Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stepchildren's Views about Former Step-Relationships Following Stepfamily Dissolution

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stepchildren's Views about Former Step-Relationships Following Stepfamily Dissolution

Article excerpt

In mostWestern industrialized nations a substantial minority of minor-age children (10%-20%) live with a parent and a stepparent (e.g., Jones, 2007; Kreider, 2008), and many other children have a nonresidential stepparent. In the United States, an estimated one third of children will spend at least some of their childhood years living with a stepparent (Bumpass, Raley, & Sweet, 1995), and 42% of Americans in a recent national survey reported having a close step-relative (e.g., stepparent, stepchild; Parker, 2011). Stepparent-stepchild relationships have received considerable attention from researchers, in part because these relationships have been seen as critical to stepchildren's well-being and development (Coleman, Ganong, & Russell, 2013; Sweeney, 2010).

Although stepparent-stepchild relationships are often perceived to be either emotionally distant or hostile, the nature of these relationships is actually quite diverse (Ganong & Coleman, 2004). For instance, adults in stepfamilies have described stepparents in various ways: as friends to stepchildren (Erera-Weatherly, 1996), parent figures (Erera-Weatherly, 1996; Svare, Jay, & Mason, 2004), backup supporters of parents (Erera-Weatherly, 1996; Svare et al., 2004; Weaver & Coleman, 2005), and family outsiders (Weaver & Coleman, 2005). Similarly, stepchildren have described stepparents in many ways, including as replacements for absent parents (Crohn, 2006), friends (Crohn, 2006; Fine, Coleman, & Ganong, 1999), family members (Schmeekle, Giarrusso, Feng, & Bengston, 2006), and distant acquaintances (Fine et al., 1999). These labels suggest diverse relationships between stepparents and stepchildren, ranging from emotionally close (as in parent-child ties) to emotionally distant (e.g., acquaintances, family outsiders).

Several researchers recently have examined stepparent-stepchild relationship development processes. One finding is that stepchildren reared by stepparents from infancy or toddlerhood generally think of the stepparent as another parent, regardless of whether or not both parents were actively engaged in childrearing (Ganong, Coleman, & Jamison, 2011). For stepchildren who are older when they acquire a stepparent, relationships are more likely to be emotionally close and loving if the stepparent brings resources to the family, treats the parent well, does not attempt to discipline the stepchildren early in the relationship, andworks at developing a friendship with the stepchildren (Cartwright, 2005; Ganong et al., 2011; Schmeekle, 2007). Stepparents who are flexible in their childrearing are seen more positively by stepchildren (Baxter, Braithwaite, Bryant, & Wagner, 2004; Henry & Lovelace, 1995), as are stepparents who share interests with their stepchildren (Ganong et al. 2011) and who often and regularly communicate with them (Schrodt, Soliz, & Braithwaite, 2008). In general, researchers have found that stepparents who invest more in their stepchildren's lives develop closer relationships with them than do stepparents who invest less.

Although some families may experience step-relationships as contentious, conflicted, and distant, there is evidence that close, supportive step-relationships can play an important role in promoting stepchildren's positive development (Coleman et al., 2013). When adolescent stepchildren have close bonds with stepparents, they report higher self-esteem (Berg, 2003), greater well-being (Vogt Yuan & Hamilton, 2006), better school performance, and less frequent negative internalizing and externalizing behaviors (King, 2006, 2007).

Close bonds with stepparents also may benefit stepchildren even after remarriages end. Parents' marital transitions are challenging for children (Amato, 2010), and multiple transitions have cumulative negative effects on children's self-esteem, psychological adjustment, life satisfaction, cognitive abilities, and happiness (Amato & Sobolewski, 2001; Fomby & Cherlin, 2007). …

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