The threat to society, undermining the very essential foundation

The nature of
family and household structures are becoming more diverse as well as
complicated. We need to acknowledge how families are continuously changing over
time, developing its own characterization. However, not everyone receives these
changes as welcoming, thus consider a threat to society, undermining the very
essential foundation of ‘the traditional family’. For instance, traditionalists
believe that family instability and uncertainty are the cause of society’s
problems, therefore wanting to return the ideal of the ‘nuclear family’
structure. Alternative families might be considered as a failure in creating a
happy family life known as the ‘traditional family’ norm. Allan and Crow (2001)
discovered a continuous trend of the increase in different variations of family
types, as well as among 7 per cent of families are stepfamilies with children. Additionally
stating the freedom of diverse choices in individuals having to no longer be restricted
by social stricture or financial necessity


Due to the
diversification of family types, different interpretations are needed for
different family structures, as ‘the family’ is evolving out of the norm in
comparison to the ‘traditional family’ form. The universality of ‘family’ is
dependent on how it is defined (Scanzoni, 2004). Gittins (1993) states that
‘relationships are universal’ in different forms of intimacy, emotional,
sexuality and co-residency. However these variables are considerably flexible,
it can develop and change and as a result it may be difficult to conclude a
single definition that represents ‘family’ in embracing the wide variety of
diverse household forms and structures.

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Alternative types
of families as compared to ‘traditional families’ tend to be seen as less
worthy and are degraded. This is only the case due to the ideal of ‘traditional
families’ long being the dominant norm in society, as well as also being commonly
embraced in most individual’s lives. O’Brien and Jones (1996) replicated and
compared Willmott’s (1963) research which surveyed 600 individuals in east
London about types of family. Results show a greater development of various
family structures, 14 percent lived with a stepparent and 14 percent lived in a
lone parent household. This shows an increased evolvement in the
diversification of family types.


Difficulties of stepfamilies

One of the
important features of family function and structure is being able to maintain
balance and stability in the family system. Relationships become complex for
remarried couples with children, for example, adapting and accommodating
different adjustments into a new family system. During an adjustment period, in
a stepfamily, it can be very difficult to maintain positive dynamics of the
family. Children may experience emotional distress in the separation of their
original family, anxious of another failed marriage, creating emotional scars
that could affect the child’s relationship attitudes in the future. Additionally,
children may struggle with their emotions of conflicting loyalties between
stepparent and their biological parent, and therefore may not be as accepting due
to this emotional conflict as parental authority is shared amongst two sets of
parents. Affectionate bonds become strained and divisive for the child, as well
as remaining feelings of grief or loss from the original family arise. There
may be difficulties of integration from previous family systems adapting into a
new system in efforts of maintaining stepfamily cohesion.


Due to the
negative stereotypes of the prefix ‘step’ as compared to the ideal traditional
family types, step parenting is considered difficult (Rallings, 1976). It may
not be as apparent now, but previous research has shown that stepfamilies tend
to deny or avoid discussing their remarriage to others, emphasizing the social
distance that the negative label creates (Visher and Visher, 1979; Coleman,
Ganong and Gringrich, 1985). Due to this stigmatization of the ‘nuclear family’
ideology, individuals from stepfamilies are discouraged to be open about their
status with outsiders (Hadfield and Nixon, 2013). It is also important to note
that negative societal preconceptions of the term ‘stepparent’ or ‘stepchild’ role
are already in place even before stepfamily development. This could create diminishing
effects due to these unrealistic expectations within stepfamilies trying to
build healthy relationships (Wald, 1981). One example of a common misconception
is the ‘wicked stepmother’. This could prove to be difficult and pressuring, as
mothers tend to feel a sense of accountability and burden of child rearing. Commonly,
due to the exposure of fairy tales, such as Cinderella and Snow White, young children
tend to develop a negative schema of the ‘wicked stepmother’ (Smith, 1953). As
well as the child’s emotional conflict could be reflected onto the stepmother,
therefore creating difficulty for the stepmother in trying to connect with
their stepchild. This creates a disadvantage for stepmothers in hopes of
developing cohesion within the family.


Ganong and Coleman
(1995) found that whilst people tend to associate negative adjectives of ‘mean’
or ‘wicked’ for stepmothers, the stereotype for stepfathers invoke images of a
sexual predator or an offender (Claxton-Oldfield et al, 2002). These negative
labels exists culturally, for instance in Hong Kong, people refer to the
stepmother as ‘worn shoes’ (Tai, 2005). These misconceptions about stepparents
may influence their behaviors and how they think about themselves moreover how
others might view them. The media also plays a role in the stigmatization of
stepparents. A study conducted by Claxton-Oldfield reviewed 55 movie plot
synopses with reference to stepparents found more than half of the
interpretations were negative. Likewise, authors in publications tend to focus
on problems that occur in stepfamilies as compared to the positive extents of
stepfamily environment.

In terms of
stepfamily in the United States legal system, stepparents are considered ‘legal
strangers’ as most policies are fixated on ‘traditional families’ being the
norm (Eekelaar and Sarcevic, 1993).


Another myth –
stepchildren have more behavioral problems than other children


These cultural
myths can be a source of stress that is common for stepfamilies, indirectly and
directly affecting their behavior and relationships. These beliefs shape their
expectations even before thinking about being apart of a stepfamily and what
their living is like, constructing an unconscious stepfamily bias. Not only
does this affect individuals but as well as clinician’s behaviors in
recognizing treatment and assessments of alternative family types. Progressively,
clinicians acknowledge the negative effects of the ideology on stepfamilies in
account for the alternative models for various distinct family types and


Challenges of
defining the role of the stepparent and the interaction in between


Stepfamilies are
formed when children from another marriage

stereotypes – ideologies

The ideal model of
a family consists of a mother, father and their biological or adopted child
co-residing together. This serves as a standard by which all other families are
compared (Coontz, 1997; Scanzoni, 2004). Ideally, the father is the primary
wage earner, and the mother’s primary responsibility is childcare. The child is
loved by both parents, and reared to be compliant, healthy and socially
skilled. By identifying the ‘traditional family’ with labels of being ‘regular’
or ‘normal’ implies alternate forms of families as being ‘abnormal’ and
‘irregular’. This proves difficulty for individuals to develop some sort of
acceptability in legitimizing their identities in their relationship.


Based on Ganong and Coleman (2017), the ideal
‘nuclear family’ influences the cultural context of stepfamilies as an
incomplete institution, a divergent family form, and a reconstituted ‘nuclear

According to
Cherlin (1978), due to the lack of institutional support for stepfamilies,
construct negative cultural expectations such that these relationships are considered
a rejection from society. As well as perceived to function in abnormal ways
than expected.

Ganong and Coleman
(1997) divergent family form

Levin (1997)


Ganong and Coleman
(1997) studied cultural stereotypes and found that the traditional family
ideology unconsciously affects behaviors of nurses, results show that biological
families were treated friendlier and were given more elaborate explanations
than stepfamilies or single parent families. Additionally, previous research
found that nurses would advise stepfamily members to exclude the use of the
term ‘step’ when describing their affiliation with the patient (Ganong, 1993).
This interaction creates social oppression on stepfamilies to behave
differently and mimic acknowledged behaviors from ‘traditional families’.


In comparison to
children living in single parent households, Steinberg (1987) indicate
adolescents in stepfamily environment are at equal risk in exhibiting irregular
or unusual behavior.

Santrock and Tracy
(1978) researched teacher’s perceptions of family structure in children and
found teachers rated children from single parent households as less joyful,
unable to cope with stress and would exhibit unstable emotions as compared to
other children.


White and Booth
(1985) found that in comparison to first marriages, the quality and stability
of the role of stepchildren prompts family complexity in remarriage. Results in
participants whom stated negative marital quality measures in marriages with
stepchildren demonstrate positive attitudes towards divorce in remarriages with
stepchildren. Though some of the social stigmas for the expression and for
divorces have been reduced, remarriages and stepfamilies are commonly referred
to as ‘broken homes’. The use of the term ‘step’ nevertheless elicits limiting
effects towards individuals.


In 1994, Morgan
claimed a reduction in the negative stigma of concepts such as ‘single parent
families’ and ‘lone parent families’  



The prevalent
ideologies and myths of stepfamilies predetermine the relationship and dynamics
of the structure and form of stepfamilies as a whole.

Troilo and Coleman
(2008) found evidence of a decreasing trend in the social stigma associated
with stepfamilies.


It is important to
consider the evolvement of family diversity and the changes that have been
developed. Including awareness of the increase in complexity of family
structure, and the increase of children in stepparent or single parent
families. No matter what structure or form of the family, different types of
difficulties may emerge.