expert online series


Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., of the Step Family Foundation, Inc
on Negotiating the Step-Family Lifestyle


Current Time: Mon Nov 3 20:53:43 EST 1997

MsgId: jcafe(1)
Date: Tue Oct 28 11:58:18 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 208.212.69.180

Stay tuned for our upcoming chat with Jeannette Lofas, one of the foremost authorities on the step family.
MsgId: jcafe(2)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:05:29 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Expert Online. Today our guest is Jeannette Lofas of the StepFamily Foundation, Inc. The Stepfamily Foundation has helped many stepfamilies to grow together harmoniously. She has important insights to share with us today on the special needs of the Stepfamily. Good afternoon, Jeannette.
MsgId: jcafe(3)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:07:34 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Jeannette, let's start out with defining the stepfamily. What exactly is a stepfamily nowadays?
MsgId: jcafe(4)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:11:26 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The step family today has configuration far different than it has had in the past. Today we call it the new family ==70 percent of the population-- includes the divorced parent: single moms, visiting dads, and their new partners.
MsgId: jcafe(5)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:13:48 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

In your literature, you talk a lot about the dynamics of a stepfamily as being different from dynamics of an intact family. What do you mean by this?
MsgId: jcafe(6)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:13:50 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The recoupled family --anyone who's recoupled-- is another kind of family.

The recoupled family, the living-together family, the remarried family and/or the step family: This is way over the majority of families today. The step family is formed when children from prior relationships are involved...
MsgId: jcafe(7)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:15:36 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Before I answer your question, I want to give you some wild statistics. People don't think their part of this, but they are.

Of the 60 million kids under 13, 30 million --one half-- are living with one biological parent, and that parent's current significant other. ..
MsgId: jcafe(8)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:16:41 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

These family systems mention above fail at the rate of 66 percent. Would you take your kids on a plane to California with a one third chance of making it there? That's what we're doing as a nation...
MsgId: jcafe(9)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:19:42 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

To answer your question about the dynamics of these families: They cannot and will not function as an intact, or biologically connected family. One of the most important elements is this: Right now the schools of social work and psychology are not teaching about this family, so most therapists do not know about how it functions.

I myself came out of a step family and married into one, yet when I remarried I made all the classic mistakes. That's why I started the Stepfamily Foundation. (That's what a reporter does when there's no answer to a problem --she interviews all the experts and writes a book.)...
MsgId: jcafe(10)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:20:21 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

A book wasn't enough so I started the Foundation...
MsgId: jcafe(11)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:22:23 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Another dynamic is the rejection of non-self tissue --rejection of non-blood. You are not my mother or father and you are there where they are supposed to be, I don't like you.

What we say to the step family is this: Like an organ transplant, body rejects the non-self tissue. Doctors combat that occurance in medicine. But in the step family, we are not, on the psychological plane, doing the same thing...
MsgId: jcafe(12)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:24:20 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The third dynamic is the conflicting pulls of sex and blood. There are in conflict. In an intact family, the couple comes together and has the kid and are all going in the same direction. In the step family, those who are sexually involved --the couple-- are torn between sex and blood. Who do I put first, my husband or my child?...
MsgId: jcafe(13)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:26:17 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The perception is that the children are pulling this relationship apart.

That's not really true --the problem is the dynamic. The adults just do not know how to partner.

There is also a conflict of loyalties --if I love you, my step-mother, I can't love my mom. Therefore, I do not like you.
MsgId: jcafe(14)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:28:07 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

It is certainly a complex picture. Let's try to pull the picture apart, piece by piece. What about the new stepfather? How can he be integrated into the existing family and develop a relationship with the children?
MsgId: jcafe(15)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:29:26 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Other problems include prior spouses, visitation, etc.

Exes tend to badmouth each other, disagree, and have different styles of discipline. The absent father is often governed by feelings of guilt.

Everyone in the step family feels like an outsider, because no one knows what their role or position is. Just when you think you found your seat, someone else is sitting in it.
For instance, a 15 year old girl may be used to sitting in the front seat of the car with Daddy, but when Daddy has a girlfriend, where should the girl sit? She WILL try to protect her territory.
MsgId: jcafe(16)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:31:39 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The new stepfather must go slowly, and he must learn to partner with his new wife in terms of discipline and structure. The couple must partner and build couple strength.
MsgId: jcafe(17)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:32:56 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

What is the stepfather's role in relation to the children. Should he be a father-figure or a friend?
MsgId: jcafe(18)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:34:09 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

He should be a male head of the household and a partner with the mother. He is not a friend, and he is never the father, even if the father is dead.
MsgId: jcafe(19)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:36:12 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

I'm not sure I understand. How does he relate to the children?
MsgId: jcafe(20)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:37:52 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

He does not discipline on his own, unless he has the support of the biological mother. Otherwise, he creates dissention and kids may turn against him. The step parent can become the bad guy in a flash.
MsgId: jcafe(21)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:39:46 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

What are some steps a stepfather can take to connect with the children without scaring them off?
MsgId: jcafe(22)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:42:46 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Do some bonding things a mother can't do --play one-on-one basketball, watch the game together, do manly things. Watch the Stars Wars Trilogy or Karate Kid to see how a father can father without being the father. These step fathers must remember that they are not the authority here --if they take that on, the kids will reject them. My husband used to say: "Your son doesn't know how to shake hands like a man." I asked, well, can you teach him? He did, it took three minutes and I'd been trying to teach him for three years.
MsgId: jcafe(23)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:44:17 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

That's good advice. What about the step-mother, she is in a particularly difficult position, isn't she?
MsgId: jcafe(24)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:45:06 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

If it's a girl child, work with them on math or some other activity; for instance, with sports.

Girl children may usually come on to the step father a bit --if that happens to a small degree, it may actually ease the relationship, though you must be cautious. The biological mother must stop ANY sexual overtures on the daughter's or mother's part.
MsgId: jcafe(25)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:48:12 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The step mother must move slowly and work with her partner. When a man has parented alone, he orders in, has the kids stay up late, etc. She may not think this is right. The kids may ignore her. She may say, gently, we have to get this organized. But she cannot say this alone. She may have insight; even if she has not had children, women have had 3 million years of rearing children. But she cannot become the bad guy --much better to have the therapist become the bad guy. It is a difficult road full of land mines.
MsgId: jcafe(26)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:48:39 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Can you give us some information about special issues around stepmothers? Children will certainly resent the stepmother because she is now married to their dad, right?
MsgId: jcafe(27)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:48:55 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

BTW, I would like to talk about the counseling and education that we do.
MsgId: jcafe(28)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:50:17 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

How can the stepmother, then, relate to the children in the most positive way, so she can be eventually accepted?
MsgId: jcafe(29)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:51:12 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Through our foundation, we have counselors around the world. The way we counsel is that we educate. We do the education away from the counseling session through books and audio tapes, and then we counsel over the phone. Our average length of therapy 2-10 sessions. Five is average. This is short work.
MsgId: jcafe(30)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:51:42 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

For anyone in the room, please feel free to ask your questions.
MsgId: jcafe(31)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:53:01 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Thanks for that information, Jeannette. For now, I'd like to get back to the stepmother, since she's so important in this discussion.
MsgId: jcafe(32)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:53:30 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

I'll get to your question in a minute. First, I'd like to continue discussing our counseling. We do half of our sessions over the phone for people who contact us based on the website, the literature, and word of mouth.
MsgId: jcafe(33)
Date: Tue Oct 28 12:57:02 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

We do much of our therapy over the phone, and we also won a presidential award. You can get more information from our website.

As to stepmothers, they should go slow, get some pre-marriage counseling, get agreement from your partner, and do not try to be a super step-mother: It's dangerous to your health. Much of the same advice we give to the dads goes to the moms.

How do we partner in the 90s? Even today, the women are on dual shifts, at home and office, and men expect to fill the role of the hunter warrior. In the 50s she was the boss of the home and he was the boss of the world, but in the 90's we must rewrite the script.
MsgId: jcafe(34)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:00:02 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

What about the biological father? Sometimes, the stepfather will see more of the biological father's children than the father. How does a father deal with this?
MsgId: jcafe(35)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:01:21 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Out of guilt, the biological father often indulges the children. But he should not do that --as a father, he should set some boundaries.
MsgId: jcafe(36)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:03:06 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

How can the father deal with his, probably, jealous feelings?
MsgId: jcafe(37)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:04:25 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The father can feel competitive with the step-father, and it's tough. But the father is always the father --the kids go to blood. They don't trust their position enough, but their role is unassailable. It's very difficult for anyone to every take a blood parent's place, even if that parent is distant or sees the child rarely, even if that parent is in jail. And, even if the parent is dead, the step father cannot take the real father's place; likewise, the step-mother cannot take the real mother's place. This is not a popularity contest. This is about parenting children.
MsgId: jcafe(38)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:06:42 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

The father is not often jealous; you find that the biological mother is more often jealous of the step mother. She can deal with this jealousy by realizing that our first interest is the well-being of the child. Your first job as a mother is to parent that child well. Badmouthing the father doesn't do it. Act like a grown-up, or you will hurt your child.
MsgId: jcafe(39)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:07:01 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Jeannette, there is so much to discuss, but, unfortunately, we have run out of time. We would like to have you as a guest again. Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share? Don't forget to tell us your website's address.
MsgId: jcafe(40)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:08:38 EST 1997
From: Jeannette_Lofas
At: 208.212.69.150

Thank you for having me. The last think I want to note is that we do recommend counseling --or even an initial consult-- in these situations BEFORE the marriage. You can contact us at 212-877-3244 opr visit our website at www.stepfamily.org


MsgId: jcafe(41)
Date: Tue Oct 28 13:11:49 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Thank you so much for being our guest today. Next week, Expert Online features attorney Edwin Schilling, III. Mr. Schilling is an expert in divorce issues for people in the military, as well as federal employees. His topic will be "Divorce and the Military." Please join us next Tuesday at noon Eastern Time.


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