The stepmother: In search of self

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Alan Goldberg


Stepmother, Self

Subject Categories

Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Student Counseling and Personnel Services


Stepfamilies are quickly becoming the major family constellation of the new century. As men and women remarry and bring their children into a new family environment, understanding of each of the individuals within these blended families takes on new importance. While literature on stepfamilies is on the rise, there is a lack of research drawing on the perceptions of stepmothers.

One way to understand people's perspectives is by hearing the words spoken by the individuals themselves. In this qualitative study, twenty-six stepmothers volunteered to be interviewed about their personal experiences and perceptions regarding stepfamily life. All participants were white, with most being well-educated. Interviews were audiotaped, with later transcription. Data was coded and analyzed, and major themes were identified.

Five stages were apparent in the experiences of most of these women: (1) Idealism; (2) Reality Time; (3) Days of Uncertainty; (4) Hitting Bottom; and (5) Letting Go. Within these stages, issues of defined roles, role confusion, the myth of the wicked stepmother, and societal expectations were identified as particular challenges to the success of the stepmothering of most of these women. The data suggests that stepmothering's being perceived as more successful began when these women reported making choices that involved their own happiness and not just the happiness of others.

Advice for stepmothers from the participants in this study is included. Implications for society and for the counseling profession, as well as suggestions for future research, are included.


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