Family Structures Have Been Changing Sociology Essay Example
Family Structures Have Been Changing Sociology Essay Example

Family Structures Have Been Changing Sociology Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 14 (3813 words)
  • Published: September 30, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
View Entire Sample
Text preview

The creation of stepfamilies is frequently the result of loss, whether it be the loss of a parent due to death or the termination of a prior relationship or marriage. Stepfamilies face specific difficulties when trying to establish a new family structure. In building this new unit, each person brings their own distinct values, habits, beliefs, routines, friends, family, and work into the equation. The task of adjusting and blending these different lifestyles becomes even more complex when incorporating an already established way of life with new partnerships.

According to Roosevelt & Lofas (1976), step-parents face challenges when they become part of an existing family, adapt to a new role (Visher & Visher, 1991), and transition from an individualistic mindset to a collective one for first-time step-parents (Fletcher, 2007). The changes that occur after marriage impact everyone involved in the formation of a stepfam


ily. Although previous research has explored various aspects of stepfamily experiences and development, there are still areas that have not been investigated. For example, there is limited research on the experiences of professional women in mental health who have primarily focused on their careers and suddenly become stepmothers.

Problem Statement

The pursuit of educational advancement often coincides with the childbearing years for women.

As a result, some adult women may decide to postpone having children so they can prioritize their education. Once they achieve a degree in their chosen field, these women are able to concentrate on building their professional identity and pursuing success in their careers. While they continue working towards career progression, their lifestyle is primarily focused on their professional involvement. However, Hoffnung (2004) argues that there are women who aspire to have bot

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

a career and a family.

According to Metz and Tharenou (2001), both household and career are highly valued, and the challenge of "having it all" is acknowledged. They argue that having children can often lead to less involvement in one's career. Therefore, when professional women who are already settled in their careers meet a man with children, what happens to their careers? How do they perceive the merging of two important roles: being a career woman and a stepmother? The process may seem simple - meeting a man with kids and deciding to get married. However, only those who have lived through the merging of these two worlds truly understand how complex the experiences can be. Thus, becoming a stepmother involves more than just establishing relationships and finding one's place within the new family; it also requires balancing career time with family time.


Blended families, or stepfamilies, occur when one or both adults in a marriage bring at least one child from a previous relationship into the new family system (Kreider & Ellis, 2011; Papernow, 1993).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, stepfamilies are projected to be the predominant household type in the United States today (n.d.; as cited by Stepfamily Foundation, 2011). Nevertheless, research indicates that stepcouple relationships face a greater likelihood of divorce compared to first-time marriages, with rates of 65% and 50% respectively (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Thus, it is essential to understand the diverse complexities and distinct challenges associated with forming a stepfamily.

The analysis of stepfamilies has involved the examination of the importance of going through specific stages in order for these families to succeed in building their new system (McGoldrick & Carter, 1989;

Mills, 1984; Papernow, 1993; Visher & Visher, 1990). For example, Papernow (1993) states that stepfamilies go through seven stages as they progress towards establishing their lives together. The challenges faced by stepfamilies during these stages are distinct from those experienced by intact families. Papernow's (1993) Stepfamily Cycle combines Gestalt and family systems theory to highlight the structural changes that occur within the new system. The blending of biological subsystems (i.e., parent and child) and stepfamily members creates new roles and boundaries, which ultimately contribute to the evolving new step system.

This text presents a theoretical model that explores the impact of different stages of stepfamily development on the formation of a new household. According to Papernow (1993), this model can be applied to all stepfamilies who are working towards becoming a functional unit. It can also be used by stepfamilies trying to navigate the complexities that arise during the process of familial systemic change. Through interviews with both clinical and non-clinical stepfamilies, Papernow identified seven stages of development in the formation of a new family. These stages include the fantasy phase, where unrealistic hopes and expectations are maintained; the submergence phase, where challenges and misunderstandings arise in the new familial system; the awareness phase, which involves understanding and identifying boundaries, feelings, and needs of each family member; the mobilization phase, where differences are confronted and efforts are made to mediate changes without creating division within the family; and finally, the action phase, where the family collaborates to restructure their new family dynamics.The text describes two phases of stepfamily development: the contact phase, where positive relationships are formed and functions are solidified, and the declaration phase, where

a stable and feasible stepfamily is established. Theoretical models explain how members transition from separate subgroups to a collaborative step-system, by accomplishing necessary tasks. Papernow's research includes interview responses on stepfamily members' experiences during different phases, but does not specifically address how certain aspects of individuals' lives are affected by stepfamily development. Other researchers have also contributed to understanding the stepfamily system, highlighting the tasks each family must fulfill or avoid to become a healthy and functional system.

To illustrate, Mills (1984) presented a model for stepfamilies that helps navigate the challenges that may arise when forming this new type of family. This model highlights the importance of not using "intact" families as a model for creating their own family (Mills, 1984). According to McGoldrick and Carter (1989), stepfamilies need to work through various emotional tasks before they can effectively function as a strong unit. Additionally, Visher and Visher (1990) suggest that successful stepfamilies must overcome specific challenges and tasks during the transition phase towards a stepfamily culture, such as strengthening relationships, establishing new traditions, and ensuring each member feels like part of the new family unit. In a study focusing on the significant experiences of blended families in their first four years of development, Baxter, Braithwaite, and Nicholson (1999) sought a deeper understanding of the stepfamily process. However, instead of providing a "prescriptive" model for successful stepfamilies, Baxter et al.

In 1999, researchers investigated significant "turning points" in blended families that impact their development. These turning points include changes in family composition and quality time for family members. The researchers collected subjective descriptions of important events that each family identified as necessary for establishing a family

identity and a sense of belonging. As stepfamilies transition into their own system, they encounter various obstacles that researchers have found to be common experiences for evolving families. Additional research on stepfamilies has focused on specific areas such as interpersonal relationships within stepfamilies, the effects of stepchildren on the marital union, expectations of familial roles, dealing with issues from the other biological parent, and the dilemma of trial and custody of the children involved.(A; McCue, 2009; Stewart, 2010).

During the early stages of being a part of a stepfamily, various challenges are inevitable. Forming stepfamilies comes with universal challenges, but each stepmother has her own unique experiences within this new system. For instance, stepmothers may realize that they are joining an already established parent-child system, which can evoke emotions such as "jealousy, confusion, bitterness, and inadequacy" (Papernow, 1993). Similarly, stepfathers may also feel like outsiders (Papernow, 1993), even though they assume the role of a family leader immediately after marrying a man with children (Dainton, 1993). According to Doodson and Morley (2006), stepmothers find themselves in a novel family structure where they strive to succeed both as a wife and as a stepmother.

The process of becoming a stepmother involves integrating oneself into an established family and building relationships as both a stepmother and wife, which can disrupt the stepmother's personal life. The compromises and challenges faced in accepting both roles within the family are significant. Research on stepmothers examines how their lives are affected by becoming and being stepmothers, including emotional, psychological, and everyday changes that arise in a stepfamily. However, there is a lack of understanding regarding how women manage the combination of their roles

as career woman, wife, and stepmother. Therefore, this study aims to explore and contribute to the understanding of this phenomenon.


Recent statistics indicate that there are approximately 14 million stepmothers in the United States (Parker, 2011) and over 11 million married or cohabitating stepmothers with children under 18 years old (Stewart, 2009). Research on stepmothers has covered various aspects such as expectations and overall experiences of being a stepmother (Dainton, 1993; Doodson & Morley, 2006; Henry & McCue,
2009; Weaver & Coleman,
2005). Before deciding to become a stepparent,women must consider if they are willing to marry a man with children (Whiting Smith,Barnett, ,2007).

Throughout this video, various thoughts, perspectives, and concerns about stepfamilies are likely to arise. According to Knox and Zusman (2001), there are several factors to consider when deciding to marry a man who has children from a previous marriage. These factors include acknowledging the potential risks that second marriages may have on marital stability, questioning whether cohabitation will ensure future marital success, postponing marriage until addressing issues related to stepchildren, ex-wives, and financial responsibilities, and determining postmarriage living arrangements (Knox ; Zusman, 2001).

However, regardless of the time invested in making the decision to marry a man with kids, these women still experienced negative emotions regarding their choices. For instance, Knox and Zusman (2001) found that marrying a man with "baggage" (i.e., marrying a man with children and an ex-wife) was significantly associated with marital instability, contemplating divorce,and regretting the decision to marry a man with children.

According to a survey conducted by Doodson and Morley (2006), they examined the parental roles of non-residential stepmothers. These stepmothers are adult females who are married to men with

children but do not have primary physical custody of those children. The survey discovered that many stepmothers had a negative emotional perspective because they had to make changes in their lives to accommodate their stepchildren. For instance, one participant expressed frustration about including her stepchildren in holiday activities and having to share her husband's company with them. Some stepmothers even stated that if given the choice, they would prefer not to become stepparents. However, the study also indicated that stepmothers without biological children were more likely to adapt compared to those who brought their own children into the marriage. Nonetheless, the results did not address whether these women's careers played a significant role in their experiences as stepmothers.

A study conducted by Henry and McCue (2009) found that non-residential stepmothers faced frustration due to their limited control over implementing their preferred parenting styles during trial schedules, as well as the financial difficulties associated with child support. Some participants expressed anger at having to return to work in order to manage the financial burdens of child support payments. These women often experienced depressive symptoms resulting from the stressors related to becoming a stepmother, which stemmed from feelings of lack of control and the disconfirmation of their idealized notions about marrying a man with children. To address these issues, Henry and McCue (2009) suggested that family service providers meet with both residential and nonresidential parents, taking into account each family's unique circumstances when determining programming, parenting styles, and financial responsibilities. Weaver and Coleman (2005) also explored the roles of nonresidential stepmothers, focusing on how these women perceived their role within the family.

The study showed that nonresidential stepmothers identified

their roles as either 'mothering but not a mother role,' 'other-focused roles,' or 'outsider roles.' The level of involvement of the nonresidential stepmother was determined by how she perceived her role within the stepfamily. For example, women who engaged in "mothering behaviors" were more involved with their stepchildren compared to women who saw themselves as observers, which created a distance between the stepmother and the visiting children (Weaver & Coleman, 2005). These roles were not only influenced by the spouse, stepchildren, and biological mother of the children but were also determined by the stepmother's own expectations of her role duties. Overall, stepmothers must adopt a new identity and find ways to adjust to this new role that comes with entering a family with children. As a result, many women have turned to popular culture books on becoming stepmothers for answers to help them navigate this new journey (Burns, 2001; Fletcher, 2007; Thoele, 2003).

Various books on stepmotherhood offer different perspectives and advice. Thoele (2003) explores the complexities of being a stepmother in her book, The Courage to be a Stepmother. She delves into the demands and expectations of this role. Burns (2001) addresses topics such as implementing rules, fostering positive relationships between step-siblings, managing holidays, interacting with the biological parent, and seeking professional help when necessary. Fletcher (2007) specifically targets childless career women in relationships with men who have children from previous marriages. Her book discusses the challenges these stepmothers face and encourages them to utilize their skills within the home while acknowledging that it may impact their careers.

When merging a career with a new family life, scheduling becomes a priority. It is inevitable that work

schedules must be adjusted to accommodate the demands of being a stepmother. Concerns may arise from the stepmother's boss or co-workers regarding the potential decline in the quality and quantity of her work. This could be due to having to work fewer hours and disrupting work life due to various responsibilities such as school functions, doctors' appointments, and parent-teacher conferences. Fletcher (2007) explored the different realities that women may experience when becoming a stepmother. This includes dealing with rejection from others when choosing to marry a man with children and the importance of maintaining boundaries within the family. The themes discussed in Fletcher's book are similar to other popular books that provide insight into the process of becoming a stepmother. However, there is still a prevailing belief that career-oriented women are uniquely challenged in navigating stepmotherhood. For instance, when career-focused women decide to marry a man with children, they are essentially leaving behind their previous identity and delving into a lifestyle that requires balancing duties as a wife, stepmother, and working professional.In the same vein, the following study will examine women who have achieved a high level of education and were committed to their career development before marrying a man who has children.

Career Women

When individuals in a close-knit family live and grow together, they each create and share their lives simultaneously with the other family members. This process of interconnected living helps them understand how the family system works. Therefore, through familiarity and experience, each member is able to adapt to the developments in the lives of other family members (Papernow, 1993). In cases where family members come from single

parent households, they have shared past experiences that enable them to collaborate and establish familial roles, rules, and relationships (Papernow, 1993). When a woman decides to enter into a marriage with a man who already has children, she is joining a family that has already established its own routines and family values.

She is likely to pass clip calculating out her ain topographic point in the household and gauging where and how her ain sentiments, behaviours, and values fit in. At this point, each member has his or her ain thoughts and outlooks on how he or she wants the new household to develop. As the members of the stepfamily discover common land, the relationships and functions within the new system are likely to take form. However, along with the household formation procedure, stepmothers go through their ain passage period.

The phases of re-examining life priorities and forming their own identity are likely to be similar for both stepmothers who had careers before joining a new family and career women who bring their own values, beliefs, and habits into a new family. These women, before becoming stepmothers, may have had lives primarily focused on their professional responsibilities. Their priorities were driven by individualistic motives and the decisions made throughout their adult lives aligned with their lifestyle, needs, values, and beliefs.

When deciding to establish a career, the choice to delay having children may be influenced by the belief that education and career should come before marriage and kids. Alternatively, the decision to postpone maternity may occur naturally rather than being a conscious choice. Despite these differences, is it likely that these two distinct roles or identities - career

woman and stepmother - will converge? According to the Stepfamily Foundation (2011), the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 80% of women who become part of stepfamilies are career women, indicating the prevalence of this group in the U.S.

According to the Census Bureau (n.d.; as cited by Stepfamily Foundation, 2011), the statistic provided by the Stepfamily Foundation did not specify whether these working women brought their own children into the family. Nevertheless, when becoming a working woman, various choices are made to support a career lifestyle. For instance, as mentioned earlier, one of these choices is the common decision to delay motherhood, enabling women to prioritize their time around career advancement. However, once these women marry a man with children, decisions start to consider her husband and stepchildren.

Furthermore, as a result of this sisterhood, these adult females are likely to feel the need to reevaluate their new life priorities, including their careers, marriages, and stepmother roles. A qualitative study conducted by Perez and Torrens (2009) explored how stepmothers' views on motherhood impacted their roles as both mothers and stepmothers. The research analyzed women's perspectives on why they chose to delay having children. The findings suggested that the decision to postpone motherhood may be influenced by concerns that having children could hinder the pursuit of educational and career goals (Perez & Torrens, 2009). One participant mentioned that when she was working towards achieving her educational goals, becoming a mother did not align with her post-education professional aspirations (Perez & Torrens, 2009). Similarly, Yogev and Vierra (1983) proposed that younger professional women not only choose to delay motherhood in order to advance their careers but have

also continued to postpone having children while fulfilling their career responsibilities.

Furthermore, another factor in deciding to delay maternity is the importance of establishing a stable relationship before choosing to have children, as the work lifestyle may pose challenges in finding such a relationship (Perez & Torrens, 2009). Yogev and Vierra (1983) also examined the attitudes of professional women towards having children and found that younger professional women were more likely to choose to remain childless compared to both older professionals and younger women in the general population (Yogev & Vierra, 1983). The findings of this study supported the idea that younger professionals may lack confidence in their ability to successfully fulfill their responsibilities as both a mother and a career woman at the same time (Yogev & Vierra, 1983). Therefore, not only does research indicate that women choose to delay maternity for the purpose of achieving educational goals and career advancement, but literature also suggests that career women may decide to further postpone maternity in order to advance in their professional pursuits (Perez & Torrens, 2009; Yogev & Vierra, 1983).As the number of stepfamilies continues to grow each year and career-focused women choose to delay motherhood for the purpose of educational advancement, career attainment, and/or professional growth, it is likely that childless career women will also become stepmothers. For instance, while pursuing their careers, these women may meet a single father, develop feelings for him, get married, and consequently become a wife and stepmother to his children.

Additionally, these adult females not only take on the role of stepmother and wife, but are also faced with the potential challenges of integrating a career identity with her

new identities: wife and stepmother.

Delaying Motherhood

The choice of delaying having children for the purposes of excelling in one's education, building financial security, and furthering one's professional involvement has been increasing since the rise of women in the workforce (Weeden, Abrams, Green, & Sabini, 2006; Wilkie, 1981). Therefore, childbearing may not be a priority until after a woman's career has been established. Although research has not specifically explored career women's reasons for delayed maternity in the mental health professions in particular, as noted above, past research supports that there are many women who have decided to postpone childbearing for the purposes of career advancement.

Consequently, this study focuses on women without children of their own who become stepmothers after marrying a man with kids. These women have invested their time and dedication into completing a professional mental health degree and are currently working in their field. Due to their structured lifestyles prior to getting married, these women have to take on multiple roles in order to smoothly transition into this new family system. The adjustment into this new family system is likely to cause various stresses, including balancing family time with professional responsibilities. These stresses have an impact on the relationships and development processes within the family.

Mental Health Professional Women

One aspect of this phenomenon focuses on the specific profession or career of these women. One question is whether mental health professionals have different experiences when integrating into a stepfamily compared to other career women, due to their unique education, training, and practice.

Mental health professionals have the opportunity to gain knowledge about the developmental processes and behaviors of individuals and families. This knowledge can help them understand the

issues that may arise within their own families. Specifically, women who have a degree in the mental health field have received education and training that contributes to a diverse knowledge base. This knowledge base is likely to be different from women in other professions. With their education, mental health professionals may have a better understanding of family processes and relationships. They may also approach situations differently due to their "psychological mindedness" (Farber, 1983; as cited by Paris, Linville, ; A; Rosen, 2006). Mental health professionals also learn various coping strategies, which can be effective in dealing with multiple stressors related to their dual roles. Finally, these professionals are more likely to explore and utilize research as a way to manage and maintain a healthier perspective on their current situation.

Through their education and professional experiences, mental wellness professionals can view their situation as manageable and apply the self-awareness, openness, sensitivity, and confidence they have gained from their professional experiences to support the process of balancing the roles of stepmother and career woman (Farber, 1983; as cited by Paris, Linville, & Rosen, 2006). Paris, Linville, and Rosen's (2006) study confirmed that professional experiences have a significant impact on individuals' personal lives. The researchers found that family systems theories played a contributing role in how participants interacted within their personal lives. However, although mental health professional women can apply their knowledge and training to their personal lives, influencing decisions and altering perceptions, this does not necessarily result in positive outcomes.

Mothers with Careers

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds