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Exploring the stepgap : how parents' ways of coping with daily family stressors impact stepparent-stepchild relationship quality in stepfamilies Preece, Melady

Abstract

This research focuses on husbands' and wives' perceptions of parent-child relationship quality in stepfamilies. One goal was to examine the links between parents' ways of coping with family stressors and changes in parent-child relationship quality over time. A related goal was to consider the difference in relationship quality for parents' own children and parents' stepchildren. This difference was referred to as the "stepgap". It was expected that characteristics of the family, characteristics of the children, and parents' ways of coping with family stressors would all have an impact on relationship quality. It was also expected that some of these characteristics would alter the "stepgap". Multilevel analyses of family data (Snijders, 1995) were used to replicate consistent findings in the stepfamily literature and extend them by allowing for the drawing of within-family conclusions. For Time 1 relationship quality, characteristics of children and characteristics of the family were modeled on parents' perceptions of relationship quality with individual children. At both levels, the influence of these characteristics on the "stepgap" was also considered. The initial sample interviewed at Time 1 consisted of 154 couples. Of these, 142 couples also participated at Time 2. Husbands initially rated the closeness and tension they perceived in their relationships with 404 children (191 stepchildren, 213 own children). Wives rated the closeness and tension they perceived in their relationships with 407 children (204, stepchildren, 203 own children). Results provided evidence of a "stepgap" in relationship quality for both husbands and wives. However, results also indicated that relationship quality was affected by child age, amount of time spent in the family home, whether there were children from the current union, and the number of years the stepfamily had been in existence. A subsample of these families (81 couples) also provided daily diary data that were used to explore lagged daily relations between parents' reports of affection and tension with children and stepchildren, and parents' ways of coping with family stress. Three ways of coping relevant for interpersonal stressors were examined: compromise, confrontation, and interpersonal withdrawal. Results provided evidence of a direct relationship between parents' ways of coping with family stress and changes in daily relationship quality in terms of affection from children and tension with children. To link the microlevel and the macrolevel, aggregated variables describing parents' typical way of coping with family stressors across a seven-day period were used to explain changes in relationship quality two years later. Results of these analyses indicated that husbands' and wives' coping predicted change not only in the quality of their relationship with children in the stepfamily, but also affected their spouses' stepgap in relationship quality.

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