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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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Chapter One. Why Study Stepfamilies?


← 2 | 3 → • CHAPTER ONE •

Why Study Stepfamilies?

The picture that researchers paint of stepfamilies is certainly not like that of the family imagined in Norman Rockwell’s paintings. When Hess and Handel (1959) were writing, about 75% of children lived with their own, married, fathers and mothers (Cherlin, 2010), whereas today it is estimated that about one third of all children live in a stepfamily (Ganong & Coleman, 2004; Stewart, 2007). The mere increase in the number of stepfamilies is not alarming, per se; however, the consistent finding that outcomes for children reared in stepfamilies are worse than for children in biological families has shined a spotlight on stepchildren and stepfamilies in recent decades, making them a prominent focus of research.

Family Structure, Family Process, and Youth Outcomes

In the early 21st century, research on stepfamilies consistently demonstrates that some children in stepfamily households are at risk for academic, psychological, and behavioral problems (Amato, 2001; Bray & Easling, 2005; Jeynes, 2006). Research dating back to the 1980s showed that children in stepfamilies report significantly less support and less discipline from stepfathers as well as less family cohesion than children from intact biological families (Amato, 1987). Compared to children raised by their biological parents, children in stepfamilies spend less time with and have less access to a father, even when combining time with and access to both nonresident fathers and stepfathers (Hofferth & Anderson, 2003). Research suggests that some stepchildren, as adolescents, persistently exhibit...

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