Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

Pros and Cons of
Conceiving an "Ours" Child

Discuss this complex decision well!

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/ourschild.htm

Updated  07/01/2015

      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 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily. These articles augment, vs. replace, other qualified professional help. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both bioparents, or any of the three or more related stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepfamily. 

+ + +

      This article explores a decision that can stress or strengthen a re/marriage: whether or not to conceive an "ours" child together. This choice is far more complex in typical stepfamilies than in average intact biofamilies! The article covers perspective, four key questions about conception, and options for making wise long-term decisions.

       This article assumes you're familiar with...

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

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 7

  • stepfamily basics and Q&A items

  • the primary causes of most stepfamily problems.

colorbutton.gif Stepfamilies Are Complex!

      By definition, a multi-generational stepfamily is composed of one or more minor or grown stepkids, plus their one or two living bioparents, plus one or two stepparents, plus all the legal and blood relatives of three or more co-parents. Each stepparent may or may not have prior kids and living or dead former mates of their own.

      Forming a stable multi-generational stepfamily requires the complex physical, emotional, and legal merger of three or more biofamilies. This blending process usually takes four or more years to stabilize after re/wedding - longer, if both divorced parents re/marry.

      As the merger proceeds, typical minor stepkids must fill up to 60 developmental and family-adjustment needs to become healthy, independent young adults.

      Typical stepfamily members face at least 30 merger needs that peers in healthy intact biofamilies don't have - on top of their normal aging and personal-growth needs. Your extended stepfamily has up to 15 extra roles (e.g. step-uncle, half sister, non-custodial biodad,...) to clarify and stabilize as you adjust the "regular" 15 biofamily roles (mother, niece, grandfather, cousin, son...).

      Your multi-home stepfamily is amazingly complicated in structure and dynamics. It will take a long time after cohabiting and re/wedding to merge and stabilize psychologically, financially, logistically, and legally. Some stepfamilies never stabilize. Thousands re/divorce within 10 years after co-commitment, and many others endure ongoing stress and discomfort rather than divorce.

      This inherent complexity makes deciding if and when to add a new child to your stepfamily challenging and impactful. One way of managing that is to break the decision into parts:

colorbutton.gif Four Basic Questions

      Few typical co-parents are adequately prepared for the complexities and difficulties in merging their several biofamilies. One implication is that new partners should be extra thoughtful and honest about...

  • who wants to have a child?

  • why do you want an "ours" (vs. his or hers) child?

  • when?; and

  • how likely it is that you and your relatives can provide a consistently high-nurturance environment for a baby and all other nuclear-stepfamily members?

      Before looking at each of these, consider: "having a baby" really means "creating a human who will probably have kids, who will have kids, who..." Most babies will probably pass genes, values, traditions, and beliefs on to a vast fan of offspring across many future generations. 

      If you have two kids, and each new generation bears two kids, in 12 generations your genetic progeny will number over 8,000 people, excluding death and infertility! So the wholistic health of the adult your baby becomes will genetically and socially affect thousands of future people. Notice your reaction! 

      With that in mind, consider...

  Who Wants a Baby?

      From 36 years' clinical experience, I propose that a high percentage of average U.S. adults (like you) are psychologically wounded and unaware. This seems specially true of typical stepfamily adults.

      This "wounding" causes people to be unaware they are controlled by protective "'false selves.'' False selves are dominated by shame, fear, guilt, and reality distortions - which promote making unwise short and long-term decisions. The better alternative is to be guided by your respective wise, resident true Selves.

      So the question here is: "Who wants a baby - our false selves, or our true Selves?" Use Lesson 1 to answer this vital question together.

      Next, explore...

Why Do We Want An Ours Child?

      See how you feel about these premises:

Some reasons for conceiving a child are healthier (i.e. promote personal growth, happiness, productivity, and serenity) than others;

Some conception reasons are universal, and others are unique and situational to each couple;

Child-conception decisions should consider the wholistic health and welfare of the future person and the nurturance level of the whole family system.

      See which of these reasons for conceiving an ours child seem "healthy" for all affected adults and kids: "I want us to conceive a baby to...

_ Please my mate

_ Give my child a brother/sister

_ Feel like a full, real wo/man

_ End my loneliness / emptiness

_ Please my (grand)parents/s

_ Pass on my genes, name, and wisdom

_ Have a life-long companion

_ Get or keep financial child support

_ Avoid missing one aspect of being fully human

_ See what it's like

_ (Re)gain stepfamily status and approval

_ Share one of life's most profound challenges
    and joys with my beloved partner

_ Improve the world

_ Get it right, this time

_ I reject abortion and/or adoption


_ Be socially normal

_ Feel like a regular family

_ Fulfill God's purpose

_ Give me something to do

_ Strengthen our marriage

_ Avoid being old, sick, and alone

_ Avoid major regret when I'm old 

_ Give me a life purpose

_ Match my sibling/s or friend/s  

_ Beat the biological time clock

_ Get even with someone, or prove something to someone

_ Have the son/daughter I've longed for 

_ I want what your ex spouse had with you, so I can feel "equal"

_ Renew or save my marriage - ensure my mate doesn't abandon me/us

      Which of these child-conception motivations do you feel are "healthy" for you all?  Have you talked about your motives enough?

      Premise: your reasons for wanting an ours child are really needs. So to answer this "Why?" question, invest effort in discovering what each of you partners really need.

      Now consider... 

Why We Shouldn't Have an "Ours" Child (Now)

_ I / you don't want a(nother) child

_ We can't afford the expense

_ I'm / you seem too overwhelmed

_ We're not stable enough as a new couple, home, and stepfamily

_ I'm not clear on what I really want, now

_ You're saying "yes" to please (someone)

_ We haven't enough family support

_ People I trust advise against it  

_ It's too big a genetic risk

_ I / you really don't want to go through the effort again

_ Child conception just doesn't "feel right" to me now

_ My child(ren) is/are strongly opposed to us having a baby

_ I dreamed / had a vision / have a strong hunch that (conception) isn't right for me / us

_  I am / you are too old


_ We haven't got enough space

_ Your (my) ex mate may/will go ballistic

_ I'm not really sure we'll stay together 

_ I don't trust you and/or myself to be an adequate parent, in our situation

_ I'm not convinced you really want a child with me

_ Our parenting values are too different, and we can't seem to compromise

_ My / your health is too fragile

_ We'd risk unacceptable disapproval and rejection from (who?) 

_ I don't trust (or agree with) your decision here 

_ My and/or your existing child(ren) are too needy and unstable

_ I / you don't really want to quit work / school

_ We're responsible for not adding another Earth-resource consumer

_ I don't trust our decision process; I'm / you're / we're too impulsive or needy

      Only you mates can decide how to rank and mix these pros and cons. As you decide, you will want to know...

  When Is The Right Time to Have an Ours Child?

      Reflect for a moment on your initial answer. Is it general, like "When everyone's ready for it."? Though every stepfamily is unique, some universal factors shape the best time to conceive an "ours" child...

      1) Whether either of you carry significant psychological wounds. My clinical  experience suggests that wounded mates pick each other - repeatedly - and are at high risk of being ineffective parents. So the best time to conceive is when you each agree your true Selves are solidly in charge. If either of you has a significantly-wounded ex mate, that will probably lower the nurturance-level of the family your baby will grow up in.

      2) How knowledgeable your co-parents are. I propose that one of five reasons for widespread re/divorce is adults' not knowing how to cope effectively with these 11 core stepfamily stressors. 

      When all three or more of your co-parents can...

  • answer most of these questions accurately,

  • describe each stressor knowledgeably as it pertains to you all, and...

  • outline specifically what to do about it...

you may be prepared to decide wisely on having a child together.

      Another conception-timing factor is...

      3) How well along you all are in combining your several biofamilies and stabilizing your complex web of roles and relationships. A newborn will send emotional, financial, logistic, structural, and perhaps legal shockwaves throughout your stepfamily system.

      If your many step-relatives are "pretty well adjusted" to (a) your identity as a stepfamily, (b) who belongs to your stepfamily, and (c) your complex biofamily merger, then having an "ours" child probably won't create too much stress. A specially important factor here is how well ex mates and stepparents have overcome their mix of these typical relationship barriers so far.

      Measuring these stabilities objectively isn't easy. A rough rule of thumb is - if it takes average stepfamilies at least four years to stabilize after each co-parent re/wedding or cohabiting, then having an "ours" child within about three years after your nuptials is significantly risky.

      Another option is to assess your stepfamily strengths now. If they're low, I recommend holding off on cribs and diapers. That's specially true if your personal and stepfamily supports are weak.

      4)  It's essential that both mates understand and accept that unborn children are aware of, and very responsive to, their environment. One implication is that if a pregnant women is often significantly stressed, and her home is often noisy and chaotic, her unborn baby may be negatively affected for decades to come.

      A final key conception-timing factor is...

      5) How well you mates have considered everyone's primary needs in this complex stepfamily decision. Some false selves feel that child conception is "nobody's business but ours." That's risky in a multi-home stepfamily where many kids and adults will be significantly affected for many years. 

      If you choose to conceive, you won't know the wisdom of your decision for some years. Your long-range outcome will be directly proportion to how well (a) you've discusses the pros and cons with your stepfamily members, and (b) how you rank their primary needs with yours.

      It takes time to do that thoroughly! This is not giving the decision to other people (specially kids!), but it is deepening the knowledge base from which to make your impactful decision.

      The last key "ours-baby" question is...

Can We Provide a High-nurturance Family Environment?

      To answer this, you mates must agree on who you include in your nuclear stepfamily. Excluding ex mates and/or their new partners is a glaring red light! So the question becomes "Can our three or more co-parents provide a high-nurturance family for our present kids and any new ones?"

      The next step is for all you co-parents to agree on what a high-nuturance (functional) family is. Because stepfamily child conception is such a profoundly personal, emotional, and complex long-term decision, it's probably a wise investment to get qualified outside opinion on this nurturance-level question.

      You co-parents can judge your stepfamily's nurturance level with criteria like these:

"Are my partner and I both consistently guided by our true Selves now?" How do you know? Then ask the same question about each other co-parent. Lesson 1, related readings, and qualified professional counsel can help answer that accurately. Typical mates controlled by false selves often have trouble maintaining a high family nurturance level.

How many of these traits describe our present nuclear stepfamily? If your true Self is disabled, your other subselves will either ignore this question or give a distorted (idealized) answer.

How is each of our minor kids doing with their developmental and family-adjustment needs? If all your custodial and visiting kids are "doing well enough" (a subjective decision), then you co-parents and kin are probably "pretty nurturing," and a new baby is less likely to overwhelm your household. Again, objective professional opinion can be a wise investment here. A fourth indicator is...

How adept are our adults at analyzing and resolving role and relationship problems? The more effective you all are, the higher your family's nurturance level.


How aware are you co-parents of the way you plan and adapt to major family-system changes? The better your adults are at discussing and planning major changes, the more likely you'll make a wise child-conception decision. Can you describe your present policy (shoulds, musts, ought to's) on managing major family changes? "No policy" is a policy...

      Pause and reflect - how do you feel about this way of evaluating the pros and cons of having an ours child? Now let's add some..

colorbutton.gif Perspective

      If you're having significant stepfamily problems, you mates may adopt the seductive myth that "having a baby will make us feel like a normal biofamily." It probably won't. Having an ours child won't change your stepfamily identity and the realities that come with it.

      Do you wonder "What do other stepfamily couples do?" My research since 1979 suggests that a minority of U.S. stepfamily mates conceive one or more planned "ours" children. Key factors are that typical co-parents are middle-aged, need two incomes, and already have over-busy lives with several kids.

      Help each other guard against black/white "bipolar" thinking here. It reduces many complex options to only two (conceive now or don't). There are usually many different possibilities. Habitual bipolar thinking in confusing or stressful situations suggests that a protective false self rules the person's personality, seeking structure and control in an unpredictable world.

      Another option is to rely heavily on someone else's advice. If a lay or professional counselor...

  • seems to be guided by their true Self,

  • can answer these stepfamily questions accurately, and...

  • can realistically assess your nuclear-stepfamily's nurturance level...

then s/he may be qualified to advise you. Relying on the advice of professionals, authors, or media "experts" and/or kin and friends with little or no stepfamily training or experience, risks years of regret and heartache and passing wounds on to your descendents.

      It is worthwhile to seek feedback from a variety of veteran stepfamily co-parents. Roughly one of five U.S. families is a stepfamily, so there are a lot of co-parents out there. Locate some in your community and see if they'll talk about their "ours" conception decisions and how they reached them. You can also investigate the many co-parenting sites on the Web - e.g. www.havinganotherbaby.com.

      An interesting option is to get undistracted, and imagine in detail the conversation you'd like to have with an adult "ours" child when you're about to die. What would you like to say, hear, and feel about how your child's growing-up years "turned out"?

colorbutton.gif Recap

      The decision to conceive an "ours child" in typical nuclear stepfamilies is significantly more complex than in intact biofamilies. This article explores typical pros an cons of having an "ours child" by examining four key questions.

  • who wants to have a child?

  • why do you want an "ours" (vs. his or hers) child?

  • when is the best time to conceive?; and

  • can your family members provide a consistently high-nurturance environment for a baby and everyone else?

      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 

Next - see this worksheet for couples considering child conception.


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