From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Stepfamily Living: When did things get so complicated?
Marriage and remarriage are complex relationships these days. Statistics show that half
to two-thirds of all first marriages end in divorce. The United States has the highest
remarriage rate in the world, and the redivorce rates are even higher. Remarriage often
involves children from previous marriages, and statistics indicate that half of the
children whose parents divorce and remarry, will experience a second parental divorce. As
stepfamily living becomes more common (one in five families does it!), it becomes even
more important to understand it. Here are a few thoughts from family researchers.
- Marriages begin with people. When people enter into marriages, they bring
themselves (and often their children) with fresh hopes for happiness. Good attitudes to
bring with you into a remarriage include lots of self esteem, a willingness to give up
some independence (the price of the partnership), a desire to become attached to one
another, and and flexible attitudes about "who does what", especially when it
comes to sharing household tasks.
- Couples get along best when they share the load. This means that they make
decisions together, are able to reach consensus and agreement, and are willing to
make compromises that benefit each other or their children. Again, marriage is a working
partnership so it is important for spouses to treat each other respectfully and as equals.
When this occurs, spouses find they like each other more.
- Becoming a stepparent is a difficult proposition. When one spouse has children
from a previous marriage, things are relatively simple. When both spouses have children
from previous marriages, things are considerably more complex. New stepfathers are
encouraged to let Mom stay in charge of her children initially, but progressively, become
more involved in childcare over time. New stepmothers, however, are often caught by
surprise when they find they can't remain on the sidelines. The expectations for new
stepmoms are great, and often result in a feeling of role strain.
- Role Strain effects marital satisfaction. Remarriage presents a variety of
surprises, some of which are difficult to manage. Role strain is said to occur when one
suddenly gains new responsibilities, when family boundaries and expectations become
unclear, when there is a lack of emotional support and understanding from one's spouse,
and when stepparents are unpredictably included or excluded in family relationships. When
stepparents begin to feel trapped and the costs outweigh the benefits, we refer to this as
role captivity, which often leads to a desire to escape.
- Listen to the experts! Advice from the experts, in this case, comes from
people who have been in remarriages. They suggest the following: communicate honestly with
your partner; clarify expectations that you have for each other; be sure you are
compatible in your values and philosophies; be patient and supportive of your new family;
work hard to achieve meaningful, harmonious relationships; seek counseling if needed;
learn from your past marriage experiences; and try to be open and equitable toward
Although remarriages have the potential to be just as satisfying as first marriages,
some important differences should be noted. Childrearing in remarriages calls for some
changes in our approach to parenting. Adolescents in remarriages are often more depressed,
more worried about finances and future career, and have lower self-esteem. Research on remarried
families indicates that a more permissive attitude toward childrearing increases
self-esteem and reduces stress in adolescents. So while permissive parenting usually has
negative effects on teenagers in intact families, it can have positive effects in
remarried families. Adolescents in remarried families respond well to a combination of
independence, low parental control, and high warmth. For those who plan to remarry, these
may be an important keys to your family's success.
ęCopyright, 1994, 1996, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Family Relationships
Return to Table of Contents
Last Updated December 26, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon,