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Reformulating familiar concerns : parents in stepfamilies

By Jennifer Flowerdew


Stepfamilies are culturally significant in Britain on account of their media and mythical profile. Through increased rates in separation, divorce and repartnering they have also become increasingly socially significant. Yet this significance is only partially reflected\ud in the research literature. Public versions of stepfamily life have tended to construct the ties of stepkinship in terms of fragility and contingency, assuming they cannot be\ud counted upon in ways that arise 'naturally' through ties of blood. By talking directly to parents in stepfamilies this project seeks to understand how they themselves understand\ud these issues. The research question is: how do parents reformulate their family relationships in the light of separation, divorce and repartnering, and what implications\ud does this have for their handling of contact and inheritance? Central to its concerns are parents' understandings of the qualitative differences in their relationships with their biological and stepchildren, and how these differences maybe accounted for.\ud \ud The study used qualitative research methods and was based on semi-structured interviews with thirty parents living in married and cohabiting couple stepfamilies. Respondents were chosen using theoretical sampling methods. The aim was to select a sample with a range of characteristics and experiences which would enable key comparisons to be made about how stepfwnily life 'works' under different social conditions. Although interviews focussed specifically on issues of 'contact' and inheritance, respondents were also able to discuss issues of most importance to them.\ud \ud Analysis showed clearly that ties and solidarities between stepparents and stepchildren can be strong and enduring. Concerns were expressed by almost all stepparents that\ud their stepchildren and biological children should be treated equally - whether this be on a day-to-day basis or in more lasting terms of inheritance. It also emerged that the experience of growing up as a stepchild provided a useful resource for those who, as adults, themselves moved into the role of stepparent

Publisher: School of Sociology and Social Policy (Leeds)
Year: 1999
OAI identifier:

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