Cindrella's Sequel: Stepmothers' Long-Term Relationships with Adult Stepchildren [*]

By Vinick, Barbara H.; Lanspery, Susan | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Cindrella's Sequel: Stepmothers' Long-Term Relationships with Adult Stepchildren [*]

Vinick, Barbara H., Lanspery, Susan, Journal of Comparative Family Studies




This paper is based on reports of 25 women who married men with children from a previous marriage. Its main purpose is to describe, from the women's points of view, what has happened in their relationships with their husbands' children, from initial meeting until the interview last year, a period of time spanning ten to, forty-one years.

In the last fifteen years, an increasing number of publications in the social science and clinical literature have focused on topics relating to stepfamilies, also called blended or reconstituted families. Studies that have explored relations between resident stepchildren and stepparents have focused more often on stepfathers (e.g. Kurdek & Fine, 1991) because the great majority of children in stepfamilies live with their biological mothers and the men they remarried. When stepmothers' roles have been characterized--as research results (Hetherington, 1987), in the clinical literature (Visher & Visher, 1996), and in the popular press (Jones & Schiller, 1992)--the difficulties of quasi-motherhood, generally part-time and in the shadow of the biological mother, have been emphasized. And, of course, the "wicked stepmother" is probably the most prevalent stereotype pertaining to stepfamily life.

But what about the long-term implications of stepfamily experience on intergenerational relationships, when stepchildren have grown up and may have children of their own? In contrast to traditional families, relationships between generations in later-life stepfamilies have remained almost completely unexamined. Some reports from the National Survey of Families and Households, used to present a broad outline of social support in later-life stepfamilies (White, 1994, 1992; Eggebeen, 1992), have shown older stepmothers to be disadvantaged regarding intergenerational support, especially when compared with biological mothers.

This study represents a response to calls for better understanding of family life, beyond that which can be gleaned from survey data (George, 1996; Moen & Forest, 1995). The population of older stepmothers is one whose voices have rarely been heard, and whose interests, attitudes, and behaviors vis-a-vis stepfamily relations have rarely been investigated or documented. How did stepmothers perceive and account for the trajectories of relationships with adult stepchildren? What factors might be linked to relationships that became closer, and those that deteriorated?


The stepmothers in the study were recruited on the basis of archival information from the Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study of aging (Ekerdt, 1987), in which their current husbands are participants. With husbands all aged 60 and over, the women were in their 50s to 80s, with one in her 30s and one aged 45. Ethnically diverse and mostly white, they resided in the Boston area in residences judged modest to luxurious. Eighty percent had some education beyond high school. Averaging 20 years in the current marriage, all but six had been married previously--13 had been divorced and 6 widowed. A third of current marriages were of two divorced spouses; three marriages were of two widowed people; the rest were "mixed"--divorced women with widowed men (5), widowed women with divorced men (3), and first married women with divorced (5) and widowed (1) men. In all, 21 of the 25 marriages involved at least one previously divorced spouse.

In-home conversational interviews, guided by a checklist of topics including some forced-choice items, were designed to capture the complexity and diversity of intergenerational relationships in stepfamilies. Results are based on coding of transcribed interviews, summaries drafted by interviewers, excerpt files of direct quotes, and non-parametric statistical tests to bolster and highlight qualitative material.



Sixteen of the women had married men who had been divorced, and nine had married widowers, a third after courtships of a year or less.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Cindrella's Sequel: Stepmothers' Long-Term Relationships with Adult Stepchildren [*]


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?