How stepdads can bond

New study examines what keeps stepfamilies together

Family pic with father in as lsightly different colourWhen a new step parent joins a family, it’s an awkward time. Starting off a new can be difficult for the children as well as both the parents especially because the new parent does not have the history of the previous parent.

New research from Brigham Young University, published in the academic journal Social Work, tries to study what are the factors that help new dads to seamlessly become a part of the family. The analysis revealed three key points

  • The parents argue as less as they possibly can
  • The mother lets children express their frustration at the presence of the new dad
  • There are no differences between the parents on the approach to parenting the kids

“Family roles can be negotiated and there is going to be some bumpiness,” says lead researcher Kevin Shafer, who teaches at BYU’s School of Social Work. “The notion that couples should put the themselves first and everything else will fall into place is false.”

Shafer and BYU grad student Todd Jensen collated data from a nation–wide sample of 1,088 children living in stepfamilies. Upon analysis, they realised that children hate a new dad who starts dictating things too much or when he upsets the regular way the family previously did things.

“Moms need to let their children know that it’s ok to talk if they have a problem with their stepfather because everybody is still trying to figure out this new family dynamic,” Shafer says.

“Full-blown arguments set up stepfamilies for failure,” Shafer adds.

Two mistakes that mothers makes when a stepfather joins the family:

Kevin Shafer

  • Mothers, at times, act as if the step-dad is just a replacement for the previous dad and hence not much has changed. However, for the children, this is a new person they have to start relating with and hence this approach is an incorrect one.
  • Mothers keep the father away from parenting duties. Again the children are missing a father figure in their lives.

What’s wrong in both the approaches is that the children’s point of view is not being adequately considered. “If you have teenagers, they should be a pretty active participant in discussions of what the family is going to look like and how the family is going to function,” says Shafer.



  1. Solid relationships between ALL parents (ie: the mom, the dad & the step-parent) are pretty important if a step-family is going to be successful.


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