Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

Solve Problems Involving
Adult Stepkids

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/sf/co/adultkids.htm

Updated  June 25, 2015

       Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of Lesson-7 Web articles advising how to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means all bioparents and stepparents in a multi-home stepfamily. These ideas aim to augment, not replace, other qualified professional counsel.

      Reflect for a moment. what do you need to get from reading this article - specifically?  Based on 31 years' clinical experience, the article offers perspective on typical problems with and about adult stepkids, illustrates common surface problems, and proposes options for resolving 12 primary problems.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it;

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 7;

  • what's unique about family relationships?

  • three levels of family relationship problems, and...

  • stepfamily basics, Q&A, and realities.

colorbutton.gif Perspective

      Typical multi-home, multi-generational stepfamilies are far more complex structurally and dynamically than average intact bio(logical) families. Merging and stabilizing several unrelated biofamilies over several years inevitably causes clusters of conflicts, frustrations, losses, disappointments, and satisfactions.

      "Adult-stepchild problems" can occur between (a) stepparents and bioparents; (b) stepparents and stepkids; and between (c) adult stepsiblings. This article focuses on solutions to the first two of these. For the last one, see this.

      The odds of significant conflicts about and with adult stepkids are higher than casual observers think. The core conflicts are the same as those with and about younger stepkids, tho the family and social environment is very different. The biggest difference is the expectation that adult stepkids will be more mature, reasonable, and cooperative than younger stepkids. This is often unrealistic, because:
  • parental divorce usually means the adult kids were raised in a low-nurturance childhood (the U.S. norm), so they may be denying significant psychological wounds like their ancestors did;

  • typical adult stepkids and their parents have never learned how to communicate effectively or how to grieve the major losses from their family's dis-integration and parental re/marriage;

  • regardless of age, typical stepkids (and adults) don't know how to spot and resolve stepfamily- membership, values, and loyalty conflicts; and divisive relationship triangles; and...

  • adult stepkids and their mates are apt to have just as many misconceptions about stepfamily life and relationships as their parents and relatives do. 

  colorbutton.gif Typical Problems and Solutions

       Premises: "relationship problems" are unmet needs (discomforts) in one or more people, so "problem solving" is the process of identifying and filling each person's primary needs. Unaware people  focus on filling surface needs, rather than the primary needs that cause them. So primary needs remain unmet, and the surface problems (symptoms) keep recurring. If you haven't read this illustration of how to identify primary needs, do so now, and return.

      Before continuing, define your "adult stepchild" problem (unmet need/s) out loud. Keep it in mind as you read. Then see if you recognize any of these...

Typical Surface Problems Between Co-parents

  • The stepparent or (step-grandparent) doesn't like, respect, or trust an adult stepchild; and expects  their mate's loyalty in times of conflict;

  • An adult child wants to move in with re/married mates, and one co-parent (usually the stepparent) doesn't want that; 

  • Re/married mates are conflicted about the behaviors and choices of a troubled adult stepchild, and whether (and how) to intervene; 

  • A stepparent resents their mate's favoring their child/ren over the stepparent's own child/ren or being passive about grandparental favoritism;

  • An adult stepchild asks for financial support, and co-parents disagree on how to respond;

  • The stepparent feels their mate won't confront or set limits with a troublesome adult stepchild;

  • Co-parents disagree or feel guilty about estate plans (wills) and bequests to adult kids;

  • Co-parent mates are conflicted over the way an adult stepchild is parenting their own child/ren, and/or by conflicts between adult stepsiblings;

  • The stepchild is allying with their other bioparent in major co-parental conflicts;

  • an adult stepchild won't leave home, their bioparent allows or enables this, and their stepparent is frustrated and feels discounted by their mate; and/or... 

  • Co-parental arguments over these...

Typical Surface Problems Between Stepparents and Adult Stepkids

  • Either person doesn't like, trust or respect the other ("bad chemistry");

  • Either person feels rejected, discounted, or ignored (disrespected) by the other;

  • The stepchild resents the stepparent's perceived attempt to "replace" their other bioparent; 

  • One or both feels sexually attracted to the other;

  • Confusion, hurts, and resentments around Mothers and Fathers Days and other holidays;

  • Confusion and conflict about family roles, names, and titles; 

  • Both adults are competing for the bioparent's attention and allegiance;

  • The stepparent resents the stepchild disrespecting or using their (the stepparent's) mate;

  • The stepparent feels the stepchild is too intrusive and/or too dependent;

  • The stepparent feels over-responsible for helping a troubled grown stepchild

      Trying to reduce any of these surface problems will often fail because they're each a symptom of a mix of underlying primary problems that need resolution.

Typical Primary Problems

      Common primary problems involving adult stepkids include:

      1) one or more family adults (including ex mates) is unaware of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle they may have inherited. Solution - read and discuss this.

      2) some adults may have symptoms of significant psychological wounds from a low-nurturance childhood, and no one knows that or what it means. Solution - have all your adults study, discuss, and apply Lesson 1 together. Avoiding or procrastinating this is a sure sign of wounds and unawareness.

      3) one or more stepfamily co-parents made unwise commitment choices, and they don't want to admit that. They can break their denial and grieve, but they can't undo their choices.

      4) one or more co-parents are not consistently committed to putting their wholistic health first, their primary relationship second, and all else (like adult stepkids' needs) third, except in emergencies. This usually indicates significant psychological wounds, incomplete grief, and unresolved guilt. See Lessons 1 and 3;

      5) two or more family adults (usually all) don't know how to communicate and problem-solve effectively. Symptom - conflicted people focus on surface problems, not the primary needs causing them. Solution - take this quiz and see what you learn. Then study and apply Lesson-2 skills to fill everyone's needs as mutually-respectful teammates, not adversaries.

      6) one or more adults are unable to resolve internal conflicts first, and then work to reduce interpersonal conflicts. Solution: patiently study and apply Lessons 1 and 2 here.

      More primary "adult-stepchild" problems...

      7) one or more family members are minimizing or denying your identity as a stepfamily and/or what that identity means. This usually means they have unrealistic expectations about stepfamily relationships and dynamics. Solution - all adults study and discuss (at least) Lesson 7.

      8) some members disagree on who belongs to your stepfamily. Solution - read and discuss these options.

      9) some of your stepfamily members are stressed with a mix of values and loyalty conflicts and associated relationship triangles, and you don't know that or what to do about it. Solution - read and apply these ideas together.

      10) one or more of your adults is blocked in grieving major losses from (a) childhood, (b) biofamily breakup, and/or (c) stepfamily formation; and that is hindering stepfamily bonding. Solution - study and apply Lesson 3, and invite your adults to forge a pro-grief policy together.

      11) two or more adults are focused on surface financial disputes, rather than what causes them. Solution - read and discuss these ideas.

      12) some stepfamily adults don't know how to analyze and resolve typical relationship problems. Solution - follow the two links and study Lesson 4.

      You just read a summary of the primary problems causing strife with and about adult stepkids.


      Recall why you're reading this article. If you have an "adult-stepchild problem," Have you been focusing on surface problems and not what causes them? What you just read suggests

  • the stepchild's personality and/or behaviors are often not the problem;

  • there are often several concurrent primary problems to solve, not just one; and...

  • each primary problem except #3 above  has an effective solution, once family adults are aware of the problem and are willing to learn and change.

      Recall the "adult stepchild" problem you wish to resolve. If you have been focusing on a surface problem, reframe it as one or more of the primary problems above. Then mull who's responsible for correcting those problems.

colorbutton.gif Recap

      Despite typical adult stepkids' relative maturity, relationship problems with and about them are the same as those with younger stepkids. Exceptions: (1) conflicts over child visitation, custody, education, and health; and (2) expectations that adult stepkids will be more mature, reasonable, and cooperative than younger children.

      Typical adults focus on surface problems with adult stepkids, rather than mixes of up to 12 primary problems that cause them. These problems all stem from inheriting the toxic [wounds + unawareness] cycle. This article illustrates surface and primary problems, and provides links to solutions to most of the latter. 

      Studying, discussing, and applying Lessons 1 thru 7 here will help your stepfamily adults solve most role and relationship problems among your members.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark Prior page  /  Lesson 7  /  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat  contact