Lesson 7 of 7  - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

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Worksheet: Is This the
Right Time To Commit?

Many couples re/marry too soon

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member, NSRC Expert Council

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The Web address of this worksheet is http://sfhelp.org/sf/date/time.htm

Updated  09/06/2015

        If you're courting and neither of you is a parent, use this right-time worksheet.     

      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 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance (functional) stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both biological parents, or any of the three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepfamily.

      This worksheet assumes you're familiar with...

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

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6

  • stepfamily facts, Q&A, and this quiz

  • 16 common stepfamily-courtship danger signs,  and...

  • this brief example of a real stepfamily

      This worksheet focuses on couples picking the right time to commit to forming or joining a step-family. Use the worksheet to assess...

A)  individual co-parent readiness,

B)  courting-couple readiness,

C)  stepchild readiness, and...

D)  how ready all related co-parents are to nurture as a team..

      If you sense that making wise stepfamily-commitment choices is complex - you're right. So is psychological and legal re/divorce!


Assess who is about to fill out this worksheet - your true Self or some other personality subselves. If the latter, expect distorted results here.

Read this page and follow any links of interest. Most are informational popups. Then print the work-sheet, and allocate at least 30" of undistracted time.

Choose attitudes of open-minded curiosity, and "this is a win-win-win investment of my time for me and my present and future child/ren (if any)." If you don't genuinely feel these, a protective false self probably controls you.

Diagram who comprises your nuclear stepfamily - i.e. all people living regularly in each of your minor and adult children's homes. The adults in each minor child's home/s are your "co-parents."

To minimize biasing your answers, each of you mates do this worksheet alone. Then discuss your results together. Fill it out for yourself first, and then go  back and estimate how your mate would respond to each item.

Draw no conclusions until you both have completed this and the right-time and right-reasons worksheets in lesson 7.

    Check each main item as "true" only if you can honestly check all the "_" sub-parts of it. Use "?" if you’re unsure. View unchecked items as projects to work on together.

Jot down or record your thoughts and feelings as you fill out this worksheet. The process of filling it out can be just as instructive as your answers!

Star or hilight items that you want to learn more about. Starred (*) items below are unique to typical stepfamily unions.

      If you hedge your answers here you're potentially hurting yourself, your partner, and your descendents. Recall: most stepfamily partnerships fail long term, partly because needy, romance-dazed mates partners make up to three uninformed commitment choices.

Is This The Right Time to Form or Join a Stepfamily?"

A)  Personal Readiness Factors

Me You
1) S/He has lived alone as an adult (i.e. without roommates, live-in lovers, kids, or kin) for at least two years. Living alone promotes healthy grieving, discovery of one's true Self and life purpose, self-confidence, and starting genuine inner-wound reduction if needed.   
















2) S/He is clearly independent enough, psychologically and financially, from  parents, siblings, and relatives. This includes having had enough time to clearly grieve _ any dead early caregivers, relatives, prime friends, partners, and _ any aborted, miscarried, and/or dead children. Men need to grieve too!
3) S/He has had time to _ honestly evaluate whether s/he has significant psychological wounds or _ s/he is clearly self-motivated to do that within the next month.
4) If s/he does identify as a Grown Wounded Child, s/he can now _ clearly name the specific inner wounds s/he needs to reduce, and _ has clearly begun implementing a Self-motivated, viable, recovery plan to do so.
5) S/He has had a stable set of friends, acquaintances, and supporters for at least 18 months, vs. being socially isolated.
6) S/He now seems consistently balanced and stable enough, spiritually, psychologically, physically, and mentally.
7) S/He has evolved a clear idea about what her/his main mission or life-purpose is now, and is pursuing it; or  s/he is now actively seeking to clarify that.
8) S/He can clearly describe _ the personal needs that s/he wants this relationship to fill, and _ the key ingredients of a high-nurturance relationship.
9) S/He _ has been financially stable for at least 18 months, and has _ has no major debts now; or  _ s/he is working a clearly effective, self-motivated plan to eliminate major debts. S/He is _ clearly able to financially support herself/himself and any dependent kid/s adequately, now.
10)  If s/he probably or surely has an active addiction to a substance (including medicines, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, fat, and/or starches), an activity (e.g. workaholism), a person (e.g. codependence), or an emotional state (e.g. rage or excitement), s/he _ has clearly dissolved her/his protective denials, and _ is obviously working steadily at a high-priority, Self-motivated personal addiction-management plan.
11)  S/He consistently high self-esteem: i.e. s/he believes that her or his personal feelings, needs, opinions, dignity, and rights are just as important as those of other key adults and kids.
12) S/He regularly practices _ empathic listening, _ effective assertion, and _ win-win problem-solving with kids and adults (ref. Lesson 2)
13)  S/He is _ well along in studying Lessons 1 thru 7 and _ can accurately answer most of the items in these quizzes.
14*) S/He clearly accepts _ our identity as a normal multi-home stepfamily (or equivalent term), _ what that identity means, and _ that both living parents of each of our minor and grown children are equal co-parenting partners in our stepfamily.
15)  S/He can now clearly describe _ what an interpersonal values conflict is, and _ has an effective strategy for identifying and resolving such conflicts in our stepfamily.
16*) S/He can now clearly describe _ what a stepfamily loyalty conflict is and  _ why it can be significantly divisive and stressful, and _ s/he has evolved an effective strategy for identifying and resolving such conflicts in our home and stepfamily.
17)  S/He can now clearly describe _ what a relationship triangle is and _ why it can be significantly divisive and stressful; and _ s/he has an effective strategy for preventing, identifying, and resolving triangles in and between our co-parenting homes.
18*) S/He is clear and unambivalent now on who would be included as legitimate members in our multi-generational stepfamily if w choose to commit, including all co-parenting ex mates.
19*) S/He can _ spontaneously name at least 20 of the ~70 structural and dynamic ways that average stepfamilies differ from typical intact biofamilies; and _  s/he is well along in converting any personal stepfamily myths into realistic expectations.
20*) S/He _ can clearly name most of the 30+ special adjustment needs that average minor stepchildren must fill, _ has tailored  that list to fit each of the minor kids in our prospective multi-home stepfamily, and _ has begun to co-evolve and implement a viable plan to help each dependent child satisfy their unique set of needs.
21*) S/He _ has known all her/his prospective minor and/or grown stepchildren for at least 18 months (more is better), and _ has had many (say ~20+) chances to spend group or alone time with them in a variety of settings to "get a feel for" each of them (and vice versa).
22*) At least 30 months have passed since her/his marital separation (vs. legal divorce) or since her/his mate’s death and burial. More is better.
23*) S/He can now _ describe factually why they divorced _ without excessively blaming either partner.
24*) S/He is clearly _ well along in grieving significant divorce or death losses of key relationships, dreams, rituals, securities, belongings, and identity; and is _ clearly getting on with life in a wholistically-healthy way.
25*) S/He has clearly made significant progress toward admitting, forgiving, and healing pre-divorce and post-divorce co-parenting barriers with her/his ex and their relatives.
26*) S/He has clearly reduced any major shame and guilts about "failing" and/or hurting or depriving biochild/ren and kin because of their biofamily’s breakup and related events.

       Pause - stretch, breathe, and notice your thoughts and emotions. Did your true Self fill out this part of the worksheet, or ''someone else''? Consider journaling about this experience now to increase your awareness.

Is This The Right Time to Form or Join a Stepfamily?"

B)  Couple Readiness Factors

      Even if each of you partners are personally ready to commit to a stepfamily union, you may not be ready to do so as a couple, This next section of the worksheet offers a way for you to assess this. Check each item you feel accurately describes the two of you now. Numbering continues from above. 

__  31*) We've had enough time together to discuss and agree on...

_  our joint priorities - how high does our relationship rank?

how we'll spot and resolve loyalty and values conflicts and relationship triangles.

_  where to live together: your home, mine, or a new home?

_  specifically what we want to accomplish in our prospective stepfamily over time - i.e. what our shared stepfamily mission is.

_  what our home and family grieving policy will be;

_  whether to conceive children together, and - if "yes," approximately when to do so.

_  legal stepparent adoption of any stepchild/ren.

       And as a couple, we've had adequate time to...

__  32*)  identify and resolve any major values differences on...

_  child discipline values and practices,

_  normal and special child visitations and holidays,

_  child-custody agreements,

_  financial child-support details - i.e. our co-parents' respective financial obligations for each dependent child;

_  religious and spiritual beliefs and worship practices;

_  relations with _ co-parenting ex mates and _ key relatives;

_  any significant conflicts or confusions over first and last names;

_  resolving major debts or legal matters either of us currently has or expects.

_  how we'll handle bills and checking accounts - who pays for what?, 

_  any pre-nuptial financial contract/s

_  retirement and estate plans (wills and trusts);

_  life and medical insurance coverages; and...

_  legal debt and asset-ownership titles - e.g. property mortgages, vehicle and real estate titles, retirement and savings accounts, notes and loans, credit-card debts...; .

      Even if you mates and partners are prepared to commit to stepfamily life, one or more stepkids may not be ready. How can you assess this?

Is This The Right Time to Form or Join a Stepfamily?"

C)  Stepchild Readiness

      Over time, all minor kids must master a group of developmental tasks to gain successful adult independence. Minor and grown kids whose parents divorce or die - and remarry - also have two or three sets of adjustment tasks to master to maintain wholistically-healthy growth. Stepkids need their several co-parents to know about all three or four sets of tasks and how to help with them - as a team.

      If minor kids are behind in their normal developmental tasks and aren't getting informed, guidance on mastering their mix of tasks, they're apt to cause "significant problems" at home, at school, and between their co-parenting homes. 

       To gauge a stepchild's readiness for parental remarriage and stepfamily membership, courting co-parents need to (a) understand stepfamily basics (Lesson 7 here), and (b) assess the child's status on these three or four task-sets.

      The more "behind" a child is with these tasks, the less prepared s/he'll be to adapt to confusing new stepfamily roles like stepdaughter (son), stepgrandson (daughter), and step-sibling. Difficulty with these roles will stress newlyweds and other family adults.

__  33*)  Before committing, each of you mates study and rank the status of each minor and grown child with...

  • typical developmental needs, and... 

  • these three sets of family adjustment tasks, including possible recovery from early childhood trauma;

      Use these to help evaluate each child:

      When you're done evaluating a minor or grown child, rank her or him as _ seriously behind, _ moderately behind, _ acceptable progress for their age and gender, or _  ahead of normal expectations. Then add your ranking for each child to the other parts of this right-time worksheet Because this assessment must be subjective, consider asking other family adults to help you judge each child's ranking. 

       For perspective, any time a stepchild "acts out" before ort after adult commitment, that may indicate s/he is overwhelmed by the mix of these simultaneous tasks, and needs informed co-parenting help.

      The last group of commitment-timing factors is...

Is This The Right Time to Form or Join a Stepfamily?"

D)  Co-parents' Readiness

      Typical nuclear stepfamilies have three to six related bioparents and stepparents. Each adult has unique ideas and values about how to raise a child effectively. The degree of harmony or conflict among co-parents on who's responsible for what with each stepchild can significantly affect family relations - specially re/marriages.

      This last part of the right-time worksheet provides a way to assess how likely co-parenting harmony will be in your potential stepfamily. Numbering continues from above.

       Each co-parent in our pre-commitment stepfamily has clearly had enough time to…

_  34)  decide whether s/he needs to reduce significant psychological wounds (Lesson 1). In my exper
ience since 1979, most stepfamily co-parents are Grown Wounded Children (GWCs)

__  35*)  recover well enough from any prior divorces or mate deaths;

__  36*)  agree without ambivalence that we are co-parenting partners with a common goal;

__  37*)  agree on...

_  the traits of a high-nurturance family (Lesson 5);

_ our collective identity as a normal multi-home stepfamily,

_ who’s included in our stepfamily,

_  what "effective parenting" and _ "effective child discipline" are;

_  how to communicate effectively with minor kids;

_ what titles each of us will call each other (e.g. "I'm Jason's 'stepfather' and Rena's 'new
', and Jason's my 'stepson', and Natalie's 'stepbrother'. My Mom is Jason's 'stepgrandmother', and... (etc.)"; and...

_  any legal parenting agreements, and child custody, visitations, child-support, and holidays.

      And all of us co-parents have had enough time to...

__  38)  discuss if and how the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle affects us, and what to do if it does.

__  39*)  begin evolving a clear-enough shared idea of...

_  how to merge and stabilize our several biofamilies over time; and...

who’s responsible for what co-parenting tasks with each of our minor children; and...

_  how to evolve a pro-grief stepfamily together (Lesson 3), and...

how to resolve major co-parenting and other conflicts among us effectively (Lesson 2);   

      And we co-parents are well along with evolving....

_  40*)  emotional + financial + inter-home stability after any divorce, child-related, or other post-divorce legal suits among us.

+ + +

The 19 asterisked items above document how many more right-time factors there are for courting stepfamily couples to consider compared to first-marriage couples.

      Each couple will have unique factors like these four groups that will shape whether it's the right time for them to commit to stepfamily life. The number of factors here demonstrates the complexity of this commitment decision.

       Even if you've each met the right partner, the right co-parents, the right stepkids, and you want to re/marry for the right reasons - if you and your partner can't honestly each check many of these  right timing factors, you may launch or join your complex stepfamily too soon.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this worksheet. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or '''someone else''?

This worksheet  was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful 

  If you haven't done them yet, now fill out and discuss these related Lesson-7 worksheets: choose the right people to commit to, for the right reasons. Keep studying and discussing Lesson 7!

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