The Truth About Stepfamilies

Lacey Wallace, MA, PLPC

1,300 new step-families are forming every single day and couples getting married with children from a previous relationship are 60%-70% more likely to end in divorce. The solution to this is not to avoid remarrying, but rather to be prepared for the challenges that joining together a new family brings.

In this video, Lacey Wallace will discuss the origin of the term ‘step’, the importance of understanding expectations in a new stepfamily, and the answer to the complexities involved in merging a new family together.

In This Article

  1. Statistics of Step-Families
  2. Origin of the Term “Step”
  3. What are the Expectations of the New Step-Family?
  4. The False Expectation of a One-Size-Fits-All Approach for Step-Families
  5. The Answer to the Complexity is TRUTH

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Lacey Wallace, MS, PLPC is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Marriage Counseling, Family Therapy, and Anxiety & Depression in Women. You can schedule an appointment with Lacey for online counseling or in-person at our Springfield, Missouri counseling center.

Statistics of Step-Families

1,300 new step-families are forming every single day. In addition, couples getting married with children from a previous relationship are 60%-70% more likely to end in divorce. These statistics are staggering.

The answer to this heartbreaking problem is not to delay marriage or to choose to never re-marry after a death, divorce, or single parenthood. The solution is in the preparation for and management of the struggles that come when joining two families together.

Origin of the Term “Step”

Have you ever wondered where the term “step” came from? Over the years, this word has become ugly. People have tried to replace it with “blended” or “bonus” to battle the negative stigma associated with it.

The term came from the Old English word ‘steopclid’ (stepchild), with means orphan. The prefix steop means bereave. The sense is that an orphan is bereaving the lost parent(s). Stepmother or stepfather meant one who becomes a mother/father to an orphan and stepson/stepdaughter being an orphan who becomes a son/daughter by the remarriage of a parent.

Today, a death is not required in order for a step-family to be formed. However, the same grief that is expected and accepted with the death of a parent is not the same for a divorced family.

What are the Expectations of the New Step-Family?

There are numerous books that try to assist both new-forming families and families in the middle of this difficult process. The Smart Step-family by Ron L. Deal takes a lighthearted look at the expectations, as he examines the “blending” concept. He identifies the process of the microwave method, the blending method, and the crockpot method of new step-families.

Is the expectation that the transition will be quick and easy, like a microwaved meal? Do they expect every member of the family to be thrown into a blender, and with a few smooth swipes of a blade, be broken down from who they were before the marriage, and made into something completely new? Or is the expectation more like a crockpot meal, with each individual ingredient placed into the same pot and slowly simmered together?

Statements such as “I never dreamed it would be this hard”, “Shouldn’t we be past this already?”, and “I wish we would have talked more about this before getting married” are common statements made by people in the midst of this struggle.

The False Expectation of a One-Size-Fits-All Approach for Step-Families

Unrealistic expectations have been, and continue to be, poison to step-families everywhere. The complexity of the step-family makes it hard for a one size fits all approach when it comes to preparing for and working through the inevitable battles.

The different possibilities of what a step-family can look like are as vast as the possible variations of a combination lock. The step-family can be preceded by a death of a parent, the divorce of the parents, marriage after single parenthood, and more. They can include children from both sides, or just one. They can vary in visitation schedules, ages of the children, differing parenting styles, and more.

The Answer to the Complexity is TRUTH

  • Trust God
  • Be Real
  • Seek to Understand each person
  • Take it slow
  • Ask for Help
  1. Trust God – Above all else, trust God! Seek His wisdom and guidance in this transition. Pray for and with each other.
  2. Be Real – Evaluate expectations! These expectations can be conscious or unconscious. Therefore, the only way to flesh them out is through a real and honest dialogue between the engaged couple, and between parents and children. Allow for communication of real concerns and fears without criticism or shame.
  3. Seek to understand each person – Have patience to understand the feelings and fears of each member of the family. In addition, provide space for them to accept the new family in their own time, without pressure.
  4. Take it slow – Recognize that each person in the new family is grieving. They may be grieving the loss of a spouse or parent due to death. Or, it could be the loss of a dream that the marriage would last forever, or that the parents would be together forever. It may be the loss of normal (home, town, traditions, day to day living, etc). That’s just to name a few! Understand that kids grieve differently than adults, and allow them space and understanding for this process.
  5. Ask for Help – Do not be afraid or too prideful to ask for help! If you are in the beginning stages of thinking about joining your family with another, find a skilled therapist to help! The people in your family are the most important relationships you have here on Earth, so take special care of them! If you are in the midst of the struggle, find a skilled therapist to help your precious family not be one of the 60%-70%! You are not in this alone!

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