Navigating Challenges Of Stepfamily Dynamics

Sep 23, 2021

The following is an unedited transcript.

A child holds hands with two adults.
Credit Pixabay

Kailey Foster: Starting a new family dynamic can be difficult and introducing new stepparents is no exception. Sydney Gurney with USU Extension Healthy Living Utah teaches a course that focuses on stepfamily relations. She joins us today to talk about some of the challenges these families face thanks for joining me again.

So, what are some challenges that stepfamilies encounter?

Sydney Gurney: Stepfamilies encounter an abundance of different challenges. One big challenge that stepfamilies encounter is trying to bring together a group of people that all have different perspectives, personal history, backgrounds, maybe even cultural differences. And you're trying to bring these onto one family cohesive unit. And this can be difficult to navigate with everyone's different personalities and perspectives. 

And so, we like to try to give people the tools in order to help navigate those challenges and bring together what we like to call a shared meaning. And by shared meaning is being able to have the same expectations over a symbol or an event.

KF: So, you talk about the challenges that families counter as a whole, but is there like a certain age that might be hit harder than another when it comes to introducing a new stepparent?

SG: For sure, we tend to find that with children, it's usually the teenage age, that has the most difficult time creating those shared meaning, creating those bonds, that relationship with the new stepparent, maybe even step-siblings. 

Kind of that age of like nine to 15 is really difficult, the age for many reasons. One is, that's a big developmental stage of life for kids. You know, they're going through all these different bodily changes, social changes, and then you throw in this another change in with all the changes that they're already going through. And so that's that teenage age is a really difficult age to combine families. 

And so we want to share with families, make sure that they know like, it's not just you. It's not just a hard kid or anything. It's also a very just hard, difficult age, with so many changes that they're facing.

KF: And going back to the course that you teach on stepfamily relationships. Is this a course that can help families that are struggling with this transition?

SG: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the main reasons we've done this course is to help these families with the transition. There are so many transitions that Stepfamilies go through whether it's transitioning into co-parenting, parenting across different households, you know, transitioning to new places. 

We like to give families the tools to be able to help talk and communicate through these transitions. And also just to make families aware of what transitions that they may be facing. And so of course, this is a course that can definitely help families struggle through the transition.