Frequently Asked Questions
We have tried to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about stepparenting. The subject is hugely complex and the questions and answers are rarely simple.
A stepfamily is created when two adults either marry or cohabitate following:
- A family divorce
- End of a long term relationship
- Death of a spouse
- When a single parent chooses a life partner
One or both adults may bring biological children to the new family unit.
The children may reside with the couple either full or part time.
Children who do not reside with their biological parents are still members of the stepfamily.
Adult children of either parent are members of the stepfamily
The adult who is not the biological parent is referred to as the stepparent.
Some family members find it difficult to use the descriptive terms stepfather or stepmother. They may decide to use alternative terms such as Mom's husband, Dad's wife.
First families are born out of love, hope, and have strong biological and legal ties. The adults have time during the honeymoon period to establish family values, norms, roles and responsibilities, and to build a strong couple identity and relationship.
The children all live in one house and are members of one family unit. There are few, if any, loyalty issues. The children are treated equallly; family and parental conflict is minimal. Family finances and inheritance are not usually issues.
Stepfamilies are born out of loss and grief due to family separation and divorce. Members of the extended family and community may not support the marriage.
There is no honeymoon period and the adults become 'instant parents'. The parent-child relationship pre-dates the couple relationship. These two factors make it very difficult for the adults to build the critically important couple relationship that is needed to stabilize the new family unit.
Not all family members of the stepfamily live in the same home and the children are often members of two or more families.
Planning family activities and events must take into consideration the children's other biological parent as well as visiting stepchildren.
Each adult feels differently about and is treated differently by the same child. There are complex loyalty issues and the stepchild may be hostile and reject the stepparent. Attachment and bonding may take years or may never happen between stepparent and stepchild.
The level of conflict in the stepfamilies is higher especially in the early years and is often related to finances, inheritance, child management, and differences in family values and culture
We do not believe that families blend.
Blended families is a stepfamily myth that creates unrealistic expectations and confusion for all members of the stepfamily.
Blended families is a term used to sidestep the unpleasantness associated with stepfamilies e.g. the wicked stepmother stereotype.
Saying that families blend also suggests that the process is easy, when in fact it is a highly challenging and complex process.
Each stepfamily goes through its own unique developmental process on the journey to becoming a stepfamily.
The factors that influence the stepfamily journey are wide-ranging and varied. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
The level of awareness the adults have about stepfamily dynamics and relationships
The length of time each adult was a single parent
The length of time each the child lived with their single parent
The number and ages of the children each adult brings to the new family unit
The individual family culture and traits of the two single-family units
The age and developmental stage of each family member
Unresolved grief and loss issues
Individual temperament traits such as adaptability and flexibility
Communication, problem solving and conflict management skills
The level of acceptance and support from extended family, friends, and the community
The need to put your spouse first is a very difficult one for many stepcouples to understand. They may be highly resistant to the idea, as they may believe it suggests they love their spouse more then they love their children.
This is not about love - it is about need
Putting your spousal relationship first, does not mean you love your children less and your spouse more, it simply means that you recognized that the couple relationship must be the priority. You children need and benefit from the guidance provided by a strong, egalitarian, and united parental team.
This is a critically important development task requires both the biological and stepparent to agree with, and support one another. It also empowers stepcouple to build, strengthen, and nurture healthy stepfamily relationships.
Your stepcouple relationship is the foundation on which your new family is built, and it is also the glue that holds your family together.
Children benefit from the security that results when their biological and stepparent have a strong relationship and work as a cohesive, solid, and united parental team.
Grief & Loss – Honeymoon & HappinessStepfamilies are build on loss - losses that are often acutely felt by the children. It takes time for children to resolve and come to terms with the loss of their first family through separation, divorce, or death. They may not be ready when their birth parent remarries.The happy couple might not understand that their marriage may trigger renewed feeling of loss and grief for the children.Losses are not just confined to the separation from a loved birth parent, but includes a multitude of other losses may not be acknowledged or even understood.In contrast, the couple is anxious to start their lives together. Often confident they are up to the challenges they may not be in tune with their children's feelings.The newly remarried couple may have unrealistic expectations about how their children and stepchildren will respond to the new family unit. Some children will welcome a new stepparent and stepsibling, others may not.In many cases, each family member finds themselves at different points on the following continuum:Grief & Loss -----------------------------Honeymoon & Happiness
If you ask any successful business person if they would merge their business with another without prior discussion and a solild plan they would say NO!
Businesses and families who seek to expand and merge with another require careful planning.
Why? Each brings their own values, beliefs, roles, expectations, rituals, and ways of doing things. Each must negotiate these and other items and resolve conflicts before they will enjoy a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship.
Failing to find this middle ground may result in confusion, conflict, and hurt feeling. Some families do not survive the emotional turbulence while others eventually find their way out of the stepfamily maze.
If you are planning a step family merger, do your homework. Research the issues and dynamics, attend a workshop, or talk with a qualified consultant. The benefits will far outweigh the costs.
Roughly 50% of remarried families do not make it past five years
In Canada approximately:
12% children are from separated or divorced families.
One in five children in Canada have a step-sibling or half-siblings
It is difficult to accurately collect statistical informaiton as Stats Canada only records the family where the child is living. Nor are statisitcs availalbe about how many stepfamilies: remarry - divorce - remarry - divorce. Furthermore remarried and divorced stepcouples may be reluctant to discuss their past relationships due to feelings of failure, grief, and loss.
We are hearing more and more that stepfamilies will one day number more than the traditionally married biological famliy.
Yes - Social Work Counselling Fees and Tax Exemptions
Extended or Private Health Care Benefits
Some public and private extended health care service plans provide coverage for Registered Social Workers (RSW), others do not. We suggest you contact your service provider for information.
Fees charged by a Registered Social Worker are HST exempt. If you are claiming fees as a medical expense ensure your receipts include the social worker's registration number.
Each province has a regulatory body that is responsible for the registering of qualified social workers. If you have questions please contact the appropriate provincial organization. In British Columbia contact the British Columbia College of Social Workers 604-737-4916.
Effective September 26, 2012, Registered Social Workers (RSW) are authorized as ‘medical practitioners' under the Federal Income Tax Act for the purpose of claiming medical expenses.
Under the Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC), the federal government gives a non-refundable credit of 15 per cent on allowable medical expenses that exceed 3 per cent of the taxpayer's net income, or $2,109 in 2012, whichever is less.
All provincial governments have listed social workers as authorized medical practitioners for the purposes of claiming medical expenses. We recommend you contact your local provincial tax agency for details.
The three territories NT, NU, & YT do not recognize social workers for the purposes of claiming medical expenses.