Stepfamily Relationships Affect Elder Caregiving PlansPosted on November 19, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog
Stepfamily Relationships Affect Elder Caregiving Plans
As American families increasingly become aware of the time and costs of elder caregiving, recent research has found that the quality of the relationship between stepchild and step-parent factors into a family’s elder care plans.
Amy Ziettlow, at the Institute for Family Studies, completed a study on how stepchildren contribute to the pool of people who will take care of the older generation. More than 40 percent of American adults have a step-relative in their family, and about 20 percent of Zietlow’s 63-person sample included a step-sibling in their caregiving plan.
Ziettlow believes that the stepchild and step-parent relationship will impact future elder care plans. Her research cites Lawrence H. Ganong and Marilyn Coleman’s Changing Families, Changing Responsibilities, which found that elder care was often viewed as an “informal debt” the stepchild needed to repay to the step-parent for taking care of them when they were a young child. In correlation, Ziettlow’s own research sample responses often included comments about the importance of honoring parents.
One of her samples, Kendra, was primary caregiver of a stepfather.
“Throughout her 50 years of life, Kendra had known several stepfathers, but she recalled that she and Jimmy just clicked. They stayed in touch even after he and her mom divorced,” Ziettlow said.
Kendra commented, “I considered him (Jimmy) my dad.”
Kendra and Jimmy’s stepfamily relationship seemed to be reciprocal as Ziettlow explained, “They both enjoyed working outside and fixing up the house together. When she was in between jobs, he helped support her financially and connected her to his professional network.”
In her research, Ziettlow also emphasizes additional findings in Ganong and Coleman’s research titled “Attitudes Regarding Filial Responsibilities to Help Elderly Divorced Parents and Stepparents,” which was published in the Journal of Aging Studies.
One portion of the study found that the most influential factors for a child or stepchild helping with elder care was the overall quality of the child-parent relationship.
“Despite geographical distance, acuity of need, level of ability, and length of relationship, if the quality of the relationship was deemed warm or close, the grown child offered care,” Ziettlow wrote.
While stepfamily relationships can add to the quality of elder care, they can also complicate matters.
“Sometimes remarried partners and adult stepchildren come to consider each other ‘family,’ and sometimes they don’t,” Carey Wexler Sherman, research investigator at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, told the Right at Home organization. “Ambivalent feelings among family members may carry over in all kinds of ways when a step-parent needs help providing care for an aging parent.”