Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

Common Stepfamily Myths
 and Their Typical Realities

What's Normal in
an Average Stepfamily?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member, NSRC Expert Council


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

Updated 05-27-2015

      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 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily. 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 related stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepfamily.

       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, and this stepfamily quiz 

  • stepfamily basics and Q&A items;

  • common stepfamily-biofamily differences, and...

  • this example of a real stepfamily

      This YouTube video previews some of what you'll read in this article:

       Millions of U.S. stepfamily re/marriages eventually break up legally or psychologically. One of five reasons for this is unawareness of stepfamily realities and other vital topics. This causes unrealistic stepfamily expectations (myths), which promote significant stress. Individual stepfamily myths may be minor, but their combined impact promotes unwise commitment choices, escalating stepfamily conflicts, low family nurturance, and eventual re/divorce.

      This article identifies 60 common stepfamily myths and the corresponding realities, based on 36 years' research and clinical experience with over 1,000 typical stepfamily members.

Status Check - On a scale of 1 (I have many unrealistic expectations about our stepfamily) to 10 (all my expectations are totally realistic), I'm a ___. We'll revisit this at the end of the article.


      Decide who's guiding your personality now - your true Self (capital "S") or other subselves (a false self). Your Self will give the most accurate responses here. If you have thoughts like...

"Hurry up  - this is taking too long!"

"This can't be the reality - I don't believe it!"

"This may be true for some stepfamilies, but not ours!," or...

"Just skim this - we don't need to do every item,"...

that's probably a protective false self. To sense what those subselves fear or need, ask yourself "If this (reality) is true, what would it mean to me?" Try using this dig-down technique to get a clear answer.

      Choose an undistracted time and place, and the open-minded curiosity of a student.

      If you, your mate, or other key people (who?) believe an item below, check the appropriate box. If you're not sure, use "?" Star or hilight any specially important items. Note your thoughts and feelings as you fill this out - they're as useful as your answers. Option: journal or tape record your reactions as you go.

      If you see an unclear term, consult these definitions and return.

      Mentally answer each item, and then click on the item number to see a popup with the typical reality.

      Ask other stepfamily members to fill out this worksheet, and then compare notes.

      Consider making these myths and realities topics for several family meetings. Your kids need to know what to expect too!

Stepfamily expectation arro-dwn.gif (73 bytes)   Who believes this? rt arrow

Me You


1)  A stepfamily forms only after the death of a bioparent (vs. divorce), and the re/ marriage of the surviving bioparent.      
2)  If their kids are all grown, bioparents who re/marry do not form a stepfamily.      
3)  Re/marrying bioparents whose children are grown and independent bypass most of the major stepfamily problems that co-parents of minor kids have.      
4)  The parents and kids in a normal stepfamily live in one home.      
5)  Stepfamilies are pretty much the same as intact first-marriage (bio)families.      
6)  Most of my ideas and values about co-managing my former household ought to work well enough in this new family.      
7)  My and my partner's prior family experience, our love, and our common sense, make studying stepfamilies unnecessary.      
8)  If we run into any major stepfamily problems, our relatives and friends will empathize with and support us.      
9)  My (and/or your) prior marriage is over!      
10)   The psychological and spiritual health (nurturance level) of my and my new mate's childhoods, and that of our ex-mates, has little to do with our re/marital and stepfamily success now. The past is past!      
11)   Our courtship experiences together are a pretty reliable guide as to how we'll all get along after we exchange vows.      
12)  Moving in together and/or re/wedding creates a new family, and we'll all feel like one soon after we do these.      
13)  Though my child/ren and I have lived as an absent-parent family for a while, we can include my new partner (and her or his kids, if any) in our home, habits, and lives easily enough (or vice versa).      
14)  I won't have to put my new partner or my child/ren "first" in our new family. I can love and support them all equally!       
15)  I'd be wrong to expect or ask my mate to choose between me and my step-child/ren too often.       

  Stepfamily expectation arro-dwn.gif (73 bytes)   Who believes this? rt arrow

Me You


16) When I have a conflict with my partner's kid/s or ex mate, my partner should want to side with me, without significant guilt or resentment.      
17)   In a healthy stepfamily, stepparents, stepkids, and stepsiblings should love each other. If they don't, somebody's "bad" or "wrong."      
18)  Your children and mine will soon work out their differences, and will all get along fine.      
19)  My stepchild/ren will want my affection and support. They and my partner will appreciate my co-parenting efforts, and will naturally tell me so.      
20)  Our re/marriage and/or cohabiting automatically gives me the responsibility and the authority to discipline my stepkids.      
21)  A responsible stepparent should share in setting and enforcing stepchild-discipline limits and consequences right away.      
22)  Stepparents and bioparents should treat all their minor and grown children equally: Favoritism is wrong!      
23)  All our bio and step relatives should treat our bio and step kids equally at special events and family occasions.      
24)  Stepparents and bioparents (co-parents) should always be fair.      
25)  Co-managing our money and assets will not pose our stepfamily or re/marriage any unusual problems.      
26)  My mate and I should have no major marital or family conflicts over adjusting our wills and estate plans after we re/marry.      
27)  Even without adopting their stepkid/s, re/marriage gives stepparents most of the same legal co-parenting rights, obligations, and status as the living biological parents.      
28)  No minor child in our stepfamily will ever change residence to live with their other bioparent.      
29)  Our re/wedding and moving in together shouldn't cause any of our stepfamily members any significant losses.      
30)  Adults and kids grieve naturally enough, so we adults don't have to pay special attention to mourning in our new stepfamily.          
Stepfamily Expectation arro-dwn.gif (73 bytes)     Who believes this? rt-arro.gif (72 bytes) Me You Other

31) As mature adults, my partner and I know how to communicate and problem-solve well enough now, and we're teaching our kids to do these well enough.


32) It's unnecessary - or may even be harmful - for divorced parents to explain clearly why they divorced to their (old-enough) children.


33) Stepchildren often don't "turn out" as well as biochildren.


34) Minor stepkids have pretty much the same growing-up tasks that kids in "regular" (intact biological) families have.


35) I should and can keep everyone in our new home happy. I (or we) must make "it" (pre-stepfamily pain and loss) up to the child/ren.


36) Stepparenting is basically the same as bioparenting.


37) Stepparents aren't "as good" as real (bio)parents.


38) Typical stepfamilies are inferior to intact biofamilies.


39) There's no chance that anyone in our stepfamily will ever be romantically attracted to, or sexually active with, each other, except adult mates.


40) I'll never resent my partner spending time alone with their biochild/ren, and they'll never resent me spending reasonable time alone with my kid/s.


41) It's OK to require minor stepkids to call a stepparent "Mom/my" or "Dad/dy," even if they don't want to.


42)  Members of typical stepfamilies (like ours) have no special or unusual reasons to feel guilty or embarrassed.


43)  My (and/or your) kids' other bioparent is not a full member of our stepfamily, and never will be! Neither are any of his (her) new or future partner/s, stepkids, or their relatives.


44)  My (and/or your) ex spouse will ( always / surely / never ) send the proper child support, on time.


45)  My (and/or your) ex spouse will ( always / surely / never ) use the child support we send "right."

Stepfamily Expectation arro-dwn.gif (73 bytes)       Who believes this? rt-arro.gif (72 bytes) Me You Other

46) My (and/or your) kids' other parent will ( surely / never ) re/marry.

47) My (and/or your) kids' other parent will ( surely / never ) have a new child.

48) My (and/or your) kids; other parent will ( surely / never ) move close by (or far away).

49) My (and/or your) kids; other parent will ( surely / never ) cover the child/ren with their medical, dental, and/or life insurance.

50) My (and/or your) kids; other parent will ( surely / never ) sue for (or give up) child custody.

51) My (or your) co-parenting ex mate or their relatives would never (or surely) interfere if you or I wanted to adopt our stepchild/ren.

52) My or your stepchild/ren would be happy and excited if I or you wanted to legally adopt them.

53) My new mate will ( surely / never ) want to have a baby with me though s/he has prior kids. 

54) Our other stepfamily members will support and welcome our having an "ours" child, if we choose to.

55) Having an "ours" child together would surely strengthen our (or any average) re/marriage and stepfamily.

56) Most local clergy, school personnel, and mental-health professionals are reliable-enough sources of re/marriage and stepfamily help, support, and advice.

57) Most U.S. communities have effective support groups and provide informed education for stepfamily co-parents and/or their kids.

58) Because typical stepfamily co-parents are mature marital and child-raising veterans, typical re/marriages  succeed more often than first unions.

59) I'll never commit to an unsuitable or dysfunctional marriage partner or family situation (again)!

60) My mate and I will never re/divorce. Our love, commitment, dreams, and experience (wisdom) will see us and the kids through any problems!

       Pause and reflect. Are there other major expectations you have that are shaping your vision of how your re/marriage, home, kids, kin, and stepfamily "should" be? Does your partner have any others? What are they - specifically?

          My professional stepfamily research since 1979 suggests that each of these 60 expectations is often wrong! Because there are almost 100 structural kinds of stepfamily, yours probably has some exceptions.

Status Check - Re-rate your stepfamily wisdom now. On a scale of 1 (I have many unrealistic expectations about our stepfamily) to 10 (my expectations are totally realistic), I'm a ___. Has your rating changed since you started this worksheet?


      This worksheet summarizes 60 common misconceptions that lay people and family professionals have about typical stepfamilies. These myths combine to promote significant frustration, disappointment, and conflict, unless adults replace them with realistic expectations. Lesson 7 in this non-profit Web site will help you form realistic expectations.

      Option - ask other adults in your stepfamily to study Lesson 7 and then use this worksheet with an open mind. Then discuss your results together and help kids and family supporters change their stepfamily myths into realistic expectations.

      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 worksheet was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   


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