Iishana Artra, PhD, CPC

StepFamilyServices.org L3C

Specialized Training for Safety, Wellbeing, and Personal Power

Mastery Checklist

 THE Mastery Checklist

Know Where You Are Going
These traits of successful stepcouples can be developed over time. The choices that add up to this list are described after Know Where You Are Going. 

  1. You and your partner have realistic expectations based in expert advice.
  2. Each partner takes care of their own physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, and professional health.
  3. The biological parent disciplines his or her own children.
  4. With your partner, together you structure the household rules and roles to achieve consistency and emotional safety for everyone.
  5. You and your partner keep strong boundaries between your relationship and ex-spouses and in-laws.

Research since the 1990's has shown these five traits of a stepfamily to be essential to stepfamily success.
What are the small steps for you that could make the biggest difference this week?

While we can take the following action steps on our own, a stepfamily coach or stepfamily counselor is trained to help. These steps add up over time and make a big difference. It takes time, so be patient with yourself and each other. That will make the most difference! Think of these as stepfamily "shock absorbers" that help essential parts of your relationship work more smoothly so it doesn't all break apart.

  1. If not yet legally partnered (finances and property not merged), complete a premarital stepfamily consultation to help anticipate the finances of raising a stepfamily and any legal preparations appropriate to the state in which you will live together.
  2. Locate and select an expert stepfamily professional to work with as needed for the years to come, just as a primary doctor, dentist, and mechanic are part of the team for routine and emergent support.
  3. Pre-schedule annual check-ins with a stepfamily professional.
  4. Assess own physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, and professional health in relation to what you consider to be indicators of health for each of those areas. Set goals for each area.
Lay a Solid Foundation
  1. Address the health of the nervous system with such healthful practices as whole foods nutrition, herbs, filtered water, healthy fats, movement, nature, rest, laughter, ceremony, gardening, restorative breathing and yoga, singing, playing music, art, therapeutic writing, grief work, recovery groups, support circles, sexual moderation (to reduce impact on dopamine levels), regular medical testing for hormonal balance and vitamin and mineral levels.
  2. Ask yourself if you are experiencing shock, grief, overwhelm, or other constant state.
  3. Name a feeling (without telling a story about it) in moments of stress to activate the problem solving brain state.
Practice Neutral Noticing
  1. Observe stepfamily dynamics, which requires interrupting the habit of getting caught up in them.
  2. Recognize which of the Big Six stepfamily dynamics (described at StepfamilyServices.org) are happening each time they occur and making a note of it in a notebook, digital device, or other method until a pattern emerges for type of dynamics most emotionally challenging, days and times they tend to occur, and what the typical responses by each person have been.
  3. Realize that a successful stepfamily feels and acts differently from a nuclear family and this is normal.
  4. Notice what in the romantic relationship has nothing to do with the children.
Be Merciful
  1. Give each person time and physical space to adjust to stepfamily life, an amount of time and space that is figured out in the process, rather than known ahead of time.
  2. Release the grip on what “should” be by letting go of examples/expectations/ideals of nuclear family so that you can design a stepfamily that works for the unique circumstances of your particular stepfamily.
  3. Express appreciation as much as possible to our partner using their language of love, even when we do not feel totally satisfied by the circumstances.
Be Savvy
  1. Use a challenge to inspire the creation and use of a strategy, just as athletes use challenges to focus energy, build muscle, develop specific techniques, stamina, and confidence.
    1. Create a strategy that is realistic for a stepfamily,  for each of the 4 areas of the Stepfamily Services system, Steps-4-Stepstm, 1) Getting Expert Help, 2) Getting Real, 3) Getting a Life, 4) Getting Together.
      1. Create a strategy that is realistic for each person involved - authentically one that each partner can handle long term.
        1. Use a strategy for each of the 4 areas of Steps-4-Stepstm, prioritized in sequence from 1) Getting Expert Help, to 2) Getting Real, to 3) Getting a Life, to 4) Getting Together.
        2. Get help from babysitters, drivers, house cleaners, tutors for the kids, stepfamily experts, etc, as needed.
        Connect in New Ways
        1. As a stepparent, place emphasis on connecting rather than correcting.
          1. As a partner, place emphasis on connecting rather than correcting.
            1. As a parent, talk with children about your relationship with them and what you need from them regarding their behaviors.
              1. As a parent-in-step, allow for some relationship messiness with children as everyone adjusts and new stepfamily culture and boundaries are being established.
                1. As a parent-in-step, reflect on how marriage or commitment vows made to partner can be carried out in relation to their lack of authority in stepfamily.
                  1. As a parent-in-step, notice when guilt is driving how you connect with children.
                  2. Brainstorm radically out-of-the box ways to configure your lives so that children are nurtured and the couple is nurtured.
                  Use Professional Help
                  1. As a parent-in-step, parent (as a verb). When parenting (setting limits, nurturing, teaching, etc) presents a significant risk to the continued relationship with child(ren) due to the other bio-parent's influence, see a professional stepfamily counselor or coach for private individual support for help with what might be parental alienation syndrome.
                  2. Speak of painful topics mostly with professionals and peers who are also in stepfamilies rather than mostly processing difficult emotions with partners.
                  3. Recognize that depression, grief, and guilt change how we perceive our situation, decreasing the chance of making effective choices.
                  4. Seek professional mental health professionals trained specifically in supporting grief, sense-of-abandonment, or PTSD triggered by stepfamily dynamics.
                  5. Receive professional support for mental health.
                  Take Charge
                  1. Each partner takes care of their own physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and professional health.
                  2. Each partner keeps strong boundaries so that their relationship with each other is safe from relationships with ex-spouses and in-laws.
                  3. Put agreements in writing about visitation, manners, boundaries, and money.
                  4. Parent provides nurturing-but-firm parenting to their own children.
                  5. Take ownership of mental state and decisions.
                  6. For the parent-in-step - learn how to avoid "throwing the stepparent under the bus"
                  Close the Gap between Expectations and Reality
                  1. Accept (or at least adapt to) the outsider and insider/in-the-middle positions.
                    1. Ask self, “What is realistic for a stepfamily?” or “What is realistic to expect from a child of this age?” or “What is realistic to expect from a divorced parent?”.
                      1. Perceive stress as mental cue to meet a challenge.
                        1. List the blessings of being in your stepfamily. Do this frequently.
                          1. Resist the urge to force an outcome.
                            1. Step back to allow some messiness in parenting and growing up.
                              1. Write job and role descriptions.
                                1. Flex with changes.
                                  1. Write up a stepfamily management plan with partner.
                                    1. Use positive communication skills.
                                      1. Pause before responding, for a minute or longer to reflect, to encourage own personal growth.
                                        1. Affirm self, especially when it seems no one else is doing it.
                                          1. Focus on what have control over.
                                            1. Decide which areas in which to cut the partner some slack.
                                              1. Take problems less personally.
                                              2. Feel more empowered (rather than think that our experience is caused only by other people).
                                              Ease Up
                                              1. Use relaxation skills.
                                              2. Focus mental and emotional energy on what it takes to build safe connections over years of time, rather than on any lack of connection so far.
                                              3. Strengthen a stepfamily relationship without it having to look or feel like a nuclear family relationship.
                                              4. Shift toward habits of gratitude.
                                              5. Take time away from the stepfamily by socializing, exercising, meditating, studying, singing, working, painting, writing, praying, volunteering, etc.
                                              6. Share quality time with partner without talking about stepfamily issues