We are a real family: A Q methodological study on the experience of stepmothers

Roper, Sandra and Capdevila, Rose (2010). We are a real family: A Q methodological study on the experience of stepmothers. Radical Psychology: A Journal of Psychology, Politics, and Radicalism, 9(2)

URL: http://www.radicalpsychology.org/vol9-2/


While stepfamilies are not a new phenomenon, with recent divorce rates, they are now common and more likely to be formed following relationship breakdown rather than death (Pryor, 2004). Stepmothers today have to contend with the wicked stepmother myth, the idealization of motherhood, and gendered notions of parenting, not to mention discourses which position the biological nuclear family as the ideal and, by implication, other forms as deviant. Moreover, the limited previous research suggests greater stress for stepmothers than stepfathers (Nielsen, 1999; Christian, 2005). This study used Q methodology to explore the range of subjective experiences of stepmothers. A diverse sample of 29 stepmothers completed a 61-item Q sort generating six factors or distinct views of the experience of stepmothering. This paper analyses, names and presents these accounts. The results suggest greater variety and complexity of experience than is indicated by previous studies whilst the discussion focuses on the relevance and impact of the culturally dominant narratives mentioned above within stepmothers’ reports of their experience.

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