FRIDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Although the role of father
is often clear-cut, stepdads must negotiate the fine line between
parent and friend with the children of their wives.
Now, new research, just in time for Father's Day on Sunday,
suggests that open communication is the compass the family needs to
survive the journey.
"There's a lot of evidence that moms expect the dads to take on the father role, but dads think their role is to be a friend to the stepchild," said study author Kevin Shafer, an assistant professor of social work at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Once a stepfamily is forged, everyone's roles need to be
renegotiated, the researchers said, and mothers can play a key role
in helping the children adjust to the new family dynamics.
One expert said it just takes time and a lot of talking.
"They're not going to look like the Brady Brunch right away. Creating a stepfamily is a major transition," said Markie Blumer, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It's important to sit down and say that we're all going to have to make adjustments and it isn't just the stepparent who has to do all the adjusting if this is going to work."
Blumer also recommends that parents be as flexible as possible
and try to see things from the children's point of view. "Ask the
kids if they want you to be at their baseball game, and tell them
it's OK if they change their mind," she said. "Leaving the door
open is really important [since things will likely change over
Shafer said couples should discuss beforehand how they're going
to parent the children together, and the kids also need to be
involved in talking about how the family is going to function.
Although these findings may sound like common sense, Shafer
said, many adults don't talk about their expectations
It's not just the parenting issues the couple tends to avoid, he
said. Sixty percent of men who owe child support and alimony to
their ex-spouses never mention that to their new partners. "If
they're not talking about their financial obligations, what else
are they not talking about?" he said.
Blumer added that although there is a great deal of research on
the effects of divorce on children, there aren't many studies that
look at the issues associated with remarriage. But the impact on
the kids can be significant.
Todd Jensen was a teenager when his father remarried, and he
remembers the adjustment being difficult. "I felt my opinions
weren't taken into account and my parents were so focused on their
new marriage, the children took a back seat," he said.
From that experience, Jensen, now a research associate at
Brigham Young University, became interested in studying how
children perceive stepfamily relationships. He co-authored this
latest research, published recently in the journal
Nearly 10 percent of children in the United State live with a
stepparent at any given time, and one-third will live in a
stepfamily before they turn 18, the researchers said.
The study tapped data from the National Longitudinal Survey of
Youth, a survey of people who were between 14 and 22 years old in
1979, and their children, aged 10 to 16 at the time they were
surveyed. The participants have been followed yearly and asked
questions about their marriages, children and family situations
The study included about 1,000 respondents: children whose
mothers were divorced and either remarried or living with someone
other than the child's biological father. Among the respondents,
the mother had been remarried or living with the stepfather for an
average of five years.
Blumer was unsure whether the data remains relevant, noting that
the respondents were primarily white Protestants, with parents born
in the late 1950s. "You can't generalize the results to recent
years," she said.
Learn more about parenting from the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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