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, step families 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 step families are twice as likely to suffer from psychological and behavioural 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 step families compared to ‘nuclear’ families (according to research by Daly) and children living with step families are more at risk of suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Also,the parents/step parents in step families are even more likely to divorce than couples in families married for the first time, due to the fact that the step family tends to be more dysfunctional than ‘nuclear’ families and its members more prone to stress. Children in step families 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 reciorocated
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 step mothers tend to find their role more stressful than do step fathers. Also, step daughters tend to experience more problems stemming from having been brought up in a step family than do step sons.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).