Michigan Family Institute Newsletter
www.mifamilytherapy.com        248-593-4784
August 2012
In This Issue
Building a Successful Stepfamily
The Importance of Families in Treatment


Power and Compassion: Working with difficult adolescents

Jerome A. Price


Take Control of Your Divorce

Margerum J, Price J, and Windell J 

Defusing the High Conflict Divorce

Gaulier B, Margerum J, Price J, Windell J


The Right to Be the Grownup
A Parent Skills Training Curriculum

Price J, Margerum  J 


As a courtesy to the many trusted professionals who refer to us, we offer presentations for staff development and for parents in schools or treatment programs at no charge.
Subjects are many and varied and can be coordinated with your program's needs.

Just call or email us


Reducing the conflict in your divorce regardless of whether or not the other parent will cooperate   

Times and Dates to Be Announced

THE RIGHT TO BE THE GROWNUP: Helping Parents Be Parents to Their Difficult Teens 
A Five-Session Skills Training Program for Parents

Times and Dates to Be Announced 

Please call or email if you  are interested in attending either of these programs  


Jerome A. Price, MA, LMFT, LMSW  
               Why do step-families seem so complicated when we have to deal with them? According to the research of Emily and John Visher from Chicago, becoming a step-family is a more involved process than we often anticipate. To meet someone with children and organize everyone's roles so that they work well, the average amount of time the process takes is 6 years. One can read that data as a window of 3 to 9 years depending on how smoothly the process goes.
               Let's break down that process. Whether one or both of the new spouses have children, a couple will often take a great deal of time getting to know each other before introducing their new love interest to their children. Most therapists agree that giving it six months to a year is a good idea. Giving an ex-spouse a reasonable length of time to adjust to another parental figure in the lives of their children also paves the way to fewer problems down the road. People are most concerned about whether the children are adjusting but we've found that the children adjust about as well as the adults do.
              Complications continue as children figure out how to relate to this new parental figure. Most step-parents are clear that they are not replacing the other parent. If they're not replacing that parent, though, what are they? Knowing what they aren't is a helpful step, but it's not enough.

             How do the children relate to each other? Are there opposite sex children of similar age moving into, or already into adolescence? These step-siblings don't possess the natural taboos that exist between biological siblings that reduce issues of sexual attraction. How should this potential problem be handled?

                If the average length of time to get a step-family running smoothly is 6 years, what does that mean to a family that has teenagers? They don't necessarily have 6 years to work with.

                There is also the ever-present problem of what the step-parent's role should be in providing discipline. The answer turns out to be different for different families and must be crafted to fit. Some step-parents can act like a parent to their step-children, some must set boundaries in which they never provide this discipline, while others develop entirely new roles that best resemble being like an aunt or an uncle.

               Therapy has a unique role in step-families. The role of the therapist is to shorten that 6 year period as much as possible by streamlining the process. It's much easier to help a family structure their blended family early on than it is to provide intervention once something has gone very wrong.          

               Families in new relationships are more open. Those who are already angry because the process has gone wrong tend to be more rigid and inflexible. Becoming a step-family is one of the transitions in life in which having significant problems is inevitable. Step-families should be directed to as many reputable resources as possible early on. Self-help books should be screened carefully but may be good resources as a starting point for families in transition. Whatever resources are used, it's best to not wait for trouble.



Visher, E. and J., How to Win as a Step-Family, Routledge, 1991.

Gaulier, B., Margerum, J., Price, J., Windell, J., Defusing the High Conflict Divorce, Impact, 2007.





Marie Harrington, MA, NCC

               You've probably seen it. The adolescent who seems to be aggravated just sitting in the same room as her parents, rolling her eyes at everything dad says, blank stare when asked her opinion. Dad describes her as a "good kid who was on the honor roll until 6th grade". Now she is 14 and is disrespectful to her family, gets into trouble, and won't talk to her parents. They don't know what to do with her and say that her negative behavior is "tearing up their family". The family wants and needs help.

                Although the daughter is the identified patient that the family wants to fix, I believe it is the entire family system that needs tweaking. It is true that children learn how to act from everyone they interact with, but it is the family who provides the strongest influence on their behavior.  

               Establishing, communicating, and enforcing parental boundaries is a key component in getting children to mind. As children move from elementary to middle school they push boundaries, sometimes in unimaginable ways. Their bodies are changing and they are trying to figure out where they fit in their new role as an adolescent. It is a confusing time, one in which well defined boundaries can actually help them sort out their confusion.

               Each family system has a unique set of boundaries based on their moral compass. I encourage parents to convey their parental boundaries with their actions as well as their words. A parent who is peer-like with their child, arguing tit-for-tat, quickly discovers that it is difficult to set or enforce parental boundaries. Discussions turn into arguments and both the child and the parent may end up saying hurtful things to each other. Peer-like parents often give consequences that they are unable or unwilling to enforce, teaching their child that she can push boundaries with minimal consequences.

               Parents who make it clear that they are the adults who make and enforce the rules are more likely to be respected by their adolescent. If the adolescent knows that when she violates a clear parental boundary she will endure the natural consequence without the possibility of the parents giving in, she feels safe knowing where the boundaries are in her family. These parents empathize with the adolescent, "I feel so bad that you can't go to the movies with your friends because your grades are too low. That must really suck for you".

               The daughter feels the pain of the consequence and learns that her actions are what put her in this situation. She is forced to take responsibility for her actions. The parent's empathy is genuine. They realize that teaching their daughter that she is not free from the consequences of her actions is one of the most important jobs they have as her parents.

This article can be used as a convenient handout for parents.



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