Transitioning to stepfamily life: the influence of closeness with biological parents and stepparents on children's stress


family, parent–child relationships, stepchild, stepfamily, stress


Family transitions, such as stepfamily formation, can be a source of stress for adults and children. Yet, the stepfamily literature lacks a focus on factors that influence child stress levels while transitioning to stepfamily life. Using a social support perspective, the purpose of this study was to assess the independent and additive influence of closeness with three common parental figures on retrospective reports of stress experienced by children during stepfamily formation. A sample of 1139 emerging adults from a retrospective, US‐based national quota sample, the Stepfamily Experiences Project, was analysed. Results indicated that parental relationships have independent, not combined, effects on stress. More specifically, we found that greater closeness with resident stepparents and resident biological parents was associated with less stress in children, whereas greater closeness with non‐resident biological parents was associated with slightly greater levels of stress. These findings reflect (i) the primacy of residential relationships in children's stress reduction; (ii) the benefit of parental relationships to children as sources of social support during stressful family transitions; and (iii) the potential for children to experience stressful loyalty binds during stepfamily formation. Implications for social work practice, limitations and future directions for research are discussed.

Original Publication Citation

Jensen, T.M.*, Shafer, K., & Holmes, E.K. (2017). “Transitioning to Stepfamily Life: The Influence of Closeness with Biological Parents and Stepparents on Children’s Stress.” Child & Family Social Work, 22(1): 275-289.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Child & Family Social Work




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor