This week saw the launch of new research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on the current status of the stepfamily in England and Wales.
We learnt that, while more than a million children now live as part of a stepfamily, the total number of such families has actually fallen over the last 13 years, by a not inconsiderable 14 per cent.
The national media took an interest in the findings – amongst them The Times. In an article headlined Step-families are on the wane as lovers run away from their new partner’s children, journalist Rosemary Bennett focused on this decline in the number of stepfamilies and quoted my take on the situation.
People have woken up, the journalist declared, to the difficulties inherent in raising other people’s children and are “making other arrangements”.
One alternative arrangement highlighted by the ONS is continuing to live independently even after entering a new relationship. That’s one way to avoid, or at least minimise, the difficulties and uncertainties of the step parent role.
As I told the journalist, step families are delicate and uncertain things. Born in the sadness and upheaval of a relationship breakdown, Mum or Dad’s new partner may struggle for years to overcome the suspicions and resentments of the both children and their other, absent parent.
Of course, many stepfamilies do learn to get along and some, at least, can be happy affairs. But there is no getting away from the fact that the role of step parent can be a thankless one.
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Photo by Thomas Leth-Olsen via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence