Divorce, remarriage and blended families are becoming a rising phenomenon in the society which results in a structural change of families over the past decade. Unlike first-time families, blended families have to manage complicated attachments among step-couples, step-children and biological-children. In terms of step-parenting, on the one sides, step-parents may feel excluded and doubled-marginalised by step-children. But on the other side, step-parents also report guilt over biological children when establishing close relationship with step-children. The internal conflict can be further aggravated by the filial piety, extended family co-residence, and the patriarchal nature in the eastern culture. Despite the large number of research studies on divorce and remarriage, little research has explored the challenges encountered by step-parenting and their coping strategies.
This research study aims to 1) investigate the stigmatisation from general public towards blended families, 2) examine the mental health of the step-parents, 3) identify the challenges encountered by step-parenting, and 4) understand their coping strategies.
Parents from traditional families, single-parent families and blended families were recruited to complete a survey which measured a) stigmatisation towards blended family, b) depression and anxiety level, c) satisfaction in life, d) family functioning of the participants. In-depth interviews were further conducted for parents from blended families in order to understand the challenges encountered by them and how they cope with them in the step-parenting process.
208 parents (159 traditional, 30 single-parent, 19 blended) were recruited from the community and social service agency to complete to the survey and 10 parents from blended families participated in an in-depth interview session. It was notice that parents from all types of families exhibited mild level of depression and anxiety. Most participants indicated that they were slightly dissatisfied with life, and that their families were moderately dysfunctional. Parents from single-parent and blended families further reported significantly lower level of family functioning.
Participants generally believed that traditional family was a more ideal form of family structure. Furthermore, they also perceived that children in blended families were less likely to thrive and be happy, and had a higher chance of occurrence of disruptive conflicts and avoidance behaviour in the family.
Interview with parents from blended families revealed a step-parenting framework which emphasised a) identification of step-parents’ role, b) acceptance from step-children, c) expectation from extended step-family, and d) social perception on family re-establishment. The key success factors were a) the mutual trust between the step-couples and b) the re-adjustment tenacity in the new family. All interviewees concurred that they had to be more patient and skilful to establish a healthy family relationship when comparing with their first-time marriage.
Conclusions and Implications
Result of the study shows that stigmatisation from public towards blended families and the mental health of step-parents are alarming. Step-parents also have difficulties in maintaining family functioning. The step-parenting framework identified by this study suggests a family re-adjustment approach which can be applied by healthcare professionals or counsellors in supporting step-parents in blended families.