Who would have thought that this paperback on stepfamilies could cover everything you want to know (and more) about stepfamily research, clinical complexities, and therapeutic guidance for a multitude of professionals? Patricia L. Papernow had done it! It comes with plenty of case examples to enhance family relationships at all levels. I view this brilliant work and its well-organized hierarchical structure as an excellent resource; I will grab it frequently from my bookshelf for clinical, research, and personal use.
The book is organized into five parts, containing 17 chapters. Given the exhaustive nature of the text, I will try to present an overview of each part. Part One provides a basic foundation with maps, genograms, illustrations, and a chapter (2) presenting the uniqueness of stepfamilies. Part Two presents a chapter on each of the five major challenges facing stepfamilies, including a discussion of the "insider/outsider" positions in the family (3); children's struggles with loss, loyalty, and change (4); polarization of the adults (5); creating a new family structure (6); and ex-spouses as family (7). In Part Three, Papernow presents some of the unique challenges facing families of diverse backgrounds, including lesbian/gay (8), African American (9), Latino (10), and later life-cycle (11) stepfamilies. While a chapter feels absent regarding Asian American families, I hope she will write about this in the future. Papernow's clinical experiences are presented with compassion and an appreciation of the strengths of each culture.
Part Four covers stepfamilies over time, including early, middle, and late stages of development or, as the author prefers, "stations" of development (12). These stations include getting started or getting stuck, reorganizing family relationships, and late development. Papernow presents a case of "mobilization" that follows as a husband "finally started blurting out how left out he felt" after two years of relative calm (pg. 157). Later, in Chapter 13, Papernow reviews the six stages of stepfamily development and provides a case example of each of them. In Part Five, entitled "Helping Stepfamilies Thrive," the author provides more detailed principles and practices for intervention using the toolboxes of psychoeducation (14), interpersonal skills (15), and intrapsychic work (16). In the final chapter, Papernow stresses that becoming a stepfamily is a process, not an event, which means that work with stepfamilies varies in intensity, frequency, and length. Papernow thoughtfully includes some extensive notes and references at the book's end.
I have a particular appreciation for Papernow's remarkable humor, which lightens up the path to successive enlightenment in each chapter.
Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn't. By Patricia L. Papernow. New York: Routledge, 2013. Paperback. 978-0-415-89438-8. $39.95