Stepfamilies: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective

By Downs, Kimberly J. M. | Family Relations, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Stepfamilies: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective


Downs, Kimberly J. M., Family Relations


Berger, R. (1998). Stepfamilies: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective. New York: Haworth. 254 pages. ISBN 0-78900281-7. Price: $29.95.

Stepfamilies are a segment of the population with whom family practitioners often interact, yet practitioners may have little preparation to meet their specific needs. Roni Berger wrote this book in order to provide clinicians with the appropriate theoretical, empirical, and clinical background to address issues unique to stepfamilies. An additional goal of this work was to address how these issues may operate differently within the context of culturally diverse families. She concludes the volume by addressing assessment and treatment issues that are salient when working with stepfamilies.

The first of the four sections provides a general overview of stepfamilies. Berger begins by defining the concept of stepfamily and then outlines some of the demographic characteristics of stepfamilies. She also summarizes how stepfamilies are unique in terms of their structures, dynamics, and paths of development. The section concludes with a chapter that introduces the three concepts that will be the basis of the remainder of the text: (a) the degree to which stepfamily members focus on the past, (b) how members of the stepfamily view themselves relative to nuclear families, and (c) which family subsystem dominates the stepfamily.

In the second section of the book, Berger describes three typologies she created based on the stepfamilies with which she has worked: Integrated, Invented, and Imported. She gives a profile of characteristics common to each type of stepfamily and discusses specific issues that may challenge the families. Although this is an interesting and potentially useful way to address stepfamily relationships, the weakness in the presentation is that the author provides few details regarding the sample from which she developed these categories. Therefore, it is unclear how comparable her sample may be to families serviced by practitioners and how representative the sample is of stepfamilies in general.

Section 3 focuses on the influence of culture on the experience of living in a stepfamily, with separate chapters devoted to immigrant, Black, and gay and lesbian stepfamilies. However, the discussion of each of these types of stepfamilies is superficial. For example, the chapter on immigrant stepfamilies fails to address important issues that may affect stepfamily relationships, such as the conditions that caused the family to immigrate to the United States or the culture-specific values and beliefs of the family's ethnic group. Instead, Berger describes a set of typical issues that appears to be based on the experiences of those from Westernized cultures, without conveying a clear sense of possible differences among and within groups. The experience of immigration is likely to be very different for Europeans who already have family in the United States than for immigrants who know no one in the United States and who are likely to experience discrimination based on racial characteristics.

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