Starting Over: Stepfamilies
What happens to children when parents remarry? Just as with children of divorced and never-married parents, the picture is complicated. When mothers remarry, the family's financial status may improve, which in turn increases the quality of services and educational opportunities available to the children. However, some groups of children experience greater benefits from remarriage than others. For example, living with a stepfather can increase a boy's chances of finishing high school, attending and graduating from college, and finding subsequent job opportunities. If the stepfamily remains stable over many years and provides appropriate care for the children, it can have a positive effect on children's intimate relationships when they reach adulthood. If children are able to maintain good relationships with both biological parents and stepparents, they can end up with even more access to parenting resources than children with continuously married biological parents (Amato, 1999a; Hetherington et aI., 1998; McLanahan, 1999; Wallerstein et al., 2000).
Most stepchildren seem to have reasonably positive views of their stepfathers. Close relationships between stepchildren and stepparents have positive effects on children's academic achievement and psychological well-being, and introducing a stepparent even in adolescence can be beneficial to children's adjustment (Amato, 1999a; Buchanan et aI., 1996; Hetherington & JodI, 1994). In general, stepparents can have a positive impact on their stepchildren's lives.
But step families also present special challenges. Although remarriage has the potential to increase financial security, there is also the risk that it may worsen children's financial circumstances. Some experts point out that remarried parents, particularly remarried fathers, may feel pressure to provide first for their new spouse's children from a prior marriage or for biological children they have with their new spouse. As a consequence, these parents may decrease financial and/or emotional support to their biological children from a previous marriage, especially if these biological children do not live with them (Wallerstein et al., 2000).
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