New research from Brigham Young University has identified three factors that significantly contribute to closeness in stepfamilies:
1. The couple keep their arguments to a minimum
2. Moms help kids feel comfortable by sharing their frustrations
3. The stepfather and mother agree on how to parent the kids
BYU professor Kevin Shafer said that the notion that couples should put themselves first and everything else will fall into place is false.
Shafer and BYU grad student Todd Jensen analyzed information from a nationally representative sample of 1,088 children in stepfamilies.
Shafer said that mothers need to let their kids know that it’s ok to talk, if they have a problem with their stepfather, as everyone in the family is still trying to figure out the new family dynamic.
He asserted that the lack of history between stepdads and kids amplified the harmful effects of parental conflict.
Couples typically make one of two mistakes in the transition, the first type involves the pair acting as if nothing major has changed – that the new dad is a replacement instead of an addition and the second type is for mothers to take upon herself all of the parenting.
The common thread in both the scenarios is that kids’ voices are generally missing.
Shafer said that if the family has teenagers, they should be a pretty active participant in discussions of what the family is going to look like and how it is going to function.
However, the study did contain one surprise, communicating openly and avoiding arguments contributed to closeness regardless of family income or education level.
The research has been published in academic journal Social Work.