Blended families feel the strain as Christmas piles on pressure

Step-mums have it worse than step-dads when it comes to getting on with their step-children, according to research out today from charities Relationships Scotland and Relate. The charities' Happy Families? report shows that 65 per cent of step-dads reported good relationships with their step-children compared to just 57 per cent of step-mums. The findings come as the charities anticipate a rise in the number of people contacting them for relationship support in the New Year, as Christmas piles on additional pressure.

Carrie Webb, Communications Officer, Relationships Scotland

The report, which analyses a survey of more than 5000 people in the UK also shows that parents’ relationships with stepchildren are of notably lower quality than with their biological children. Overall, just 61 per cent of step-parents reported good relationships with their step-children in contrast to the 91 per cent who reported good relationships with their own children.

Relationships Scotland is anticipating a peak in calls for counselling and mediation services, as families’ strains are compounded by Christmas clashes. Blended families, or stepfamilies, can find the festive season especially stressful. The seemingly simple decision of how to spend Christmas Day can become a logistical nightmare and cause for stress.

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Stuart Valentine, chief executive of Relationships Scotland, said “This report reminds us that relationships are the beating heart of our lives. We share the most important times in our lives with our family, friends and loved ones, whether they be times of great happiness or great sadness. The quality of our relationships will also in large part determine how we see our lives as a whole. People who report that they have a high quality of relationship with others are also more likely to say they have higher levels of contentment and fulfilment in their lives. These findings reveal some of the challenges faced by relationship breakdown and blending families. It is a cause for concern when step-parents are struggling to create meaningful relationships with their stepchildren. 11 per cent of the UK’s familiesare made up of stepfamilies with dependent children. Across the UK that’s over half a million families. In Scotland we need to offer more support and advice to step-parents and their families.”

Rosanne Cubitt, Head of Mediation at Relationships Scotland, said: “Step-mums can find it particularly difficult to establish a good relationship with their stepchildren and they are more likely to face rejection than step-dads. Stepchildren can feel overwhelmed and confused by an expectation that they will get on with new family members.

“A key piece of advice for step-parents is to build your relationships around activities and interests, and leave the ‘parenting’ to mum or dad. And be patient. Children adjust to changes at their own pace – give them plenty of time and space. Christmas can be a challenging time when issues come to the surface. It is also an opportunity to create new family traditions. If you’re experiencing any difficulties, we’d urge you to contact us at the earliest possible stage.”

Happy Families? is the second in a series of reports from a major piece of research by Relate and Relationships Scotland. Over 5000 UK adults were surveyed as part of The Way We Are Now study, providing a unique window into the current state of the nation’s relationships.

Carrie Webb, Communications Officer at Relationships Scotland