Growing Up in Stepfamilies
The growth of stepfamilies has been one of the most dramatic changes in British family life in recent decades. Britain today has the highest divorce rate in Europe, and by the early 1990s one in twelve children in Britain were already living in stepfamilies. Stepfamilies formed by remarriage after death were once a common experience, but in the first half of this century, as parental death became more unusual, they became unfamiliar rarities, and much of the common understanding of their dynamics was lost. The recent very rapid growth in divorce and remarriage has exposed millions of adults and children to life situations which are surprisingly little understood, either at the level of common wisdom, or through research.
It is widely assumed that children referred to social and health professionals come above all from broken or reconstituted families, and until recently the interpretation of stepfamilies was dominated by analyses of clinical data. However, in large scale sample based studies it has been found that the experiences of children in stepfamilies and those growing up in 'intact' families are not as different as had previously been assumed.This study of fifty children born in 1958 is the first in Britain to examine these long-term differences using evidence gleaned from such a large and reliable sample. The key themes around which the research has been structured are gender, communication and discipline within families, the role of the extended family, the absent parent, and, above all, the factors which help or hinder stepchildren in the long-term. The authors emphasise how change is possible not only in childhood, but also in adulthood. Drawing together sociological and social historical interpretations through the life story method with clinical experience in child and adolescent psychiatry and the family systems approach used in family therapy, this important new study makes a unique contribution to our understanding of the long-term impact of stepfamily life in Britain.
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