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Review: Portraits Of Stepfamily Life In Popular Literature

K. Parsley & M. Ihinger-Tallman. (1985). “Portraits of stepfamily life in popular literature: 1940-1980.”¬†Family Relations, 34, 527-534.


According to the study

Remarriages and the creation of stepfamilies are not new phenomena in the United States. Until this century, however, almost all remarriages were preceded by widowhood. But in 1970, 87% of brides remarrying did so after divorce while only 13% were widowed. While the majority of persons who get divorced eventually remarry, the majority of persons who remarry eventually divorce.

The fact that remarriages terminate at a slightly higher rate suggests that people still have trouble sorting through their affairs.

Stress, most likely, is higher the second time around. There are more issues involved. Children are usually a part of the picture. There is often no honeymoon in a second marriage. As well, finances to support two households may be challenging. And many values are already set in each household may clash, such as differences in child rearing, politics, religion, recreation, holidays, and rituals.

These difficult issues face second marriages. To overcome such obstacles, commitment and knowledge are vital. There are numerous articles and books on this subject. Many clinically trained professionals offer their advice. This article tracks articles written from 1940 to 1980 and compares them through the years. Each decade finds more articles written to help stepfamilies. This article further assesses their content and the tone in which they were written.

In conclusion, “It is evident that writers are becoming more sensitive to the wide variety of problems.” And the increase in number shows our awareness is also increasing. The complexities of life are now viewed more realistically.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Does the fact that more is being written on the subject of stepfamilies imply a negative response-that they need help-or does it imply a positive response-awareness for what is happening in our society?
  2. Do numerous articles help to inform us or do they take up too much of our time?
  3. If you read something helpful, do you generally pass it on to someone else or do you hang on to it yourself?
  4. How can you be more effective at using books and articles that you read?
  5. What will you do differently after reading this article?


  1. Being informed about a topic will help readers to know learn about all aspects of that topic. Generally, most people do not see things the same way. So, if one reads many articles on the same subject, like stepfamilies, it will only help one to be more aware of the issues and struggles that stepfamilies face.
  2. The value of one point is greatly strengthened when there is another with which to compare. Therefore, be open to the new twists being thrown onto stepfamilies today. The reason for their becoming a family unit has changed from the turn of this century.
  3. Marriage certainly takes on a new meaning the second time around and when a stepfamily is created. Encourage the institution of marriage when working with such families.
  4. It is essential that youth workers, counselors, and teachers remain stable, positive influences in what promises to be initially an unstable situation for children in stepfamilies.

Anne Montague
© 2018 CYS

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