Step Parenting and Stress Thesis

Pages: 8 (2867 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Children

Stress and the breakup of a family -- through divorce, death, or separation -- have nearly always gone hand in hand. But when a "new" family is being created, with children in the picture and a new father (stepfather) or a new mother (stepmother), stressors frequently play a role in that situation as well. And in a newly formed family the children are the ones who potentially suffer and struggle with stressors more than either of the parents. Hence, thoughtful and -- if possible -- proven family therapy strategies should be embraced. This paper will review some of the key issues facing families when a stepparent situation emerges.

Development of Content -- Literature Review

"A stepparent always has the feeling of being on probation. There's a sense of comparison, competition, resentment, and even jealousy, and a feeling of continual jousting with the ghost of the saint who lived there before…" (Eckler, 1993, p. 23).

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About one half of divorced individuals remarry within five years in the United States, according to Dr. Charles Bryner, Jr. Writing in the Journal of the American Board of Family Practice (JABFP). Bryner explains that the stepfamily that emerges when a divorced adult remarries creates a "life transition" for the family (Bryner, 2000, p. 206). That life transition of course creates a mountain of stress as "kids that did not grow up together" are now expected to "behave as brothers and sisters" (p. 206) and new grandparents and ex-spouses are part of the picture. Moreover, visitations with the non-custodial parent means that children will be "coming and going, making it tough to keep track of who will be where for dinner on the weekends" (p. 206).

TOPIC: Thesis on Step Parenting and Stress Assignment

Adding to the confusion and stress is the issue of how to refer to grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts from the family of the previous spouse and from the family of the newly arrived spouse, Bryner explains. No template has been created for a family or child to seamlessly adapt to the blur of these sudden, stunning changes. But studies have been studies conducted (notably Furstenberg's Remarriage and Step-parenting) that in general stepfathers are "well accepted by younger children" (p. 207) if the mother is the biological parent. But it is a different story when the stepfather deals with stepchildren that are older. When a male adult is brought into the household, boys tend to adjust fairly well, but "girls react poorly" (Bryner, p. 207), often causing tremendous stress in the new family.

When the stepparent is a mother in the noncustodial father's household she tends to "integrate easily" because she is skilled at becoming friends with the children. But on the other hand, when the custodial father remarries, the stepmother's problems can become extremely stressful, Bryner explains on p. 207). That stress is due to the fact that especially the older children "might not accept her" and might well fail to recognize her authority. "They resent her, and if she dares to bear children with their father," the children also will (in most cases) resent the new baby.

Meanwhile, psychologist Dr. Alan S. Gurman -- University of Wisconsin professor and researcher -- writes in the Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy that prior to attempting to blend together a new family there are important steps for the biological parent and the stepparent to take. To wit, the two parents must first "come to an agreement about how to discipline and parent the child" (Gurman, 2008, p. 502). To reduce the stress that will inevitably be part of the bonding / blending process, the "essential part" of their new union is to "…agree with and support each other in the parenting" (Gurman, p. 502). That may sound straightforward and easy but there are many bumps in the path to peace in the family.

To wit, it is important "in the early months" after the "remarriage" that the "biological parent to play the primary parental role" (p. 502). This allows the stepparent to fully focus on developing a good relationship with the stepchildren, which should be the main strategy for the stepfather or stepmother, whichever it happens to be. Certainly, Gurman asserts, being part of the parenting and assisting the biological parent in keeping track of and nurturing the children is important. Bud, Gurman adds (p. 502) disciplining the stepchildren should wait until there is a "solid relationship" between the stepparent and the stepchildren; certainly, forcing one's hand as a stepparent in terms of establishing disciplinary structures can only add to the stress of the situation (Gurman, p. 502).

Gurman points out that a potentially stressful situation is created when the children have visitation time with the biological father or mother on weekends (the "nonresidential parent"). One potential stressor can be eliminated if both the biological parent and the stepparent avoid being verbally critical of the parent who is gone. "Children may internalize such negative perceptions or feel that then need to defend that parent" (Gurman, p. 502). Moreover, children frequently "behave differently after a visit with the nonresidential parent" and hence the stepparent should tread very gently on the stepchild's emotions when that child returns from the visitation.

A scholarly article in the Journal of Family Studies (Wallerstein, et al., 2007) claims to be the first research to explore the relationships between stepparents and stepchildren ten years after the new family was formed. Wallerstein writes that in one half of the stepfamilies that were studied over a ten-year span "one or more children showed serious psychological and learning problems" (p. 224).

In one poignant yet sad instance presented in the article, a divorced father picks up his two biological children (a boy age 7 and a daughter age 5) on weekend visitations and treats his son "warmly at each visit" (Wallerstein, p. 225). But since the divorce he has treated the daughter terribly. While he plays ball with his son, teaches him to play chess and praises him constantly, he "humiliates" his daughter by calling her "stupid, just like your mother, just like all women" (Wallerstein, p. 225). The daughter is a bit too young to understand some of the mean-spirited epithets that the father hurls at her, but she certainly gets the tone of the remarks and it has a negative effect on her.

After visiting with her father and being brought back home to her biological mother and her stepfather, she cried "for hours" (Wallerstein, p. 225). This pattern continues for years, through adolescence and into young adulthood, causing "the hapless child years of suffering," Wallerstein explains. When the researcher followed up twenty-five years after the divorce that broke up the girl's family, "she was an anxious, timid young woman who allowed men to exploit and physically abuse her" (Wallerstein, p. 225). Basically, the father ruined his daughter's life -- even though there was "no evidence of the father's rejection of his daughter" before or during the divorce, Wallerstein explains.

What this shows is that the father victimized the daughter, brutally creating stress in her life and all the while apparently doing it to spite the mother. Actually, a psychologist investigating this pattern of behavior and find that the father was mentally unbalanced or otherwise suffered from some personality disorder. But the message here is that there can be unpleasant and stressful ramifications following a divorce even in situations where there is no stepparent involved in the household where the harassment is taking place.

Wallerstein and colleagues present stepparent-related data on page 226-227 based on the "California Children of Divorce Study"; 60 families with 131 children between the ages of 2 and 18 were "followed at regular intervals" for twenty-five years after the marriage breakup. The interviews were conducted by experienced clinicians, averaging16 hours per family. After ten years, 87% of the initial divorce group (112 children in 52 families) was still part of the study. In all but four of those 52 families the mother was "sole custodian" of the children; one half of the families with more than one child (that's 20 families, 55 children) "showed widely discrepant psychological adjustments among the siblings along with striking and unexpected discontinuities in parent-child relationships" (Wallerstein, p. 226).

At the 10-year mark, among 12 of the 16 divorced families with 3 or more children, "one child was doing well and the others were functioning barely adequately or poorly at home and at school." Interestingly, in only one of the remarried families with 3 or more children "did the stepparent have a supportive parenting relationship with all of the children" (Wallerstein, p. 227). One can feel the stress just reading about these stepparent dynamics. On page 227 Wallerstein writes that when there were "new" children in the fathers' "remarried home," the men tended to shower their stepchildren with more attention than the biological children and narrow their interest to only one child from the prior family, which surely created tension among his biological children.

In fact, it was often the youngest child (or the child most affectionate to the father) in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Step Parenting and Stress" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Step Parenting and Stress.  (2009, July 22).  Retrieved November 28, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Step Parenting and Stress."  22 July 2009.  Web.  28 November 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Step Parenting and Stress."  July 22, 2009.  Accessed November 28, 2021.