Blended families are becoming more common every decade. Children who are raised in traditional two-parent, nondivorced families are quickly becoming the minority, outnumbered by children of single parents, same-sex parents, cohabitating parents, and even children being cared for by extended family members. Regardless, every unique family style comes with its own unique set of stressors. For stepparents, people who have married a spouse with children from a previous relationship, the stress may be multidimensional. Stepparents must take on the role of parent in addition to being a spouse. This may be especially challenging if the person is not accepted by the children or the children’s other parent. Additionally, partners may disagree on how to raise the children, which can add to the stress of the stepparent. All of these conditions can contribute to distress for the children, the parents, and the family as a whole. Danielle N. Shapiro of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan recently conducted a study to see which of these factors contributed to and buffered stepparents from stress the most.
For her study, Shapiro interviewed 125 stepparents through an online survey. She evaluated how partner support, biological parent (children’s other parent) support, and the children’s acceptance and support influenced the stepparent. Shapiro found that the respondents cited that all three factors contributed to well-being, but it was the support of their partner that most positively affected the stepparents. Specifically, the stepparents who had high levels of partner support, regardless of biological parent or children reactions, had the lowest levels of depression. In fact, when Shapiro looked at each factor independently, partner support was the only factor that was directly linked to positive well-being in the stepparents. Shapiro notes that her sample consisted mostly of stepmothers and did not consider long-term outcomes. She said, “Future research should address these shortcomings by engaging multiple family members in research studies or using observational methods to more directly and accurately examine family dynamics.” However, the findings of this study suggest that partner support is a vital component of well-being and adjustment for new stepparents and contributes to the overall success of a blended family.
Shapiro, D. N., Stewart, A. J. (2012). Dyadic support in stepfamilies: Buffering against depressive symptoms among more and less experienced stepparents. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029591
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