The Myth of the Stepmonster: A Qualitative Exploration Of The Stepmother Experience in a Complex Stepfamily System

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)



Date of Award

Summer 2014


Stepfamilies are a common and growing family system in the United States, with an estimated 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every day. Stepfamily systems come in many shapes and sizes. The focus of this study is on the complex stepfamily, one in which both partners bring children to the marriage. Complex stepfamily systems have been shown to be the most difficult to navigate and meld of all the types of stepfamilies. Complex stepfamily systems include multiple households and require extensive boundary negotiation. The role of stepmother has been identified as the most ambiguous and stressful in the stepfamily system, yet it is the least researched. There are an estimated 13 million women currently filling the role of stepmother. The purpose of the study is to take a qualitative look at the lived experience of 10 stepmothers from complex stepfamily systems. The study used an interview format with open-ended questions to study the phenomenon of stepmother development in complex stepfamily systems.


Stephen Freeman

Subject Categories

Counseling | Social and Behavioral Sciences