A comparison of childless stepmothers and stepmothers with children: The significance of role salience and role strain in marital and psychological well-being
DeSio, Amanda Rene
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Research shows that stepparents experience considerable amounts of stress (e.g., Brady, Bray, & Zeeb, 1986), particularly stepmothers (Booth & Dunn, 1994; Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994). The current study examined the effects of stepparent stress on stepmothers' mental health, marital satisfaction, and life satisfaction. Childless stepmothers (CSM) were compared to stepmothers with children (SWC) to identify key differences between these groups of stepmothers. No prior studies comparing these groups are known. Results indicated that the 337 stepmothers in this sample are not experiencing clinical levels of mental health difficulties (i.e., anxiety, depression), and they exhibit typical levels of marital satisfaction and life satisfaction. CSMs reported lower marital satisfaction, higher role captivity, higher exclusion from their partners' relationships with the stepchildren than SWCs. SWCs reported higher role ambiguity for the stepmother role than CSMs. Most notably, CSMs reported higher role salience for their occupations, while SWCs reported higher role salience for the role of parent. Among CSMs, the desire to have children was significantly correlated with role salience for the role of parent. This suggests that there may be two subgroups of stepmothers: those who desire to have children, and those who are intentionally child-free. Trends in the data were also noted, with CSMs reporting higher self-esteem and lower life satisfaction than SWCs. These differences between group means on these variables approached but did not achieve statistical significance. The findings indicate that, although CSMs and SWCs indicate the same level of overall stepparent role strain, there are differences between the groups in terms of type of role strain experienced, marital satisfaction, and life role salience.