Summarised by Dr Angharad Rudkin

Child Clinical Psychologist at University of Southhampton

Angharad is an experienced Clinical Psychologist working with children and families. She supports OnlyMums & OnlyDads in delivering accessible summaries of key research around families and the effects of separation and divorce on children and those who care for them.

Stepmothers’ Role In Mediating Adverse Effects On Children Of Divorce.

Cara Zaharychuk (2017) Stepmothers’ Role in Mediating Adverse Effects on Children of Divorce, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage.

Stepmother’ s don’t need to be the wicked villains of fairy tales. Instead, new research shows that stepmother’s have a crucial part to play in helping children adjust to separation and divorce. In her recent review in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage (58:5, 311-328), Cara Zaharychuck from Canada explores the factors that contribute to child well-being following divorce.

Biological mothers need to feel secure in handing over some responsibility to stepmothers.

It is now widely known that divorce in itself is not a guarantee of long-term difficulties in children. There are a huge number of other factors that contribute, with the quality of family relationships playing a big part in how well children adapt to divorce. Dealing with the introduction of a new step-mother is one of these factors. Zaharychuck summarises research showing that spending quality time together, having open communication, and being very clear about roles can help stepmother’s input positively to the blended family. Successful stepmother’s are “accepting, honest and open”.

The clarification of roles and responsibilities is crucial, and this needs to be agreed by all 3 parenting parties – the father, the biological mother as well as the stepmother. Biological mothers need to feel secure in handing over some responsibility to stepmothers, andn this process is aided by open communication and flexibility.

The article goes on to review interventions for children (e.g. KIDS, CoD-CoD, COPE) and for parents (FTTP) that can help with this integration of stepmothers into the family. Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is particularly noted as an intervention to help with the reorganisation of families post-divorce by “creating clearly defined boundaries”.


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