Example: Confronting "Dad"
Let's assume that you mates have agreed you want to confront your
father, who adamantly rejects your stepfamily identity.
Let's further assume that...
none of you have lived in a stepfamily before,
you've never talked with your Dad honestly about your divorce,
you have two minor kids living with you - his new stepgrandkids;
your Mom usually "goes along with Dad." and defers
to his opinion here.
You've asked if he agrees that you're all a stepfamily, and he blusters
and say's something like "That's ridiculous. Step-schmep - we don't
need to use silly words like that, we're just a family!"
How might you
do an effective confrontation?
This example is meant to illustrate your key options, not be a rigid formula. Adapt these steps to fit your personalities and unique situation.
numbers to help you partners discuss specific options together if you're
each reading a copy of this page.
Your odds for success rise if you mates plan
a confrontation with your father, rather than barging in impulsively.
Some links below will open a new window. Wait until you're done here before following
"Self check." Are your and your partner's respective true Selves
this assertion? If not, which
have taken over, and why? Do you each know how to
your Self (capital "S") to
not, lower your expectations about this confrontation succeeding, and
higher priority together.
for significant false-self
If you believe he's often ruled by false selves, see
this for perspective and options.
3) Affirm your
rights to assert your needs, opinions, and values to
Dad without undue guilt or anxiety. Refresh your belief
that respectful confrontation here will...
strengthen your self
esteems and your relationship,
raise your stepfamily's nurturance level,
improve your and your kids' long-term security and well-being;
Dad's dignity and
rights to his own values and opinions. He's not
wrong, he has
and values that shape his
stepfamily-identity rejection. He and his wife
may also lack some factual information about stepfamilies since they've had
no prior reason to learn it.
Option 5) Get clear
on what you mates need from the confrontation.
we need this
assertion to come from both of us, not just you or me; and...
we want Dad and Mom to
hear why we think this identity-agreement is important for all of
us. Then we need...
him and Mom to genuinely
accept our identity as a stepfamily (or some equivalent term),
and then to...
agree to use some
we all agree on to refer to
their relationship with their new
daughter-in-law and two stepgrandkids - without sarcasm, ambivalence,
or embarrassment; and...
we want Dad and Mom to feel respected
by us, and we want the same from them; and finally...
we want the kids and their
other co-parents to know what we're doing here, and why.
If we can't get these
needs met, we'll settle for Plan "B"...
Mom and Dad agreeing to read the
stepfamilies that we provide, and then discuss it with us; and then...
we need both of them to try out
seeing and calling us a "stepfamily," to see what it "feels like."
Either way (plan A or B), we need...
Dad and Mom's acceptance that
we'll choose to use stepfamily
role-titles even if they don't agree with
them yet (".. so Alex is your step-grandson, and you're his
a time and place which will minimize distractions
(like phones, kids, TV) and optimize effective mutual listening.
Then you mates discuss who you
should be present. If Dad is specially proud (competitive, defensive),
perhaps a 1-on-1 is better than having Mom there. If you choose that, also
decide if you want to
tell Mom in advance of what you're doing.
A related decision is whether to have your kids or selected others present
to (a) experience the confrontation process and (b) feel like they're
important and included. Depending
on many things, this is a chance to model how grownups resolve significant
Imagine compassionately what responses Dad is likely to
make to your assertion, and prepare for them. If this is a
potentially explosive situation, you mates can role-play how you'd (a)
to his likely responses,
your specific needs
calmly and respectfully.
Be prepared to give Dad
(or both parents) a copy of
Common Stepfamily Myths
and review it with him or them.
This is the best way to factually illustrate the
reason for accepting your stepfamily identity. Stay aware of the real
goal: that all adults adopt realistic stepfamily expectations and avoid
re/divorce trauma - specially for any minor kids in the family
Option 9) Agree on a
way of affectionately reminding your partner to stay focused if someone
brings up another family issue before you're done with this family-identity
assertion. This might be a hand signal, a sound, clearing your throat, or a word or
10) Note that effective assertions can bring up
unfinished business - e.g. Dad's feelings about your divorce. If that happens,
be prepared to shift gears to
the new issue, and deferring resolution of this identity-conflict to
another time. Stay flexible and resilient, and pace yourself...
"Progress, not perfection..."
are you looking at this confrontation as a chance to improve your stepfamily
relationships long term, or is this an onerous, scary chore that you
(your ruling subselves) resent? The former usually has higher odds of success. Finally...
Act on Your Plan
your opinions and primary needs to Dad (and any others), and assess the outcome. Did you
(a) get enough of your needs met (b) in a
way that felt good enough? Affirm your effort, and clarify what you
Notice what you're thinking and feeling now.
Have you ever planned an
assertion as thoroughly as this, in a high-emotion conflict? If it looks like
a lot of work, it probably is. And the payoffs are probably high for
you all, long term. Do you care enough about your stepfamily relationships to
invest this effort? Your actions demonstrate your real
more than your words.
Example: Handling "Resistances"
a new stepfather might respond to his Dad's resistances to "acknowledging that
we're a stepfamily." He uses...
of genuine mutual respect, and...
communication awareness, assertion
and empathic listening skills.
In this example, "You" are the
stepdad, your new wife is Penny, your Dad is Frank, your Mom is
Janet, and your resident stepkids are Nate and
You're asserting to your father with Penny present, and your Mom and the kids absent.
You - "Dad, we
really need your help with something. You've said you don't feel it's
necessary to call us all a stepfamily, and we do. Will you listen to our reasons?"
Dad - "I still feel
You - "You see no
point to this." (Empathic listening - Dad nods and grunts in
agreement, feeling heard.) "And we really
need you to listen to our reasons - will you do that now?" (Patient
Dad - "Well don't
take all day about it. What do you want to tell me?"
You - "As you know,
a stepfamily has at least one stepchild and one stepparent. That's true of us.
I'm obviously not the biological father of Nate and Becky, yet I'm
co-parenting them with Penny. I'm their stepfather, Dad, and they're my
Dad - "I understand
that. What I don't see is why you need to use this term 'step.' Why not
just say they're 'our kids'?"
You - "You see no value to using
'step' here." (Empathic listening again -
respectfully summarizing what he said, without judgment, explanation, or question).
Dad - "Right.
What's the big deal - am I missing something here?"
You - "Yes you are. Penny
and I have been reading about stepfamilies, Dad. They're more likely to
divorce than first marriages - and we don't want that to happen to us and the
kids. Once is enough!"
Dad - "Mm. I didn't
know that. And you think us calling ourselves 'steppeople' is going to prevent
Penny - "Not by
itself, Frank, no. What we're learning is that if we don't use stepfamily
titles - like stepson, stepfather, and stepgrandfather (smile), we risk
thinking and acting like an intact biological family."
Dad - "Well what's wrong
with that? A family's just a family - people living together, and so on..."
You - "You feel
there's no difference." (Empathic listening - Dad nods). "Dad, we just
learned that normal stepfamilies like ours are different than average
biological families in over 60 ways! That means that standard
biofamily norms and expectations often don't work in a stepfamily. They cause
problems, and Penny and I don't want 'em for any of us!"
Dad - "I don't get
it. What's so different about a stepfamily?"
Penny - "Yeah, we
didn't get it either, until we began to read and think about this." (She
hands Frank copies of
"Would you and Janet please take the time to read these? They're about all
of us. Then let's talk again about who we are, and what to call each other. We
really want our marriage and this stepfamily to work!"
Dad - "We want that too, Penny. We sure don't want a repeat of... well, we don't want to
go through that again. Sure, we'll read this. Doesn't look real
You - "Thanks, Dad. We
really need your and Mom's help here."
Does this read like a "confrontation"? How would you have navigated
this exchange? Notice how this sequence could have turned out much
different if "You" didn't use empathic listening to acknowledge
"Dad's" views and feelings. The normal alternative is to argue
("Yes, but..."), interrupt, lecture, generalize, accuse, get
irritated and impatient, and/or bring up old baggage ("You never listen!").
Because you expected Dad to resist and
didn't judge him badly
you avoided an argument and some "bad feelings."
Dad felt heard
(respected), so his
stayed "below his ears" and...
he could hear you and Penny.
happened, he was willing to do what you asked - read about stepfamilies, and
perhaps try calling you all a stepfamily and
acknowledging his strange new role as Nate and Becky's stepgrandfather.
If your Mother and/or anyone else had been present, the process would have
taken longer, but the theme would be the same:
prepare well together
with your partner,
expect resistances and know how to handle them
(use empathic listening and re-assertion, unless you get new
help each other stay focused on one issue
at a time until you're done,
use a genuine mutual-respect
attitude with all participants,
give new information about stepfamilies
as appropriate, to justify your assertion, and...
follow up on any agreements.