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Parents of adolescents in stepfamilies: Inner experienes and outer roles

24 July 1998


Stepfamilies and blended families are becoming increasingly common in the United States, to the point where they far outnumber traditional nuclear families. The biological parent can be essential to the success of the stepfamily as she or he is the only family member with a direct connection to the other members (stepparent and children), yet little research has been conducted that directly addresses the roles and experiences of the parent. The present study was designed to investigate the subjective meanings and experiences of natural or biological parents who enter into a stepfamiIy situation where adolescents are present. A qualitative research project was conducted. Twelve biological parents in stepfamilies were interviewed about their experiences prior to and subsequent to stepfamily formation. Results indicated that several phases preceding stepfamily formation influence the parent's experience in the stepfamiIy: divorce or death of spouse, single parenting, and dating. While some positive aspects were noted., parents reported feeling a great deal of stress in these initial stages. After stepfamily formation, two global themes emerged to describe the experience of biological parents in stepfamilies: 1) shock and disappointment due to deeply imbedded myths and expectations about normative families; and 2) divided loyalties due to indirect links among family members. A model of stress in the stepfamily life cycle is applied to the present results.


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