Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Destructive Family Trends - Part 2

After reading about Russia's high divorce and illegitimacy rates, I did a little research on how these trends effect children.

Some years ago, I saw a study (which I will try to track down) that showed the relationship between family circumstance and the likelihood of being a victim of a sexual assault. Children that lived in a home with a stepfather and a working mother were likely to be a victimized at least once before they turned 18. Step parents and siblings were NOT the most common abusers. It was the lack of parental supervision that most put these children at risk. There is no substitute for parental guidance.

However, it should be noted that children are significantly more likely to die at the hands of a stepfather or mother's boyfriend than a biological father. A Canadian study of "The Cinderella effect" found an immense risk of mistreatment of stepchildren in comparison to those living with two genetic parents.

"The available evidence again indicates a large overrepresentation of stepchildren as victims."

An interesting data point: Biological fathers who are married to their children's biological mother are the least likely to abuse their children.

Please note that there are many extraordinary stepparents. There are wonderful adoptive parents. There are also some very scary biological parents out there. But as a rule, children raised in homes with two married biological parents are the least likely to be victims of abuse. It is a statistical fact. Traditional families are the safest place for children. This does not mean that all children in traditional homes are safe or that children in step families are abused.

What it does mean is that children in step families or other nontraditional families are anywhere from 10-300 percent more likely to be a victim of abuse.

A study of of well-established, “successful”, middle class, registered-marriage U.S. stepfamilies, reported disturbing findings:

Only 53% of the stepfathers and 25% of the stepmothers felt able to say that they had any “parental feeling” (much less “love”) for their stepchildren.

Another study of stepfamilies reported a detrimental effect on eduction.

Also of interest in this context is Ferri’s (1984) finding that both the mothers and stepfathers in British stepfamily homes expressed low aspirations for the children’s education, lower even than those of single mothers of lesser means.

The report concluded with this statement:

"Let us stress again that most stepparents try hard to treat their stepchildren fairly, and extreme negative outcomes, despite being much more prevalent than in genetic-parent homes, are infrequent. That said, however, it is also important to recognize that Cinderella is no fairy tale."

So what does this have to do with homeschooling? For most parents, the decision to homeschool is motivated by a desire to give our children a safe place to grow. We make our homes a safe place by investing time and energy into our marital relationship. Anything that jeopardizes a marriage, jeopardizes the safety and education of children.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,


Anonymous said...

Interesting study. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I have always wanted to believe that love for children is not increased by biological connection. Now I have to wonder a little. As a child with two stepparents who married a man who also had two stepparents, I can attest that stepgrandparents go just as crazy over their grandchildren as biological ones do!
Kim from

Janine Cate said...

Some people do have real love and affection for step children and grandchildren. And there are many wonderful adoptive families.

"Love" takes time and effort and is a choice, whether they come from your body or get dropped off on your doorstep.

Hanley Family said...

I think there are many issues here and these sorts of studies always raise more questions for me than they ever answer. Like I wonder if the reason for divorce as anything to do with the statistics. Was the parent unable to form solid, healthy relationships in the first place? Leading to divorce? And to clinging to the next spouse that came along, despite what was in their children's best interest?

How much of the strained relationship has to do with improperly recognizing how much a child grieves over a divorce, no matter how abusive the previous situation might have been. Boys' Town told us during a training that statistically speaking, children and particularly boys did better acasemically and socially in a home with an abusive father than when the parents divorced. That is not to say one should stay in such a relationship, but it does show just how much a child is hurt by divorce. I wish I knew the research they drew upon for that.

That anger will naturally be directed on the step-parent, straining the relationship.

Janine Cate said...

This reminds me of Harry Potter's Aunt, Uncle and cousin. The Aunt and Uncle show their son total preference over Harry Potter. However, I don't think anyone could say the Aunt and Uncle actually love their son. They are not capable of love towards anyone. They do have affection for their son, but that's not the same thing as love. Love requires unselfish actions.

So, maybe the parents who report no parental affection towards their stepchildren don't really "love" their own children either.

alice said...

Families, whether homeschooling or not, need to invest time and energy in the marital relationship. But when marriages fail in homeschooling families, the homeschool is often under threat for economic reasons, which does not apply in schooling families. This can create a lot of extra stress, and sometimes keep people in unhappy marriages.

This is a huge issue with many implications, but we need more than knowledge about strengthening existing marriages in order to solve it. We also need to know much more about good divorce management and ensuring that children do *not* suffer from being step-kids: many children, my own included, regard their "extra" parent as a welcome new addition to the family.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I've seen the same statistics you're talking about, but statistics are of limited value when talking about real people with real relationships.
I think the stats are higher for boyfriends/stepfathers for the same reason that they are higher for any profession where adults have access to other people's kids- predators who like to abuse kids do not hang out where there are no kids.

Some creeps look for a relationship bringing children into the home so that they have good cover and easy access.

It's not really a question about 'can step parents love their step kids?' Of course they can and do- but it's also important to realize that some scoundrels put the rush on a single parent for nefarious reasons, and single parents need to be wary about this.