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Growing Up In A Step-Family : Possible Negative Effects

Growing Up In A Step-Family :


My father remarried when I was eleven and a couple of years later, having been forced to leave my mother’s house, I went to live with him and his new wife (now my step-mother) and her biological son from a previous relationship. I have written about this elsewhere, so won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say it was a highly dysfunctional household.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, stepfamilies are at greater risk of being dysfunctional than are ‘nuclear’ families (families in which the children live with both their biological parents).

Research conducted by McLanahan and Sandefur found that children who live in stepfamilies are twice as likely to suffer from psychological and behavioral problems than are their counterparts securely ensconced with ‘nuclear’ families. They are also likely to leave home earlier, have poorer health, achieve less academically.

Particularly worryingly, murder is far more likely to take place within stepfamilies compared to ‘nuclear’ families (according to research by Daly) and children living with stepfamilies are more at risk of suffering physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Also, the parents/step-parents in stepfamilies are even more likely to divorce than couples in families married for the first time, due to the fact that the stepfamily tends to be more dysfunctional than ‘nuclear’ families, and its members are more prone to stress. Children in stepfamilies may experience particularly significant stress.


What Makes A Child Within A Step Family More Likely To Be Affected By Stress Than A Child Living In A ‘Nuclear’ Family:


There are a number of reasons for this, including the following:

1) The child will have been caused stress by the splitting up of his/her original family

2) Relationships with the step-parent are likely to be complex, confusing, unstable, and ambivalent (Bower et al). The child may resent the presence of the step-parent, and, sadly, in some cases, this resentment may be reciprocated

3) The child’s relationship with the parent without custody is made weaker

4) Relationships between step-siblings are likely to be difficult and fraught

5) Research also suggests that the presence of a step-parent can adversely affect how the relationship between the child and the biological parent with whom s/he lives.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that stepmothers tend to find their role more stressful than do stepfathers. Also, stepdaughters tend to experience more problems stemming from having been brought up in a stepfamily than do stepsons.


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Other Resources:

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Martin Daly and Margo I. Wilson Violence against Stepchildren Source: Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Jun., 1996), pp. 77-81
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of Association for Psychological Science
Stable URL:

McLanahan SS, Sandefur G. Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1994.


David Hosier  BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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