MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis


Feature Article


Myths and Unrealistic Expectations about Stepfamily Life

Erin Angst, M.A., Human Development & Family Studies Graduate, University of Missouri-Columbia

It is common to have unrealistic expectations about family life. However, unrealistic expectations can hinder the development of positive stepfamily relationships. Some myths that many people have as they enter into stepfamilies are:

Nonresident parents become unimportant.

This is the false belief that because a biological parent is not physically there he/she is not important in understanding what is currently going on in the stepfamily. This belief is more likely when a biological parent is out of the picture. Nonresident parents continue to play a strong part in the stepfamily, even if they are not currently involved with the children, because of their contribution to the history of that family. Also, many stepfamilies are formed rather quickly following divorce, so parents and children may still be grieving the loss of their former family life while they are trying to develop a new life together as a stepfamily.

Adjustment to stepfamily life will happen quickly.

This is a common expectation, but it rarely ever happens. Lots of parents expect that everyone in the new family will adjust well within weeks or months, and they are very disappointed and upset when this does not happen. In reality it takes lots of time; it usually takes several years for family members to adjust to being in a stepfamily.

The myth of instant love

Many members of stepfamilies believe that the stepparent and stepchildren should and will quickly feel love and affection for each other. However, it takes time to develop love and affection and this may not be a realistic goal for some stepparent-child relationships. Some stepparents and children will never love each other, but they can work toward treating each other with cooperation and respect.

Communicating about expectations early in the process of stepfamily development (preferably before moving in together) helps set the stage for positive stepfamily relationships.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri