Patterns of Stepchild–Stepparent Relationship Development


Thirty-two stepdaughters and 17 stepsons participated in this grounded theory study of emerging adult stepchildren's perceptions about how relationships with their stepparents developed. The theory created from this study proposes that the degree to which stepchildren engage in relationship-building and -maintaining behaviors with stepparents is a function of stepchildren's evaluative judgments about the stepparents' positive contributions. Stepchildren's judgments about stepparents are made with inputs from biological parents and other kin. Stepchildren's ages when relationships began, gender of stepchildren and stepparents, and time spent together because of custody arrangements provided the context within which relationships developed. The outcomes in this grounded theory were six patterns of step-relationship development: accepting as a parent, liking from the start, accepting with ambivalence, changing trajectory, rejecting, and coexisting. These patterns of development were distinct trajectories that related closely to qualitatively different stepparent–stepchild relationships. Only 30% of stepchildren with multiple stepparents evaluated them similarly.

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Journal of Marriage and Family



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Copyright © National Council on Family Relations, 2011