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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 Eleven. Picturing Stepfather-Stepson Communication


← 134 | 135 → • CHAPTER ELEVEN •

Picturing Stepfather-Stepson Communication

This chapter uses the information from the cases to present a conceptual model of communicating support, synthesizing lessons learned from the within- and cross-case analyses. As detailed in part two, each stepfather-stepson pair consisted of a unique relational culture of support within a unique stepfamily system. The relational culture of support is described based on observations about individual, relational, and family beliefs and behaviors. The six family cultures developed on personal and collective histories as well as internal and external family factors. The relational cultures of support help define and are defined by the role of the stepfather, attitudes and expectations of family members, and relational and family actions or rituals. Relational cultures help clarify what counts as supportive in each stepfamily system and may be integrated into a broader family culture, operate in parallel, or even diverge from the family culture of support.

After presenting within-case analysis of each unique culture of support, I turned to a cross-case analysis of practices and processes of support. Chapter nine overviewed how these six stepfathers communicated emotional, informational, and instrumental support. I described verbal expressions of praise, encouragement, and affection and also looked at nonverbal messages that communicated emotional support. I examined how stepfathers in the different stepfamilies talked about “claiming” their stepsons and how stepsons used the “Dad” label to claim their stepfathers. Informational support, as I presented, was largely tied to transferring social capital or providing moral...

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