“Modern families are complicated things. Siblings, half siblings, stepparents, stepcousins, what have you. You can’t pick who you’re born to, that’s for sure.”
― Cherie Priest
DID YOU GROW UP WITH ONE OR MORE STEPPARENTS? According to the *Pew Research Foundation, as of 2011 more than four in ten American adults had at least one step relative in their family. And you can be pretty sure the number has increased since then. In 2016, 8 percent of children living in two-parent families lived with a stepparent — most often with their biological mother and a stepfather.
Some other statistics to consider: Three out of four people who divorce remarry. And almost half of all marriages today are second marriages for at least one of the partners. A high percentage of these marriages involve children from a previous marriage, creating a blended family with all the new and complex relationships that entails.
There’s no doubt about it: stepfamilies are an established part of our family culture.
And yet, our relationships with our stepparents are rarely recognized. Except in stories as “the wicked stepmother,” or “evil stepfather.” And sure enough, there are a few of those. But in real life, your stepparents are usually just people doing their best to fill a role in the family.
So, just as with your biological parent, it’s worth taking time to explore and write about your relationship to your stepparent and how that relationship has affected other relationships in your life.
Note: If you had more than one stepparent — either through both parents remarrying or one parent remarrying multiple times — use the following prompts to write about each person separately.
Journaling Prompts about Stepparents
- How old were you when your stepparent came into your life? What was your reaction at the time?
- How have your feelings toward your stepparent changed over time?
- How would you describe your relationship with your stepparent?
- Write a list of your stepparent’s characteristics, including physical, emotional, psychological, habits, mannerisms, etc. Make the list as long as you can — 100 items. Keep listing (it’s okay to repeat) until no more characteristics come to mind. Next, review the list, noticing recurring images and themes. Write about what you notice.
- What were your stepparent’s strengths? In your opinion, what did he or she get right? How did these strengths influence you?
- What were your stepparent’s failings? What did he or she get wrong? How did these failings influence or affect you?
- If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you would change about your relationship with your stepparent?
- Write a letter to your stepparent telling him or her everything you’ve been holding back from saying. How do you feel having gotten all that off your chest?
- What’s the biggest gift you could have given your stepparent?
- In what ways has your relationship with your stepparent affected or influenced your relationships with others?
Deepen the Exploration
Deepen your understanding of your feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs about your relationship by repeating what you’ve written using key phrases. Decide which phrase to use, then repeat it until you feel that you’ve gotten to the core of an issue using the following form:
- What I mean by __________ is . . .
I might write, “Whenever I think of A, I feel guilty.” I select the first key word or phrase (“guilty”) and continue with, “What I mean by guilty is self-recrimination, as though I have not acted the way I want or am expected to. Then, I follow up on the first statement by choosing the next key word or phrase (“expected”) and writing, “What I mean by expected is that I feel pressure to be more like B than who I really am . . .,” and so on.
What stands out most to you about your relationship with your stepparent?