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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
three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home
article assumes you're familiar with...
intro to this nonprofit Web
site and the premises underlying
of many alien tasks in forming a new stepfamily is adults and kids negotiating
what names and titles to call each other. Depending on several factors, this
can become a source of major confusion and conflict.
This article offers perspective on potential stepfamily name and
title problems, and suggests practical solutions to them.
In all ages and
cultures, tribes, clans, families, and nations have used names to
identify individual members and groups from each other. They have also evolved
titles to identify the responsibilities, functions (roles), and status
of individual members of a social group - e.g. shaman, slave,
healer. Names and titles also help to define "Who AM I?" (personal
normal biofamilies, confusion over names and role-titles (like daughter, uncle, and
son-in-law) is relatively rare. If adults and kids have the
same first name, usually they evolve nicknames or initials to differentiate
who's who - e.g. Bob and Bobbie, or Jeannie and "J.P."
When single parents commit to a new partner - specially if s/he has kids too -
the new mate may have the same first name as
a stepchild or as a first spouse; ("Do you mean my first husband, my
current husband, or my son?")
s/he may choose a mate's or a hyphenated
last name which is different than his or her biokids' last name. One
child may accept this and a sibling may not. Relatives may or may not
approve of this name choice;
new stepsiblings and/or new relatives may
have the same first name ("We both have a cousin named Marty.");
stepparents can legally adopt a stepchild
and change their last name, if both bioparents agree;
There are many variations on who may be stressed by these problems, why, and
how stepfamily members react to the stress.
social role is a set of responsibilities and common traits - e.g. a
"mother" is (assumed to be) responsible for nurturing children she has
conceived, and is expected to be a "loving" person.
"traditional" cultures, there are 15 common biofamily role-titles, like
cousin, uncle, grandmother, sister, father, brother-in-law, etc.
Divorced biofamilies add the role-titles of ex mate / wife / husband /
spouse and former in-law. There is relatively little family or
social confusion about what a person with each title is responsible for in a
family, and how they're "supposed to" relate to other family members.
Typical stepfamilies are formed by the complex merger of three or more
multi-generational biofamilies. The merger adds up to
15 additional role-titles to the traditional labels - e.g. stepchild / son / daughter;
stepparent / father / mother; step cousin / aunt / uncle / grandparent /
father / mother; and so on.
members ignore or deny their identity as a stepfamily, they won't
use these titles. If they accept their identity, they may be confused about
or disagree on what these alien new roles mean - e.g. how "should"
step-people behave with each other?
your kids or adults have significant trouble resolving problems over family names or
role-titles, what can you do?
checking to see
if any conflicted adults are unaware of or denying significant psychological
and what they
If they are, that will cause clusters of stepfamily problems and hinder
Lesson 1 explains
how to assess for wounds and
over time .
family names are usually a combination of
These can be amplified if family adults complain, argue, criticize, and
fight instead of doing win-win
problem solving as teammates. So - adults
apply these options for improving
their communication effectiveness, and then...
effective strategy to handle these three common
together and teach the
strategy to their kids and supporters.
This YouTube video focuses on one of them: values conflicts.
The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement We4b site:
I've reduced that to seven.
Confusion and conflict over stepfamily role-titles can be reduced by:
can erupt if a young stepchild wants to call a stepparent "Mom/my" or "Dad/dy"
and the stepparent and/or either of the child's bioparents or a grandparent
objects. Awkwardness can arise between siblings over "my Mom," "your Mom,"
"our Mom," and "my (or your) stepmother." Many stepfamilies choose to have kids call a stepparent by their
first name, or use a compromise like "Pop" and "Dad," or "Daddy Fred" and (step)Daddy Lou".
arises if a custodial stepparent (or bioparent) demands that their stepchild
call them "Mom" or "Dad" when they don't want to. This may indicate that the
stepparent doesn't want to admit (a) their stepfamily identity and/or (b)
their alien (and "inferior"?) step role. If they're childless, a stepparent
may long to feel like a "real" (i.e. biological) parent with a son or
Each of these
cases can cause clusters of values and loyalty conflicts. If adults are
minimally wounded, well-informed, and choose the options above to negotiate
creative compromises, they can identify and manage these problems