Variability in Relational Histories, Individual Life Courses, and Interpersonal Bonds

Tenet 8. Stepfamily Members Have Different Family Histories

Another unique characteristic of stepfamilies is that the members do not share a family history. Adults in first marriage families enter marriage with individual family-of-origin histories, but they go on to develop a mutual family culture with its own rituals and shared history. Children raised in first marriage families are socialized into that common family culture and they share the history. Consequently, in first marriage families there is a collective past and expectations for a common future that contributes to a sense of family bonds and the creation of a family identity that feels normal and natural (Gold & Adeyemi, 2013).

Stepfamilies not only have to figure out new patterns of interacting but they must do so while struggling to develop a common sense of family, a mutual identity as a unit (Papernow, 2013). The absence of family rituals and shared rules for conduct, two dimensions of family life that are taken for granted and frequently go unnoticed in first marriage families, results in feelings of artificiality for stepfamilies (Gibson, 2013). In stepfamilies, the parent and child(ren) have mutual experiences and collective recollections of a family life that does not include the stepparent (and any children he or she may have). This is important, not only because some stepfamily members are excluded from “remember when ...” stories, but because different relationship histories can result in patterns of living and relating that seem odd to those who were not involved in developing those patterns (Baxter, Braithwaite, & Nicholson, 1999; Gibson, 2013). This merging of different family cultures can create misunderstandings and confusion, and, if not resolved, may result in a chronic sense that family interactions feel awkward or unnatural in the stepfamily (Goldner, 1982). Unless expectations are clearly communicated and individuals are willing to be flexible, misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions will likely occur.

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