Uniqueness of stepfamilies

While on the surface a stepfamily can seem quite similar to a traditional, intact family there are a few clear differences. It’s important to understand what these differences are, because stepfamilies are currently the fastest growing family form and will most likely take over first or nuclear families as the most common family form over the next 20 years (Howden 2007). Some family researchers think that stepfamilies are already the dominant family form. So with trend in society towards an increasing number of stepfamilies, it is well worth our while to try and understand stepfamilies. How they work and how they are unique in both configuration and function.

First of all, stepfamilies are not necessarily a united family and that’s ok. As stepfamily researcher Katz (2010) has highlighted the biggest mistake both stepfamilies and therapists make is assuming stepfamily will “blend” over time when statistical research would suggest that for at least thirty percent of stepfamilies a sense of this blending ideal does not happen and perhaps it is better to not even expect it as when blending does not occur it can leave members of a step family, most especially step mothers, with a sense of failure, isolation and shame (Katz 2010). 

Katz (2010) suggests that it is more helpful for a stepfamily to work towards defining themselves in terms of a family that cultivates respect, compassion and a workable attitude towards achieving family goals rather than whether the expectation of blending occurs. A successful step family does not need to achieve the ideal of blending in order to be deemed a “real family” or successful; but rather as a family system that cultivates realistic expectations of one another and of the family that gives a sense of belonging based on trust and respect (Katz 2010).

Secondly, stepfamily relationships are more complex. If two people getting married and having children is the process of forming a family; then divorce of the parents or the death of one of them is the process of family de-formation. When a family goes through a death or divorce the whole question of how remaining household members come to be socialised (re-socialised) – comes into play, and calls for a re-organisation on the part of both parents and the children. This is a very big and multilayered task and can be really hard to get your head around. More than anything these tasks require trust, patience, a generous dose of good will, humour and flexibility. 

How one stepfamily makes their family work is going to be very different to how another stepfamily finds the right mix. The important thing is to be kind to yourself and kind to your family, keep a big picture in mind and work towards respect as your baseline.

Yours on the way....


Copyright Marcia Watts November 2014

Posted on 12 November 2014

Marcia Watts

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