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Stepfather-Stepson Communication

Social Support in Stepfamily Worlds


Jonathan Pettigrew

This book offers a novel analysis of communication in stepfather-stepson relationships and is one of the first to examine the ways stepfathers communicate and to integrate the perspectives of adolescents into research on stepfamily communication. In order to understand the complex dynamics of stepfamilies, Jonathan Pettigrew presents six case studies of different families. They are written as engaging narratives – including interviews – that offer flavorful accounts of family members and their relationships with each other. Pettigrew then looks across cases to identify, describe, and examine patterns of stepfather support. This book builds upon current understandings of stepfamily life by providing a descriptive and heuristic model of supportive stepfather-stepson communication, making it valuable for those who study and work with families.
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Part One: Stepfamilies, Stepfathers, and Communicating Support


← xii | 1 → • PART ONE •

Stepfamilies, Stepfathers, and Communicating Support

In 1959, psychologist and sociologist Hess and Handel, published a now famous book, Family Worlds, a description of “typical” everyday family life. They studied “normal” families in the Chicago area and explored psychological and sociological aspects of these families. They describe in detail the behaviors, messages, and perceptions of multiple family members (adults and children). Their analysis centered on five challenges they viewed as common to typical family life. These challenges transcended both time and family structure and included (1) managing autonomy and connectedness, (2) synchronizing images of one another, (3) authoring family themes, (4) defining boundaries around and within the family, and (5) dealing with biosocial realities. The primary means at the disposal of family members to address these challenges is communication.

Family Worlds (Hess & Handel, 1959) gained its prominence as an influential research study through its thoughtful analysis woven into provocative description. In the five decades since Hess and Handel’s publication, however, the “typical” American family has changed (Casper & Bianchi, 2002; Coontz, 2004). Family historian Stephanie Coontz (2005), argues that families continue to experience unprecedented transformation. She and others assert that marriage has ceased to serve as the primary socially prescribed method for organizing sexual conduct, economic production, gender role division, and child rearing. Instead, affectionate bonding (the “soul mate” model of marriage) has become the primary criteria for long-term adult couple formation. Others point out that decreased family size, increased...

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