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The Nine Steps to Stepfamily Success

Step 5: Understanding Your Vulnerabilities and Blind Spots

Is your head on straight? Your relationship, and you, are especially vulnerable at the beginning, when everything is new.

Admitting how you feel in the stepparenting situation is key. If you are gritting your teeth and smiling through your resentment, you're just going to ultimately make things worse. Look in the mirror. Be honest with what you see. Are you happy? What needs to be changed?

Know that you've made a choice to become part of a stepfamily and be a stepparent. It's a conscious choice.

Step 6: Improve Your Communication Skills

Perhaps this should be Step 1! Communication is a never-ending process. I live with a communication expert, yet we're constantly working on improving our own communication. I know, a lot of books tell you to communicate with your family. Communication involves learning to listen more effectively as well as talk.

I Kid You Not!

Famous stepparent in history: The Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan, was a stepfather to Patty Davis before he adopted her.

Life in a Modified Democracy

Stepfamilies can be very complex, and decision making can become a major part of daily life. It helps to think and make some decisions about your family's decision-making style.

Back in the early 1980s, I was involved in some organizations that decided everything by consensus. In consensus decision making, everybody must agree, and any one person has the capability of “blocking” a decision. The advantage of consensus is that everybody involved in the decision-making process must truly agree, and everybody is invested in the decision that is made. One drawback is that consensus takes a very long time and a tremendous amount of energy. Oh, the hours of negotiations over relatively small decisions! Another drawback is that children, especially young children, are sometimes not equipped with the knowledge and savvy to truly make wise decisions.


Consensus is a form of decision making in which everybody must actively agree, and any one person has the power to block a decision. The opposite of a consensus is a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, the dictator rules and whatever he or she says goes.

The opposite of a consensus-run household is a dictatorship (hopefully a benevolent one). In a dictatorship, the dictators (in this case, the couple) rule. They make the decisions, and everybody follows suit. On the surface, this seems simple, and it sure cuts down on argument. But of course, family dictatorships do not work. For one thing, they are usually based on fear. What's more, kids need to have some responsibility over their lives, and they need to learn how to make decisions.

Then there is a democracy, where each member of the family has a vote. Depending upon how many kids there are, democracy might work for you (think about it, though—have they got you outnumbered?).

I believe that life in the stepfamily works best as a modified democracy, a blenderized concoction of democracy flavored with a large splash of consensus and the occasional light sprinkling of dictatorship. In a modified family democracy, the kids get to voice their opinions and be seriously heard. They don't get an equal vote. The adults are in charge of safety and morality; the kids get some input on everything else.

The best forum for discussing family issues and making decisions is the family meeting. Read Stepfamilies: Problem Solving to get through tough situations

Stepping Stones

Flexibility is the primary tool each member of a stepfamily must work toward. Rigidity breaks.

Step 7: Be Flexible

Life and parenting are never predictable. Just when you think you have things figured out, they change. Hey, that's a good thing! Flexibility is one of the greatest strengths you can build in yourself and help build in your stepfamily. Here's the rule: When the family is in flux, you must flex.

Next: Steps 8 & 9 >>

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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