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|Step-parents just as important, study finds|
Step-parents just as important, study findsBy Adele Horin
February 12, 2005
Fears that step-parents will replace the absent but biological parent in a child's affections are misplaced, according to research.
Children who establish a good relationship with a step-parent usually have good relations with their non-resident parent, too.
"Children can clearly add parenting figures to their lives without having to substitute or lose any," said Jan Pryor, associate professor of psychology at Victoria University, Wellington.
The research, presented at the Family Matters Conference in Melbourne yesterday, also showed the quality of the relationship between a child and the resident step-parent was vital for the child's self-esteem.
The step-parent was more important than either biological parent in determining how children felt about themselves.
"If you improve that relationship, kids will feel better about themselves, and if you feel better about yourself, you get on better in the world," Professor Pryor said.
However, children's behaviour was shown to be more influenced by the relationships they had with their biological parents.
Based on data from children in 90 step-families, the study revealed that children, on average, rated the relationship with their step-parent significantly lower then either of their biological parents. Step-parents related the relationship even lower.
The findings on the importance of step-parents to children's self-esteem were unexpected given that "most people would assume mothers were more important".
"It's not that they hate these step-parents," Professor Pryor said. But step-parents faced difficulties in building a close and trusting relationship.
Step-parenting was a "vexed and tricky relationship".
They were often resented by children, especially adolescents, who may have spent many years in a close relationship with their mother, in particular.
"The nature of the relationship is determined by what the child wants and how the child behaves," Professor Pryor said.
Step-parents should "hang out" with their step-children, taking them to sport and playing computer games with them rather than being a disciplinarian.
She urged parents to introduce potential step-parents into their children's lives gradually. She said non-resident parents had little to fear about being replaced.
Children usually had either positive or negative relationships
with both step-parent and non-resident parent suggesting that "some
children may be good at building relationships and some are