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Feature Article

 

Stepfamilies

Diane Kerns, Human Development Specialist, Livingston County, University of Missouri Extension


Most men and women who divorce will remarry or live with a new partner within a few years. If either of the new partners has children from a previous relationship when they remarry or move in together, a new stepfamily is formed. Remarriage and parenting in a stepfamily bring new challenges that are difficult for many couples. Marital satisfaction tends to be lower in remarriages than in first marriages and the divorce rate is slightly higher for remarriages. Learning about potential challenges of stepfamily life and effective ways to deal with them can help parents create strong stepfamilies.
 

When a stepfamily is formed, many new relationships are created causing new situations and concerns, and often, wonderful rewards for those involved. Parents may expect the new role to include peace, joy and happiness for everyone, but children may see the stepfamily situation as very different. The following is adapted from Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies from Kansas State University.
 

Depending on the age of the child, different expectations may appear as part of a new stepfamily. Some children will be happy to be part of an extended family while others will find the changes and uncertainties somewhat challenging. It seems that children between the ages of 9 and 15 have the most difficult time adapting to the new family.
 

Problems may arise when the different personalities come together and research shows that it may take four or more years for a stepfamily to seem like a family. Sometimes it may take up to 2 years for children to be friendly to a new stepparent. Stepfamilies will find it necessary to be understanding and flexible in order to achieve the friendly atmosphere they so desire. Try to spend some time alone with each child and in combinations of various family members. Remember, however, that it may take longer for older children to accept this new family grouping.
 

Here are some suggestions for the adults in a stepfamily:
 

  • Expect love and care to develop slowly, especially from older children. New relationships take time to nurture.

 

  • Share experiences with your stepchildren.

 

  • It may be best for the biological parent to deal with discipline until the stepparent-stepchild relationship becomes stronger.

 

  • Try to find what works best for your stepfamily – there are no tried and true rules.

 

  • Conflict and negotiation can be expected in a new stepfamily.

 

  • Make rules so children will understand what is expected and discuss these with the children.

 

  • Stepfamilies are the result of loss, divorce, death or separation. There may be grieving over the loss of their former family – be sure to talk about these feelings.

 

  • Assure the children that there is lots of love within the family – they can like or love new members while still loving the absent parent.

 

  • Learn all you can about child development and work together with the other parent to plan holidays or other special occasions.

 

  • Accept that old traditions and celebrations may no longer be possible but work together to make new ones.


As couples pull together to build new relationships, there are some simple ideas to make this transition easier. Remember to celebrate your new couple relationship by scheduling time to be together, listening and talking without becoming defensive. Try to agree on discipline and expectations. Family finances can become an arguing point so talk together about goals and expectations. Make sure insurance policies and wills are up to date. Join a support group for stepfamilies or start one if you like the opportunity to share support with others.
 

Everyone has important contributions to make in the stepfamily relationship. Working together can produce a most rewarding experience!

 

 

References:
Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (2004). Stepfamily Relationships: Development, Dynamics, and Interventions. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
 

Olsen, C. S., & Price, G. M. (1997). Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service.

 

 

 

 

Last Updated 05/12/2009

 


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