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University of Missouri

An Evaluation of the Remarriage and Stepfamily Self-Help Literature

The purpose of this study was to critique inprint, post-1990 copyrighted stepfamily self-help books in order to provide guidance to helping professionals who work with these complex families. Of the 63 books reviewed, trained coders were able to strongly recommend 13 books for being well organized, for relying on clinical or empirical sources of information, and for offering practical and concrete advice specic enough for stepfamily members to implement. Self-help books have been described as a rm part of the fabric of American culture, too pervasive and inuential to be ignored or lightly dismissed, and certainly worthy of investigation (Starker, 1989, p. 2). Recent estimates show that about half of all marriages continue to involve at least one previously married partner (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004), and a signicant number of these previously married partners have children. Unfortunately, the divorce rate for remarried couples continues to be higher than that for rst married couples. The probability of redivorce within 5 years for remarried couples is 23% and within 10 years is 39% (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002), compared to rst-marriage dissolution found to be 20% at 5 years and 33% at 10 years. The likelihood of dissolution increases when

children are present, and in 2004, 17% of all children under age 18 (12.2 million) lived with a stepparent, half-sibling, or stepsibling (Bramlett & Mosher). Forty-six percent of the children in stepfamilies (5.5 million) lived with at least one stepparent (Kreider, 2007), a total of 6% of all children in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Given the high level of complexity within stepfamilies and stepfamily relationships (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000; Ermisch & Francesconi, 2000), individual stepfamily members may seek the assistance of helping professionals in numbers considerably higher than individuals from other family backgrounds. Indeed, many stepfamilies need up-to-date educational information rather than therapy, and high-quality self-help books have the potential to either supplement or supplant therapy (Visher & Visher, 1996). In 1989, Coleman and Ganong conducted one of the rst systematic evaluations of the stepfamily self-help literature. Our goal here was to update and extend our previous work in order to provide guidance regarding the content and quality of self-help books. The purpose of our study was to critique stepfamily self-help books published since 1990 and make recommendations that would assist helping professionals match the needs of clients to available books. Emergence of the Self-help Book Phenomenon

Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri, 411 Gentry, Columbia, MO 65211 ( Key Words: remarriage, self-help, stepfamilies.

Books have been used for centuries to help people solve their personal and interpersonal problems (Pardeck, 1996; Santrock, Minnett, & Campbell, 1994). Early American literature 549

Family Relations 58 (December 2009): 549 561

550 such as McGuffy Readers, The New England Primer (Pardeck), and The Poor Richards Almanac (Santrock et al.) commonly included advice for self-improvement. Today, nearly every bookstore and library has a section devoted specically to self-help literature, and it has been estimated that the self-improvement industry annually generates $2.48 billion in revenue (Rosen, 2004). There are more than 28,000 available self-help books, and the last 20 years have demonstrated a marked increase in their use among clinicians (Lehane, 2005). Use of self-help materials for therapeutic purposes. Psychoeducational approaches (Authier, 1977) are often designed to increase the availability to the general public of self-care tools such as self-help books that enhance resilience to stress, coping skills, and a sense of mastery over life changes (Landsverk & Kane, 1998). Ellis (1993), noted founder of rational-emotive therapy, has suggested several advantages of self-help books, especially for selected audiences. For example, Ellis believed that some people who are literature oriented, but do not like dealing with a therapist or with counseling groups, might be quite comfortable reading self-help books. He also stated that it may take a great deal of repetition before people can assimilate information, which makes being able to access books for multiple readings especially valuable. Furthermore, Ellis underscored that for some people therapy may be too expensive and/or embarrassing, and selfhelp books provide therapeutic suggestions at a low cost and they are accessible for private use. Finally, he pointed out that some communities have too few therapists to offer much variety in counseling techniques, or there is little diversity in the kinds of self-help and therapy groups offered, a particular problem in rural areas (Erickson, 2001). Self-help literature may be one of the few ways these individuals can gain access to professional advice. Similarly, Du Plock (2005) asserted that bibliotherapy can be a means of people engaging with their past, being in the present, and imagining the future (p. 307). This review of the stepfamily self-help literature is designed to assist practitioners in the selection of high-quality materials to use with their stepfamily clients. Providing reading material that offers concrete suggestions for common issues that may arise is a means of

Family Relations helping stepfamilies imagine a future that is both functional and satisfying. Evidence suggests that many therapists, especially those with more than 10 years of experience, rely on self-help literature and bibliography as an integral part of the therapeutic process (Adams & Pitre, 2000; Lehane, 2005); however, few therapists have the time to personally critique new publications (Norcross et al., 2003). We contend that those in the helping professions (e.g., counselors, family life educators, social workers) will benet from careful reviews of high-quality books that offer sound concrete advice that is based on empirical evidence and/or clinical impressions from highly skilled clinicians who have an extensive background of working with stepfamilies (Davies, 1999). Limitations and critiques of self-help material. Despite the advantages and the popularity of self-help books, there has been a backlash in the academic community regarding the appropriateness of this literature. Critics of self-help books have underscored the wide variability among self-help books with respect to whether or not they are research based, focus on specic symptoms, and offer useful concrete suggestions (Norcross et al., 2003). These criticisms may be particularly true for the best selling self-help books. For example, best selling self-help books seldom take a feminist perspective (Zimmerman, Holm, & Starrels, 2001). If issues such as egalitarian relationships and empowerment to explore nontraditional behaviors and life choices are important to therapists and clients, then the best seller list would be an inadequate basis of choice. Of additional concern is the quality of selfhelp material. Pardeck (1990) analyzed studies examining the use of self-help books and reported generally positive ndings, and Pantalon and Lubetkin (1995) concluded from their review of the literature that self-help books are effective in changing behaviors. Jackson (2001) noted, however, that for self-help books to be effective, therapists must choose appropriate books, and they must be familiar with the books selected. Given the complex issues and unique situations facing stepfamily members, it is important that self-help books chosen by or assigned to them be of high quality. Unfortunately, not all self-help books are of optimal quality. For example, Johnson, Johnson, and Hillman (1997) raised major concerns about the general quality of Christian self-help books,

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation including the tendency of authors to plagiarize (e.g., they add a few Christian principles and references to someone elses work) and the fact that the books are often based on opinion rather than empirical evidence. Considering evidence that conservative Christians prefer Christian therapists and would prefer self-help books written from their religious perspective (Johnson & Johnson, 1998), these clients are in need of self-help materials that do not conict with their Christian values, yet are empirically sound. (Davies, 1999). METHOD The books evaluated in this study were identied using a variety of search techniques. We searched the websites of Barnes & Noble and Amazon bookstores to nd books readily available to the public using the keywords selfhelp and stepfamily, remarriage, stepmother, stepfather, stepchild, stepsiblings, stepchildren, stepfamily relations, blended family, remarried family, and self-help. The databases Books in Print, Worldcat (a large on-line network of library content and services), and the on-line catalog for the Library of Congress also were searched in addition to recommended readings lists from websites of several professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Stepfamily Association of America, and the Academy of Family Mediators. We limited our selection of books to those that were still in print with a post-1990 copyright date, which resulted in the identication of 194 stepfamily self-help books. Letters were sent to the publishers of these books explaining the project and requesting complimentary copies. We also asked them to send us other stepfamily self-help books from their presses in case we had overlooked some. Books that were not provided by the publishers were obtained from local libraries or via Interlibrary Loan. Books acquired but excluded from the study, included religious tracts that primarily provided biblical interpretations of remarriage, professional books written for an academic audience, books offering advice on multiple family transitions (e.g., marriage, divorce, the ensuing singlehood, dating postdivorce, and remarriage all in one book), books with a narrow focus, and childrens books. For example, Papernows (2003)

551 book Becoming a Stepfamily: Patterns of Development in Remarried Families was excluded on the grounds of being primarily for professionals, covering topics such as stepfamily cycles, developmental maps, and intervention strategies designed for professionals working with stepfamilies. Likewise, Divorce & New Beginnings: A Complete Guide to Recovery, Solo Parenting, Co-parenting, and Stepfamilies (Clapp, 2000) was omitted for being too broad in scope, while Blackstone-Ford and Jupes (2007) Ex-etiquette for Weddings: The Blended Families Guide to Tying the Knot was excluded for being too narrow in focus. Some books, although addressing a narrow audience, were included because they offered excellent advice on an acceptable number of topics. An example was Remarriage After 50: What Women, Men and Adult Children Need to Know (Barton, 1994) which was noted by coders for offering good advice on money issues, sex in later life, health issues, and adult children, topics not covered in other books, yet noted as issues salient to older remarried adults (see Williamson & Dooley, 2001).

Coding The remaining stepfamily self-help books (n = 65) were evaluated using a coding rubric developed for this project that was comprised of ve main categories (i.e., readability of text, content basis of text, use of references, author qualications, and comprehensiveness), an overall rating of quality (i.e., strongly recommended, recommended, recommended with reservations, and not recommended), and some single-item measures. On readability, coders evaluated if the books were visually appealing, organized logically, appropriate for the intended audience, and had an engaging writing style. The content of the books was coded according to whether or not the author relied upon research, clinical impressions, personal experience, or some combination of the three for information. The reference category consisted of three parts: Was there a reference list, if so, was it current, and/or were suggestions made of other stepfamily resources? Author qualications were assessed according to clinical experience, appropriate academic degrees, and/or personal experience. These categories were scored from 1 to 3, with 3 being the best score. Comprehensiveness was assessed on a scale of 1 (least comprehensive) to 10 (most

552 comprehensive). For our purposes, comprehensiveness was dened as the extent to which the books covered content empirically supported as salient to stepfamily functioning. In addition, 46 content codes were inductively developed by coders; new codes were added throughout the coding process. Additional single-item measures included (a) did the book present a balance of both the problems and strengths of stepfamilies, (b) was a nuclear family model promoted, (c) were ways offered to integrate all sets of parents into the childs life, and (d) was concrete advice given, and if so, was it based on research, clinical data, or merely personal experience? These categories were coded as yes, undecided, no, and/or not applicable. Categories were scored from 0 to 3, with yes responses scored as 3, undecided scored as 2, no responses scored as 1, and not applicable responses scored as 0. The scores on each category were tallied and for those categories consisting of multiple items, then averaged. Particular attention was paid to the presence of concrete advice on topics empirically supported as salient to stepfamily functioning. The books were evaluated according to whether or not advice/suggestions were offered, if advice was concrete rather than abstract, and if the advice was empirically supported. Concrete advice was dened as suggestions of research supported appropriate courses of action using specic behavioral language (Norcross et al., 2003). For example, abstract advice such as take all the time you need or date long enough sounds good but does not really provide stepparents with much guidance about what to do. How do you know when you have dated long enough? Or if you have taken the time you need? Concrete advice, on the other hand, provides explicit tasks to accomplish such as:
Find out what things your stepchildren like and, if possible, see that they are available. Having a basketball hoop put on the garage or nding Dads Old Fashioned Root Beer in the refrigerator can give a stepchild the sense of being counted and appreciated (Visher & Visher, 1991, p. 84).

Family Relations included family studies graduate students and parent educators. All of the coding categories have been supported empirically as important criteria to use in evaluating self-help literature (Coleman & Ganong, 1987; Fried & Schultis, 1995; Pardeck, 1996). During the initial stages of the project, all members of the research team coded the same three books to establish inter-rater consistency and to develop the categories of the coding rubric. After the initial training and development of the rubric was completed, each self-help book was coded by a minimum of two people. Weekly meetings were held to discuss the coding process for the purpose of maintaining consistency across codes and coders. When codes were not consistent, the codes would be discussed until there was consensus or a compromise. In some cases, where coders disagreed, the scores were averaged. If coders proved to be unreliable or their codes varied widely from other coders, their data were discarded. For example, in one case, there was a language difference problem (an international graduate student), and in the other, the coder did not carefully read the books and was missing much of the data. These books were read by other coders as a result. Coders also wrote memos on each book, including examples of concrete advice presented. These memos were used in conjunction with the coded data to determine the level of recommendation. RESULTS Books were coded similarly to the coding of qualitative data. For example, a book that might have originally been coded as strongly recommended would likely be moved to the recommended category as better books were uncovered. If there were several good books in a category (e.g., books for stepmothers), we would examine these books again and select the one or two best to strongly recommend. We utilized the coding category scores to make these decisions, but we also specically assessed the amount and content of concrete advice that was offered. This was a means of reducing the strongly recommended list to be less unwieldy and of more benet to those helping professionals searching for high-quality books. Of the 65 books coded, 13 were strongly recommended (see the Appendix and Table 1). Strongly recommended books, not surprisingly, received higher average scores on each of the ve main

An investigative triangulation method, as opposed to a single coder, was employed for reducing potential systematic bias (Denzin, 2006). In addition to the authors, additional coders were selected on the basis of their experience and knowledge of stepfamily issues and

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation

Table 1. Booklist by Recommendation (n = 64)


Strongly recommended books (n = 13) Boyd, H. (1998). The step-parents survival guide: Positive advice for achieving a successful step-family. London: Ward Lock. Fletcher, J. B. (2007). A career girls guide to becoming a stepmom: Expert advice from other stepmoms on how to juggle your job, your marriage, and your new stepkids. New York: Harper. Lauer, R. H., & Lauer, J. C. (1999). Becoming family: How to build a stepfamily that really works. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg. Lutz, E. (1998). The complete idiots guide to stepparenting. New York: Alpha. Mulford, P. G. (1996). Keys to successful stepmothering. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series. Newman, M. (1993). Stepfamily realities: How to overcome difculties and have a happy family. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Norwood, P. K., & Wingender, T. (1999). The enlightened stepmother: Revolutionizing the role. New York: Avon Books. OConnor, A. (2004). The truth about stepfamilies: Real American stepfamilies speak out about what works and what doesnt when it comes to creating a family together. New York: Marlowe. Pickhardt, C. E. (1997). Keys to successful stepfathering. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series. Rosenblum, G. (2000). Stepfamilies: Making it great. Parent club handbook. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Publishing International. Thomas, S. (2005). Two happy homes: A working guide for parents & stepparents after divorce and remarriage. Longmont, CO: Springboard Publications. Tufnell, C., & Tufnell, T. (2007). Every step counts: Building a healthy stepfamily. Oxford: Lion. Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1991). How to win as a stepfamily. New York: Routledge. Books recommended (n = 13) Artlip, M. A., Artlip, J. A., & Saltzman, E. S. (1993). The new American family. Lancaster, PA: Starburst. Burns, C. (2001). Stepmotherhood: How to survive without feeling frustrated, left out, or wicked. New York: Three Rivers Press. Cerquone, J. (1994). Youre a stepparentnow what? A guide to parenting in families with nonbiological children. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press. Einstein, E., Albert, L., & Baird, G. (1991). Strengthening your stepfamily. Melbourne: Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Kaufman, T. S. (1993). The combined family: A guide to creating successful step-relationships. New York: Plenum Press. McBride, J. A. (2001). Encouraging words for new stepmothers. Fort Collins, CO: CDR Press. Nelsen, J., Erwin, C., & Glenn, H. S. (1997). Positive discipline for blended families: Nurturing harmony, respect, and unity in your new stepfamily. Rocklin, CA: Prima. Oxhorn-Ringwood, L., Oxhorn, L., & Krausz, M. V. (2002). Stepwives: 10 steps to help ex-wives and stepmothers end the struggle and put the kids rst. New York: Fireside. Popkin, M., & Einstein, E. (2007). Active parenting for stepfamilies: For parents & stepparents. Atlanta, GA: Active Parenting. Thoele, S. P. (1999). The courage to be a stepmom: Finding your place without losing yourself. Berkeley, CA: Wildcat Canyon Press. Wisdom, S., & Green, J. (2002). Stepcoupling: Creating and sustaining a strong marriage in todays blended family. New York: Three Rivers Press. Wright, H. N. (1999). Before you remarry. Eugene, OR: Harvest House. Ziegahn, S. J. (2001). 7 steps to bonding with your stepchild. New York: St. Martins Grifn. Books recommended with reservation (n = 17) Barton, J. H. (1994). Remarriage after 50: What women, men and adult children need to know. Fort Walton Beach, FL: Roger Thomas Press. Brown, B. E. (1991). When youre mom no. 2: A word of hope for stepmothers. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications. Coyle-Hennessey, B. (1993). Once more with love: A guide to marrying again. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press. Deal, R. L. (2002). The smart stepfamily. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House. Doerken, M. (2000). Stepparenting without guilt. Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin Publication. Dunn, D. (1993). Willing to try again: Steps toward blending a family. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Table 1. Continued

Family Relations

Estess, P. S., & Estess, P. S. (1996). Money advice for your successful remarriage: Handling delicate nancial issues with love and understanding. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books. Focus on the Family. (2004). The blended marriage: Focus on the family marriage series. Colorado Springs, CO: Gospel Light. Goodman, K. P. (2002). The stepmoms guide to simplifying your life. Culver City, CA: Equi Librium Press. Keller, J. (2001). Making your remarriage last. Loveland, CO: Group Publication. Millian, L. F., & Millian, S. J. (1999). The second wives club: Secrets for becoming lovers for life. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publication. Parrott, L., & Parrott, L. L. (2001). Saving your second marriage before it starts: Nine questions to ask before (and after) you remarry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. Reed, B. (1992). Merging families: A step-by-step guide for blended families. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publication House. Roberts, N. (2004). With open arms. New York: Silhouette Books. Smoke, J. (1994). Growing in remarriage: Seven keys to a successful second marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: F.H. Revell. Swallow, W. (2004). The triumph of love over experience: A memoir of remarriage. New York: Hyperion. Ziegahn, S. (2002). The stepparents survival guide: A workbook for creating a happy blended family. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Books not recommended (n = 21) Annarino, K. L., & Blomquist, J. M. (2000). Stepmothers and stepdaughters: Relationships of chance, friendships for a lifetime. Berkeley, CA: Wildcat Canyon Press. Barash, S. S. (2000). Second wives: The pitfalls and rewards of marrying widowers and divorced men. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press. Barnes, R. G. (1992). Youre not my daddy. Dallas, TX: Word Publication. Bray, J. H., & Kelly, J. (1998). Stepfamilies: Love, marriage, and parenting in the rst decade. New York: Broadway Books. Chedekel, D. S., & OConnell, K. G. (2002). The blended family sourcebook: A guide to negotiating change. Chicago: Contemporary Books. Douglas, E., & Douglas, S. (2000). The blended family: Achieving peace and harmony in the Christian home. Franklin, TN: Providence House. Flach, F. F. (1998). A new marriage, a new life. New York: Hatherleigh Press. Gabe, G., & Lipman-Blumen, J. (2004). Step wars: Overcoming the perils and making peace in adult stepfamilies. New York: St. Martins Press. Janda, L. H., & MacCormack, E. (1991). The second time around: Why some marriages fail while others succeed. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publication Group. Jones, M. B., & Schiller, J. A. (1992). Stepmothers: Keeping it together with your husband and his kids. New York: Carol Publication Group. Kamm, P. (1991). Remarriage: In the middle years and beyond. San Leandro, CA: Bristol Publication Enterprises. Ketover Prilik, P. (1998). Becoming an adult stepchild: Adjusting to a parents new marriage. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press. LeBey, B. (2004). Remarried with children: Ten secrets for successfully blending and extending your family. New York: Bantam Books. Leman, K. (2001). Living in a stepfamily without getting stepped on. New York: Thomas Nelson. Marsolini, M. (2000). Blended families: Creating harmony as you build a new home life. Chicago: Moody Press. Martin, D., & Martin, M. (1992). Step by step: A guide to stepfamily living. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation. Regina, J. (1995). Wife-in-law!: Your ex-husband married her, or your present husband divorced her. New York: Bereny-Bear Books. Rosenberg, M. B. (1990). Talking about stepfamilies. New York: Bradbury Press. Vick, K. (2006). 7 reasons to be grateful youre the mother of a blended family. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press. Wells, S. A. (2004). Warm and wonderful: Stepmothers of famous people. Royal Oak, MI: Lawells Publication. Wilde, J. (1999). Surviving and thriving as a blended family. Binghamton, NY: William Neil Publication.

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation

Table 2. Average Coding Scores by Recommendation Category Readabilitya 2.56 2.40 2.40 2.31 Content Basisa 2.06 1.65 1.86 1.81 Referencesa 2.11 1.79 1.87 1.68 Author Qualicationa 2.09 1.69 1.87 1.82


Recommendation Category Strongly recommended (n = 13) Recommended (n = 12) Recommended with reservations (n = 17) Not recommended (n = 21)
a Averages

Comprehensivenessb 8.53 7.60 6.18 4.92

on a 3-point scale.

b Averages

on a 10-point scale.

categories (see Table 2). Twelve of the strongly recommended books were secular in nature; one had a religious tone (Lauer & Lauer, 1999; see Table 1). Overall, strongly recommended books were noted for being visually pleasing, well organized, and appropriate for the intended audience. These books were said to be easy to follow, with an engaging writing style and an appealing layout with bulleted points, checklists, and helpful subheadings. They also were noted for offering a balanced perspective of stepfamily life and for presenting both negative and positive aspects of stepfamilies without promoting the nuclear family ideal. All of the strongly recommended books also included large amounts of practical and concrete advice specic enough for stepfamily members to implement. On average, the newer books were found to be more comprehensive, likely the result of the substantial increase in stepfamily research available to writers (Coleman et al., 2000). These books also tended to include thought-provoking questions for couples or families to discuss such as those suggested in A Careers Girl Guide to Becoming a Stepmom (Fletcher, 2007; see Table 1) on getting to know your stepchildren for new stepmothers. 1. Are the children open to a new relationship with Stepmom? How can Dad support those new friendships without getting in the middle? 2. What fun things can we do together as a family? 3. How can we support the kids in their transition? 4. What can we do to make time for each of us to have one-on-one outings with the kids? (p. 78). Fifty percent of strongly recommended books had authors with clinical experience and appropriate degrees, and 64% of the authors had personal experience in stepfamilies. We can

only speculate about why personal experience was relevant as these certainly were not books based on personal experience. It may be that researchers and clinicians with personal experience have a better understanding of what information may be relevant to readers of selfhelp books. Characteristics of Recommended Books Books only recommended by coders (n = 13) also contained research- and/or clinically-based advice but offered less concrete advice than strongly recommend books and often covered fewer salient topics with substantial depth (see Table 1). Many recommended books were noted for a pleasing, easy to follow layout, but the writing was less engaging than was true of the strongly recommended books. Most (84%) of the books recommended offered concrete advice consistent with empirical research, yet according to the coders memos, authors often failed to cite their sources or include a reference list. Although 50% of the authors of recommended books had clinical experience and appropriate academic degrees, 80% of them had no personal experience living in stepfamilies. Characteristics of Books Recommended with Reservations Books recommended with reservation (n = 17) tended to target a limited audience (Table 1). For example, Barton (1994) targeted older remarried couples but only took the perspective of women. This book also was noted for offering little information about blending families and for excluding issues of visiting adult children and grandchildren. Other books recommended with reservation would appeal primarily to a religious readership, depending primarily on scripture as the sole authority on stepfamily advice.

556 For example, although Willing to Try Again: Steps Toward Blending a Family (Dunn, 1993) was noted for its use of clinical examples, suggestions to readers of other useful resources, and for thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, it was thought to appeal primarily to a religious (Christian) audience. Although the majority (70%) of the books recommended with reservation were noted for having concrete advice, many relied upon dated material as primary sources of information. Sixty-four percent of books recommended with reservation had authors with clinical experience and appropriate academic degrees; however, 94% of these authors had no personal experience living in stepfamilies. Characteristics of Books Not Recommended Books not recommended (n = 21) often offered vague advice (40%). These books, even when offering concrete suggestions to readers, sometimes contained unsubstantiated information and often contradicted current research. For example, some books actively promoted the nuclear family model (primarily books having religious themes), as in this excerpt from Step by Step: A Guide to Stepfamily Living (Martin & Martin, 1992), We strongly suggest that the stepmother or stepfather be called Mom or Dad. Calling the stepparent by his or her rst name, however, bestows the status of the mail person or gas station attendant. . . . Stepparents should refer to their children as my son or daughter (p. 71). This advice ignores the potential for loyalty conicts and guilt with which stepchildren often struggle (Papernow, 2001). Most researchers and experienced clinicians generally view the nuclear family model as an inappropriate goal for stepfamilies. Ganong and Coleman (2004) noted that the use of nuclear family paradigms among family scholars denies the distinctness of stepfamily experiences and represents stepfamilies as inferior to nuclear family units, as opposed to being different. In addition, not recommended books often presented an extremely negative or discouraging perspective as evidenced by The Blended Family: Achieving Peace and Harmony in the Christian Home (Douglas & Douglas, 2000), which suggested that blended families be given encouragement, support, and teaching just as the drug addict, murderer, fornicator, adulterer, and other sinners (p. 50; the italics

Family Relations are ours). Forty-ve percent had authors with clinical experience and appropriate academic degrees; however, 54% of these authors had no personal experience living in stepfamilies. DISCUSSION The purpose of this study was to expand on earlier work by Coleman and Ganong (1989) by evaluating the current body of remarriage and stepfamily self-help books, assessing the coverage and gaps in the literature, and making book recommendations to therapists, clinicians, and family life educators. Several general observations can be made. First, the quantity of self-help books on remarriage and stepparenting has greatly increased over the past two decades. We identied nearly 200 books inprint written for adults, far more than the 50 books that were available for the 1989 study (11 of which were books for children and adolescents, a genre we ignored for this study). Second, the general quality of the books has improved. Coleman and Ganong (1989) previously strongly recommended only ve books for helping professionals to use with adult clients, while the current study recommends 13, more than twice as many. Although the ratio of strongly recommended books to total books is actually lower, many of the books in our recommended category would likely have been highly recommended in 1989. For example, Burns 1985 book, Stepmotherhood was strongly recommended in the 1989 study but the 2001 edition, which is probably a better book, fell into the recommended category. In general, we can conclude that it should be relatively easy for helping professionals and stepfamily members to access high-quality books. In spite of improvements in the quality of the corpus of books, several topics did not receive the attention that they deserve. For example, there were no books found that are specically designed for gay and lesbian stepfamilies, and gay and lesbian issues were mentioned in less than 10% of the books coded. Although there is not a great deal of research on these families, we do know that gay and lesbian couples with children must deal with greater social stigma and fewer guiding norms than those entering heterosexual remarriages and stepfamilies (Kurdek, 2004). Research also substantiates that children of gay and lesbian stepfamilies receive little social support from friends and relatives

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation and themselves experience a form of closeting about their membership in gay stepfamilies (Crosbie-Burnett & Helmbrecht, 1993). Likewise, few of the books addressed keeping children out of within-household (stepparent) and across-household (coparent) conict. This is surprising considering that the stress noted in stepfamilies is most often related to marital conict (Bray & Jouriles, 1995; Preece & DeLongis, 2005), and that conict between coparents has been identied as a signicant risk factor for negative outcomes for children in postdivorce families (Ganong & Coleman, 2004). Thus, consideration for protecting children from conict should be a priority more clearly addressed in future stepfamily self-help literature. Stepfamily legal issues also received minimal attention despite the prominent role that family law and policy plays in the regulation of stepfamily life. Stepparents typically cannot sign medical release forms, request grades from schools, or seek custody or visitation time with stepchildren following divorce or death of the legal parent (i.e., the stepparents spouse) unless the stepparent has legally adopted the child, been designated a legal guardian, or unless the legal guardian has issued a consent statement (Pasley & Ihinger-Tallman, 1994). Further, the legal system prevents stepparents from fully assuming the rights, but not the obligations, of a parent, except through legal adoption (Ganong & Coleman, 2004). Many stepfamily members are unaware of these legal issues until they violate them. We hypothesize that the lack of inclusion of legal information in self-help books is because of the rapidly changing nature of family law and the fact that family law differs from state to state. It could also be because of lack of interest or knowledge about legal issues. Nonetheless, including some basic stepfamily legal information could be quite helpful in assisting readers in making sense of the laws relevant to coparenting and stepfamilies. Limitations of This Review Most of the books reviewed were written by American authors, which was evidently the result of limitations of our search criteria. Books in Print is a database that draws from more than 4,000,000 records of in-print, out-of-print, and forthcoming books, and Worldcat is the largest international network of library content and services. Searches done on these databases

557 should include English-based international stepfamily books, yet few written by other than U.S. authors were identied. The websites of professional organizations used are mostly American organizations (the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Stepfamily Association of America, and the Academy of Family Mediators). Thus, our sample was composed primarily of American self-help books and neglects books published and distributed outside of the United States. We believe, however, that the books will be widely useful to stepfamilies in the Western world. Implications for Practitioners Our study was designed to identify and critique the stepfamily self-help literature for those helping professionals who frequently rely on self-help books as an adjunct to therapy or family life education. We believe that it is important for these materials to be clearly and appealingly written, but also provide reliable, empirically based information to guide stepfamily members through the complex processes inherent in developing and maintaining stepfamily relationships. We also felt that advice provided needed to be balancedpresenting both the strengths and challenges of living in stepfamiliesand be specic enough that readers can understand and implement the suggestions. Because of the plethora of books available and the burgeoning market for self-help materials, we believe that those in the helping professions would welcome guidance in choosing books appropriate for their clients. Therefore, an annotated bibliography of the best books is provided to enhance understanding of the content of those strongly recommended resources. NOTE
We would like to thank the many students and other professionals who assisted in the coding of these books, with special thanks to Nancy Schuyler and Sarah Malia.

Adams, S. J., & Pitre, N. L. (2000). Who uses bibliotherapy and why? A survey from an underserviced area. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 645 649. Authier, J. (1977). The psychoeducation model: Denition, contemporary roots and contemporary

roots and content. Canadian Counsellor, 12(1), 15 20. Barton, J. H. (1994). Remarriage after 50: What women, men and adult children need to know. Fort Walton Beach, FL: Roger Thomas Pre. Blackstone-Ford, J., & Jupe, S. (2007). Ex-etiquette for weddings: The blended families guide to tying the knot. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. Bramlett, M. D., & Mosher, W. D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the United States. Data from the National Survey of Family Growth, Vital and Health Statistics (Series 23), 22, 1 93. Bray, J. H., & Jouriles, E. N. (1995). Treatment of marital conict and prevention of divorce. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 21, 461 473. Clapp, G. (2000). Divorce & new beginnings: A complete guide to recovery, solo parenting, coparenting, and stepfamilies. New York: Wiley. Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (1987). An evaluation of the stepfamily self-help literature for children and adolescents. Family Relations, 36(1), 61 65. Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (1989). Stepfamily selfhelp books: Brief annotations and ratings. Family Relations, 38, 91 96. Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Fine, M. (2000). Reinvestigating remarriage: Another decade of progress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(4), 1288 1307. Crosbie-Burnett, M., & Helmbrecht, L. (1993). A descriptive empirical study of gay male stepfamilies. Family Relations, 42(3), 243 248. Davies, P. (1999). What is evidence-based education? British Journal of Educational Studies, 47, 108 121. Denzin, N. K. (2006). Sociological methods: A sourcebook . New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction. Douglas, E., & Douglas, S. (2000). The blended family: Achieving peace and harmony in the Christian home. Franklin, TN: Providence House. Dunn, D. (1993). Willing to try again: Steps toward blending a family. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press. Du Plock, S. (2005). Silent therapists and the community of suffering: Some reections on bibliotherapy from an existential-phenomenological perspective. Existential Analysis, 16, 300 309. Ellis, A. (1993). The advantages and disadvantages of self-help therapy materials. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24, 385 389. Erickson, S. H. (2001). Multiple relationships in rural counseling. Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 9(3), 302 304. Ermisch, J., & Francesconi, M. (2000). The increasing complexity of family relationships: Lifetime experience of lone motherhood and stepfamilies in Great Britain. European Journal of Population, 16(3), 235 249.

Family Relations
Fried, S. B., & Schultis, G. A. (1995). The best selfhelp and self-awareness books. Chicago: American Library Association. Jackson, S. A. (2001). Using bibliotherapy with clients. Journal of Individual Psychology, 37, 289 297. Johnson, W. B., & Johnson, W. L. (1998). Self-help books used by religious practitioners. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76(4), 459 466. Johnson, W. B., Johnson, W., & Hillman, C. (1997). Toward guidelines for the development, evaluation, and utilization of Christian self-help materials. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 25(3), 341 353. Kreider, R. M. (2007). Living arrangements of children, 2004. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved October 21, 2008, from Kurdek, L. A. (2004). Are gay and lesbian cohabitating couples really different from heterosexual married couples? Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 880 900. Landsverk, S. S. & Kane, C. F. (1998). Antonovskys sense of coherence:Theoretical basis of psychoeducation in schizophrenia. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 19(5), 419 431. Lehane, M. (2005). Treatment by the book. Self-help books are increasingly being prescribed by GPs instead of medication. Nursing Standard , 19(27), 16 22. Morrison, K., & Thompson-Guppy, A. (1985). Cinderellas stepmother syndrome. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 30(7), 521 529. Norcross, J. C., Santrock, J. W., Campbell, L. F., Smith, T. S., Sommer, R., & Zuckerman, E. L. (2003). Authoritative guide to self-help resources in mental health. New York: Guilford Press. Pantalon, M. V., & Lubetkin, B. S. (1995). Use and effectiveness of self-help books in the practice of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 2(1) 213 228. Papernow, P. L. (2001, February). Working with stepfamilies. Paper presented at the National Conference on Stepfamilies, New Orleans, LA. Papernow, P. L. (2003). Becoming a stepfamily: Patterns of development in remarried families. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. Pardeck, J. (1996). Recommended self-help books for families experience divorce: A specialized form of bibliotherapy. Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 15, 45 58. Pardeck, J. T. (1990). Using bibliotherapy in clinical practice with children. Psychological Report, 67(15), 1043 1049. Pasley, K., & Ihinger-Tallman, M. (1994). Stepparenting: Issues in theory, research, and practice. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation

Preece, M., & DeLongis, A. (2005). A contextual examination of stress and coping processes. In T. A. Revenson, K. Kayser, & G. Bodenmann (Eds.), Couples coping with stress: Emerging perspectives on dyadic coping (pp. 51 69). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Rosen, G. M. (2004). Remembering the 1978 and 1990 task forces on self-help therapies. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60(1), 111 114. Santrock, J. W., Minnett, A. M., & Campbell, B. D. (1994). The authoritative guide to self-help books. New York: Guilford Press. Starker, S. (1989). Oracle at the supermarket: The American preoccupation with self-help books. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. U.S. Census Bureau. (2004). United States summary, 2000. 2000 census of population and housing. Population and housing unit counts. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Retreived October 21, 2008, from http:// U.S.Census Bureau. (2009). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2009 (128th ed.). Washington, DC. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www. Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1996). Therapy with stepfamilies. New York: Brunner/Mazel. Williamson, G. M. & Dooley, W. K. (2001). Aging and coping: The activity solution. In C. R. Syder (Ed.), Coping with stress: Effective people and processes (pp. 241 258). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Zimmerman, T. S., Holm, K. E., & Starrels, M. E. (2001). A feminist analysis of self-help bestsellers for improving relationships: A decade review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(2), 165 175.

559 Fletcher, J. B. (2007). A career girls guide to becoming a stepmom: Expert advice from other stepmoms on how to juggle your job, your marriage, and your new stepkids. New York: Harper. This is an easy read for stepmothers with professional careers. These women, highly successful in their careers, often suffer depression because their professional success does not translate well into stepfamily life (Morrison & Thompson-Guppy, 1985). As the author states, A common misconception of successful women is, If I try harder, Ill succeed. But that can lead to depression. Instead, she has to work smarter (p. 199). The book is interactive and raises great questions to explore with a spouse or to think about on your own (e.g., Will you resent your stepchildren if you cant or dont have a baby?). Specic resources for women with little prior experience with children are provided and also included are excellent sections on jealousy of stepchildren, how to manage if you do not like your stepchildren, and other topics that challenge stepmothers. Lauer, R. H., & Lauer, J. C. (1999). Becoming family: How to build a stepfamily that really works. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress. The authors of this book do an excellent job of using biblical quotes to support their points. Aim for respect rather than affection. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18). This can only happen among people who treat each other with respect (p. 42). They also provide realistic examples of common stepfamily issues in addition to a wide variety of concrete advice, such as, If you feel a loyalty conict, act as though there is no such conict. You can change your attitudes and your feelings by controlling your behavior (p. 100). Nonreligious readers may be put off by the biblical quotes, but they are not excessive and they do not detract from the excellent advice given in the book. The authors focus on the positive aspects of living in a stepfamily. Lutz, E. (1998). The complete idiots guide to stepparenting. New York: Alpha. This book was written by a journalist and is easy to read, but has a rather annoyingly ip writing style, including the title. There is a detailed table of contents, a great index, an appealing layout, and the advice is generally good. Research is often stated in absolutes rather than appropriately qualied and citations are infrequent (could use more support for assertions). The book

APPENDIX: STRONGLY RECOMMENDED BOOKLIST WITH ANNOTATIONS Boyd, H. (1998). The step-parents survival guide: Positive advice for achieving a successful step-family. London: New Harbinger. Although research is not cited, this book is clearly informed by research and clinical work. There are great summaries with concrete advice at the end of each chapter (e.g., Help your partner keep any ongoing conict with an ex-partner away from the children). This is a tremendous resource for the person who is thinking about forming a stepfamily or who has just recently entered a stepfamily. The book provides good advice on introducing new partners to children and on how issues look from the childs perspective. One drawback of this book is its comparative lack of visual appeal.

560 is comprehensive and could almost be used as a dictionary of stepfamily advice. Rather than reading through from beginning to end, stepparents could consult the index and search for issues that they are currently facing. Mulford, P. G. (1996). Keys to successful stepmothering. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series. This book has a substantial amount of concrete advice and a question and answer section with specic advice for common scenarios. It is well written and realistic, but it is also encouraging and optimistic throughout (strengths-based approach), offers contrasting perspectives on issues, If youre doing something [with stepchildren] that isnt having a desired effect, stop doing it (p. 52). Biological parents often nd it difcult to be objective about their own children. Sometimes being a stepmother means stepping in to mediate a dispute between a father and child, especially when they seem unable to resolve it themselves (p. 84). In a chapter on Survival Tactics advice is given to, Own up to mistakes. . . own up to it and apologize. This not only sets a good example for children, it proves you respect them and truly care about their feelings (p. 121). Newman, M. (1993). Stepfamily realities: How to overcome difculties and have a happy family. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. The layout of the book is clear and includes checklists, charts, empirically based references, and systems-based advice. Questions are offered for stepfamilies to consider. Sections such as Why stepfamilies are different, Some strategies that are used in stepfamilies to force togetherness, and How to reduce conict and dissatisfaction involving personal space needs in your stepfamily provide practical suggestions that are likely to be faced in many, if not most, stepfamilies. This book will especially appeal to more highly educated and motivated readers. Norwood, P. K., & Wingender, T. (1999). The enlightened stepmother: Revolutionizing the role. New York: Avon Books. Based on questionnaires and interviews with stepmoms and professionals, this book targets a stepmom audience. The book is thorough, encouraging, and engaging. It contains empirically based advice such as: You are not your stepchildrens mother; you cannot be their mother, you cannot replace their mother. Unless you can acknowledge that the role of mother is off-limits, you will be setting yourself up for failure and much

Family Relations personal pain. It is also one of the few recommended books with an excellent legal section. OConnor, A. (2004). The truth about stepfamilies: Real American stepfamilies speak out about what works and what doesnt when it comes to creating a family together. New York: Marlowe. The book provides excellent concrete advice and interesting analogies such as, Be all business. The thing to try to do with the ex in your life is to treat him like the dentist (p. 49). Advice is included for biological mothers and fathers in stepfamilies as well as for stepparents. For example, fathers are told to take the lead in parenting and not expect stepmothers to be primarily responsible for the care of the children. For biological mothers, the authors suggest that they give their child permission to love their stepmother. The author offers additional resources for stepfamilies facing specic challenges.
Do your best to make sure your family does not fall prey to these unrealistic expectations by learning more. Youre not the rst family to walk in these treacherous woods. If your stepsons lthy bedroom is making your head hurt, nd some good books about what you can realistically expect from someone his age. If your husband seems to think that the only problem in the house is your problem, encourage him to read books like this one, go to a stepfamily couples group, or listen to a tape from the Stepfamily Association of America (p. 80).

Pickhardt, C. E. (1997). Keys to successful stepfathering. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series. The layout is very engaginghas glossary and index, bullets, italics, and mini-case studies. The information is based on research and clinical experiences (though no citations are given). Support groups are suggested as well as other books for stepfamilies. The author has signicant professional experience with the topic. Although the book is directed at stepfathers, the information would also be valuable for biological mothers and other stepfamily members. For example, How he treats the children will always be experienced by his wife as part of his treatment of her (p. 76). Rosenblum, G. (2000). Stepfamilies: Making it great. Parent club handbook. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Publishing International. This is a brief, simply written book that covers many basics. Good advice is given such as, Stepparents should avoid being the source of change. Your active participation in making new rules may add to the childs perception of you as a

Stepfamily Literature Evaluation threat to the life he enjoys. This book would have appeal to the person who does not necessarily enjoy reading, but is motivated to seek advice. Thomas, S. (2005). Two happy homes: A working guide for parents & stepparents after divorce and remarriage. Longmont, CO: Springboard Publications. This book is strongly recommended for those who are coparenting. The notion of coparenting (with marital partner) and crossparenting (with ex-partner) is a good one, and the suggestions for how to do this (e.g., use a business model) are excellent. Problem patterns that are discussed include the overprotective coparent, the over- or under-involved stepparent, a grieving parent who drops out (of coparenting), and the opinionated crossparent. Tufnell, C., & Tufnell, T. (2007). Every step counts: Building a healthy stepfamily. Oxford: Lion. The authors of this book are British so there is some slang that will be unfamiliar to nonBritish audiences (e.g., older people are called wrinklies), but guring out the meanings is easy. The content focuses on stepparentingmore so than on the couple relationship. Excellent concrete advice is provided. For example:
Take an interest in whatever the child is interested in. Dont try to be very keen about something when not, as the child will spot this a mile off. But learn enough about it to have a conversation and to ask appropriate questions (p. 88).

561 Situations are provided to discuss with your partner as well, for example, The 5-year-old refuses to eat his dinner. Would you: 1. Offer him something he likes 2. Ignore him, and let him wait till the next meal for more food 3. Insist he remains seated until he has nished the meal (p. 83). Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1991). How to win as a stepfamily. New York: Routledge. The information in this book is well articulated and substantial as well readable. Practical suggestions and good real-life scenarios are offered. The advice is specic enough that people can gure out how to implement it (Build your newer couple relationship by planning outings alone such as going out to dinner, taking a drive, riding bicycles. . . without the children p. 9). There is good information on reactions to remarriage by developmental age of children. Although there are newer books, this one is the gold standard. The advice is solid. If you can only afford to buy one book, this may be the one to buy. Although the book needs some updating on issues such as coparenting matters that are much more commonly acknowledged now than when the book was rst published. A good index is provided for those seeking advice on specic issues.