for intimacy. Poor manners create isolation, lower
self-esteem and cause confusion.
· Plan visitation as good
co-parents (exes), parents and stepparent. Avoid allowing visitation to
become a chaotic episode where the child is caught in the cross fire
· The bad-mouthing of the prior spouse. When
we bad-mouth and put down the other parent of our children we are
bad-mouthing and disparaging half of that child's identity. Less than
half of divorced parents today realize that bad mouthing their ex lowers
the self-esteem of their child.
· Ask for counseling from
professionals trained to treat stepfamilies. The dynamics of
stepfamilies are crucially different from the biologically connected
family. The stepfamilies are now the majority of families, but not all
professionals are taught about their specific behaviors in graduate
school. Research tells us that the Stepfamily Foundation has the only
management system that results in an 84% success rate.
· When in doubt, laugh!