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Stepfathers sought for study of their role in the family

Media advisory

Faculty of Science

The University of Auckland

2 September 2013

Stepfathers sought for study of their role in the family

From asserting authority to acting as a friend, stepfathers may adopt a wide variety of roles in their families, and now a University of Auckland study aims to learn more about the roles New Zealand stepfathers take on, and their reasons for doing so.

There are increasing numbers of stepfamilies in New Zealand and, since children often stay with their mother after a divorce or separation, stepfather families are the most common.  But research suggests that stepfamily members can struggle to adapt to a new family situation.  

Stepfathers often report uncertainty about what their new role ought to be, and how stepparent-child relationships should work. On the other hand, some stepfathers have positive experiences of forming relationships with their stepchildren.

The new study, by Clinical Psychology student James Brennan, will focus on understanding men’s experiences of developing their role in stepfamilies, and in particular what influences the kind of relationships stepfathers have with their stepchildren.

“In Western societies there is a lack of prescription for how to parent other people’s children. Studies suggest that children, parents and stepparents often disagree on what the stepfather role should entail, and this lack of consensus underlies important challenges that stepfamilies face,” says James.

“This study will assist in understanding the challenges associated with establishing a role as a stepfather, as well as how successful stepfather-child relationships are formed. Through this research we hope to add to the body of knowledge that is available to guide stepfathers in stepfamilies.”

James would like to hear from men currently living in stepfamily situations, whether married or co-habiting, and whether they have children from a previous relationship or not. Participants in the research will complete an online questionnaire about their experiences of developing a role in their families, and about the influences that shape their relationships with stepchildren. The survey is anonymous and will take about twenty minutes to complete.

To take part in the study or for more information, visit:


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