84 families contacted me with interest about the research and were sent research packs.Each family were asked to hold a family meeting. Each family member was supplied with a pen, a response booklet, and the psychometric measure the Brief FAM III – general scale. It is self report questionnaire which measures how the individual perceives their family functioning. Each family was supplied with an interactive DVD that explained the research and what to do, and to talked them through their family meeting. The DVD went for an hour and allowed time slots where it played music and pictures whilst family members wrote down their responses to other family members presenting their scenario.
Out of the 155 family member participants, and using thematic analysis, we came up with 17 possible themes for participant scenarios. Those tally’s you see on the table are frequencies. I have colour coded in rank order. The light cream is the highest tally for each family member role, the yellow is the second highest tally, and the orange is the third highest.These themes are approximately 93% of all the themes chosen. The rest of them have fewer than 3 participants that had chosen those themes.The first six scenarios are 75% of what overall family participants chose to talk about. As you can also see in this table some situational issues are represented more often depending on family role. An example: the scenario “differential treatment of children” was a more predominant theme with parents that were in a step and biological parenting role, than if they were biological parents only.
Here is a what bar graph looks like. Due to the low numbers of actual stepparents only and biological parents we need to be careful generalising this to the rest of the population. A chi square analysis was conducted on this and showed significance with scenarios chosen were influenced by family role. However, there were less than 5 counts in some of the cell groupings therefore the chi analysis is violated and the significance is not reliable. In our population sample however, some scenarios do seem to be chosen by particular family members more often than others.
Through thematic analysis, we found there were 8 potential resolutions that all the family participants came up with.The second theme that has some of the wording is cut off is communication – where the situation is discussed and accepted.
A chi analysis was used to see if resolutions were more likely to be chosen due to the family role a person had, but again we did not have a high enough sample for this. It came back insignificant anyway. But it is still an interesting graph.
The first quote is from a parent who has two roles in the family. She is both a mother and stepmother. The situation was coded under - household chores, and the resolution was coded under - turns and sharing.I have to admit that doing this research has made me laugh and very sad at times. This situation was coded under – Missing out (this is due to the inequalities that can occur due to holidays, events, and gifts children are either shared between households or one/some of the stepsiblings other biological parents are not involved). The resolution was coded under: compromise. This child’s family compensate by paying a little extra for him at Christmas. Sadly this did occur with a few of the research families. In another family in a similar situation, one stepfather said that it was unfair that the stepchildren were not his own.This third scenario was coded as – Fighting, and the resolution – penance; as the sister got in trouble for her behaviour.
Now this is where the analysis starts to get a little tricky.We have issues with autocorrelations.Each participant will rate emotions of their own scenario, but also feelings with each other member of their family. This number is also dependent on the particular family taking part in the research. Not just 4, but could give up to five sets of emotional ratings depending on the number in their family.These emotions can also differ depending on their role in the family, the scenario itself, and the family role of the person presenting the scenario.
After each family member read their scenario out to the rest of the family, each member would then record in their participant response booklet if they thought the situation was fair or not, and then rate it out of 5.80% of the scenarios and their resolutions were rated as fair, with obviously 20% rated as unfair.The mean ratings for both mostly sat on and above three to five out of 5.
Emotions were rated for the time the situation occurred and again for how the person felt about it during the family meeting.There is the list of emotions they could select from.
This is still undergoing analysis, and we are still deciding on what procedure to use. I can tell you that if we look at all of the family members responses – there is change with the pre and post emotions. Over time negative emotions become less, and acceptance rises. However at present pooling all the scenarios together would mean that each family member would rate emotions more than once in the same analysis therefore causing autocorrelation. I have told this is a bad thing so we may need to figure out what else to do, or how to justify this.
Amongst this sample population we had a look at whether there was a relationship between forgiveness and family functioning as measured by the FAM III brief general scale. Again this analysis is still a work in progress.But for the moment... For our families I looked at all the possible scenarios between family members together (even though we still have an autocorrelation issue here), and it still is interesting to see that forgiveness seems to have a relationship with mean scores in the strengths to excellent functioning range.[significance was .000 using ANOVA]
This first quote is in regards to missing out on activities that the rest of the family does during the week, because she is at her other parents household. This second quote is from a child talking about being asked to do household chores and being asked several times to do them. She also suggested what they should try to do to improve on that situation.This third quote is from a stepchild who lives with 7 other family members. The family had to decide on an age limit on birthday parties (13 years old), as well as only having one on alternating years. This stepson chose that he would forgive his parents for this decision and seemed to understand that it was getting too much for them to keep up.
We used this Family assessment measure – the Brief general scale to help measure family functioning. Each family member filled one out.The majority of the families mean scores were on par with the traditional reference family population in the FAM measure.The average family mean T score was 43.85, which fits just within the increasing strengths range of the FAM scale. An average score would fit around 45-55.
A two-way between-groups analysis of variance was conducted to explore the impact of gender and family role with family functioning (as measured with the FAM III brief general scale). There is no significant difference between males and females but there was with family role, with a medium effect size according to Cohen’s statistical criteria. However, we need to be very careful with generalising this to other stepfamilies, as the gender distribution in these groups was uneven.
This is a small sample of some of the excellent advice written by our family participant members.
Breaking through the “Cinderella Bias” barrier: Stepfamily relationshipsCelia Falchi, Ian M. Evans & Antonia Lyons Massey University, Wellington
Acknowledgements Ian Evans & Antonia Lyons – Supervisors New Zealand Families Commission My Husband Mum (my stepmum Sera) – My inspiration and role model
The Big QuestionDo positive functioning stepfamilies exist?
Because one question is never enough… How do functioning stepfamilies with good step relationships work around everyday issues of fairness? What are the most common everyday situations in these families that result in perceptions of unfairness by children and adults? What resolution strategies are used to resolve their situational issues? Does fairness, emotions, forgiveness and/or acceptance influence family functioning in these families? What advice do they have for other stepfamilies when trying to deal with fairness issues?
Why is this research important? It is helpful to know what to aim towards. It is even more helpful to know how to do this. What has Positive Psychology got to do with it?
What has past research uncovered already? Not too much Fairness matters, and children have a very intense fairness radar!
Factors that contribute to stepfamily success All for one and one for all (Banker & Gaertner, 1998) Spending quality time together and building positive memories (Hutchinson, Afifi, & Krause, 2007) Fairness, acceptance, and forgiveness (Whiting, Smith, Bamett, & Grafsky, 2007) Your child is my family too (Michaels, 2006)
DO YOU HAVE A HARMONIOUS FUNCTIONING STEPFAMILY? ...WELL MOST OF THE TIME!
The Family Participants 40 families (N=155 total family member participants), and consisted of 9 stepparents, 20 biological parents, 47 both a step & biological parent, 79 stepchildren. Lived together between 2-12 years The participant families had between 2 - 6 members taking part in the research This families had between 2 – 8 living in the same household 44 50 35 40 23 24 30 Female 15 20 Male 7 5 10 2 0 Both a step & Stepparent only Biological Parent only Stepchild biological parent
The Task Family Meeting Come up with a situation (fairness situation) and a resolution Have a turn presenting your situation to the rest of the family After each person’s turn (including your own) put your emotional responses into the booklet If the situation was unfair did you forgive? Yes or No. If yes, then why? What would you have preferred to have happen or can be done better next time Any advice for other stepfamilies when dealing with fairness issues? Each family member participant to fill in a Family Assessment Measurement Scale questionnaire (FAM III) (Skinner, Steinhauer, Santa-Barbara, 2005)
Scenarios Stepparent Both only Parent StepchildDifferential treatment of children 9 0 2 13Same rule for all children regardless of age or relationship 8 0 0 6Fighting amongst children 5 1 1 17Lack of a specific support from other famiy members 5 2 4 4Disciplining child for misbehaviour 5 0 3 5Issues around household chores 4 1 0 10Missing out or gaining when at other household or with other 3 1 2 4biological parentPromising to do something, or supposed have, and not doing it 2 1 1 5Disagreement or argument between child and step parent 1 2 1 5Did not come up with a scenario 1 0 0 4Expecting too much of a family member 1 0 3 1
18 16 14 12Frequencies 10 8 6 4 2 Both 0 Stepparent only Parent Stepchild Scenarios
Scenario & Resolutions “Some children are in the house all the time so do more jobs – others ½ the week so I allocate specific jobs during the week” (Step & Biological Parent, Female, 43). “At Christmas time Sarah (stepsister) gets more presents than me…John (father) doesn’t see me. That’s how Sarah gets more presents, cause John hasn’t seen me. Mum and Matthew (stepdad) tries to make up for it. (Stepchild, Male, 10). “ Getting called the worst stepbrother ever by my stepsister then later on gets in trouble for bad language (Stepchild, Male, 11).
Emotions Emotion ratings were rated for when the situation occurred (pre), and again at the time of the family meeting (post). The family member participants were able to select any or all of the following emotions: Happy: Fine: Annoyed: Angry: Sad: Guilty: Nothing: and Acceptance The ratings were from 0 = nothing at all, to 5 = extremely
Emotions 4.0 3.5 3.0Mean Emotion Rating 2.5 2.0 Both 1.5 Stepparent only Parent 1.0 Stepchild 0.5 0.0 Resolutions
Forgiveness FAM-III Mean scores in relation to Forgiveness 50.00 48.00on the FAM III scale 46.00 44.00 Mean scores Mean Scores 42.00 40.00 38.00 Yes No Not applicable Is Forgiveness Granted?
Why forgiveness “Because we have all made it better by doing exciting things on the weekend as well as the week” (Stepchild, Female, 12). “Because it happens a lot of times and we forgive each other…we should try not to moan and groan to each other” (Stepchild, Female, 10). “Because it was hard to keep up with the birthday party’s” (Stepchild, Male, 12)
Family Role Differences 50.00 47.23 46.25 45.20 45.00 41.48 42.00 40.57 38.40 40.00 37.07 35.00Mean FAM T scores 30.00 25.00 Female 20.00 Male 15.00 10.00 5.00 0.00 Both Stepparent only Parent Stepchild Family Member Role
Advice “Anyone who thinks it is easy being part of a stepfamily has got rocks in their heads. It can get very complicated and needs a lot of understanding between the adults. I think the main thing is to treat everyone as an equal. This can be hard sometimes but it is important” (Step & Biological Parent, Male, 43). “Communication is very important. Laugher and family time together is helpful too. Mealtimes should be spent together at the table where each family member can tell about their day. It is important to make each family member feel loved and wanted” (Step & Biological Parent, Female, 48). “Having a stepparent is difficult. Especially when you do not completely get along. You just need to accept that it’s no one’s fault that you are dealt this set of cards, and to just love and accept each other for their roles in the family…be open and honest, because anything that is causing issues may be due to lack of communication” (Stepchild, Male, 15).