COLUMBIA, Mo. - More than 40 percent of Americans have at least one step relative, according to a recent Pew Center study. Relationships between stepchildren and stepparents can be complicated, especially for children. University of Missouri experts have found that stepchildren relate with stepparents based on the stepparents' treatment of them and their evaluations, or judgments, of the stepparents' behaviors.
"It takes both parties - children and adults - to build positive relationships in stepfamilies," said Larry Ganong, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "Children and stepparents should think of it as building a friendship. There's no perfect formula for doing this, and even if stepchildren initially reject their stepparents, it shouldn't be viewed as permanent. Relationships among stepchildren and stepparents can grow in acceptance, friendship and bonding, regardless of how they begin. Negative relationships don't have to last forever."
Ganong and Marilyn Coleman, Curators Professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, identified factors that are related to positive and negative stepchild-stepparent relationships. They found that stepchildren build positive or negative relationships based on their evaluations, or judgments, of stepparents' behaviors toward them and their family. Children also are affected by the opinions and actions of their biological parents and other family members as they develop relationships with stepparents.