With re-marriage on the rise, family dynamics are ever evolving—and what it means to be "family" isn't always so clear-cut. Legal or genetic ties, particularly in the case of stepparent-stepchild relationships, are no longer the only indicators of who's obligated to whom.
This is especially true for children whose step-family ends in divorce, according to a study from the University of Missouri College of Environmental Sciences. The study, which considered how stepchildren view their stepparents after a divorce, showed that it largely depends on whether the stepchildren viewed their former stepparents as family. If they did, they were more likely to maintain post-divorce relationships with them. Other factors that affected their views included emotional reactions to the divorce, patterns of support, and parental encouragement or discouragement to continue the relationship.
Forty-one young adults who had experienced family dissolution participated in the study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Half of these participants had considered their stepparents as family at one point or another, and of this half, 50 percent still maintained relationships with their former stepparents. The other half had ended the relationships.
Ambiguity about what step-relationships mean—and whether stepparents are still "family" even after a divorce—adds to the complexity of a stepfamily dissolution.
"In post-divorce families—stepfamilies and former stepfamilies in particular—kinship is an important notion," Larry Ganong, co-chair in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, said in a statement. "People make judgments about whether or not people are 'family,' and if you are, then there's some sort of expectation about interactions, feelings, expectations. If you aren't 'family,' then there's ambiguity. It's stressful, and people are less sure about how to act and feel."
The researchers advise couples to consider the kids during the divorce—especially if the kids are too young to drive—and to remember that what might seem like a relatively short period of an adult's life (say, a five-year marriage) could be a significant fraction of a kid's life. To more fully understand what kids are going through consider these five things kids wish adults knew about divorce.