We have all heard the fairytale stereotypes about evil stepparents.  The common expert explanation was that parents have a natural evolutionary tendency to favor their biological children over stepchildren.  An interesting new study turns that narrative on its head.

The team of researchers and anthropologists studied historical records in Utah, looking at 400,000 people.  This study did not make the usual comparison of stepchildren to biological children.  Instead, the researchers looked at children who had lost parents, comparing those whose parents had remarried to those without stepparents, looking specifically at mortality rates.

The researchers found that (a) loss of a parent, particularly the loss of a mother for infants, increased the likelihood of mortality for the children, (b) stepchildren had no greater risk than children without stepparents, and (c) stepchildren enjoyed a higher survival rate than their later-born half-siblings.  

In other words, stepparents can help their children recover from and even overcome the loss of a parent.  As the lead researcher phrased it, “"The metrics of what makes a family successful -- household stability, relationship stability and economic stability -- are achieved by stepparents investing in their stepchildren to make that a reality.”

The study is a good reminder that it is possible to help our non-biological children overcome even devastating losses.   We know that the task isn’t easy, but it is good to know that it can be done.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.