Blended families today are more like to divorce than stay together. Two-thirds or more will break up – most of these in the first five years. As a Family Dynamics Researcher I know it doesn’t have to be that way. The more we understand, the more tools we have to help families succeed, so I launched a study to better understand this challenging family dynamic. Using Stepdadding.com as a research platform we crafted a survey to measure the little-understood factors that lead to the high divorce rate. Below are the results.
The questions were designed to measure several things, which included:
1) The effect kids’ ages have on marriage & divorce
2) Things that surprised men when they married single moms
3) The largest stress-causing factors in these relationships
4) Why couples break up
5) How many families are truly “blended” -meaning both parents bring kids into the relationship
Here’s What We Found
Overview of the Survey Group
- 82.81% were still in the relationship
- 9.38 percent were not
- 7.81% were estranged or regarded the situation as “complicated
The top responses:
- Disagreements over how to raise the kid(s) 61.54%
- Having feelings of being unappreciated 61.54%
- Arguments or turmoil -not related to other subjects listed in the poll 38.46%.
- His parent role was undefined 30.77%
- Problems with the biological father 30.77%
- Out of control kid(s) (hers) 30.77%
- Being overwhelmed by having an instant family 15.38%
- Infidelity by one or both partners 15.36%
Other Important Results
- 75% of respondents said they did not bring children into their new marriage
- 18% of respondents said they had bio-kids but they didn’t live with them full time
- 7% of respondents said they had bio children who lived with them full time
- 77% had two or fewer step children
- 55% reported they took an active role in parenting usually
- 39% reported they took an active role sometimes
- 8% reported they took an active role “rarely” or “not at all”
- The most commonly reported age of a stepchild at the time of marriage was four years old. 22% of respondents said their new wife had a four year old (though in most cases there were other children as well)
- The most common age grouping was between the ages of two and seven years old
- The smallest kids’ age grouping was less than a year old (3.17) and one to two years old (1.59%). These were followed closely by kids ages seventeen (3.17%) to eighteen (4.76%).
Regarding #8, 9 & 10
Less than 1/5 of Stepdads have kids of their own when they marry a single mom. Of these less than 1/10 of the men bring a child into the relationship as a full-time parent. Because of this most families aren’t really “blended”. In about 80% of blended families the only new addition is the Stepdad. It shouldn’t surprise us that many of these men report feeling like the odd man out.
Regarding #2 & 3Men seem more likely to marry women with younger kids. This result may be because men prefer not to marry women with older kids, or it may simply be women with younger kids are more likely to be looking to remarry. Only more research can we know for sure what effect kids’ages have on marriage and divorce.
All respondents agreed conflicts between each other’s kids was not a contributing factor to their break ups
Of the divorced men who participated there were some important findings.
- 61.54% reported they left their wives
- 15.38% reported their wife was the one who chose to leave
- 23.08% reported “it’s complicated” (indicating it may have been by mutual agreement)
The current stats I’ve found on divorce in the US shows women are nearly twice as likely as men to request a divorce*. The 2012 poll shows Stepdads leaving marriage at double the rate of traditional marriages. That makes us wonder what’s making men so willing to quit.
Of those no longer together there seems to be a pattern of the kids being older at the time of marriage. Marrying a single mom with children 16 and older appears to put a heavier burden on the marriage. These are very preliminary findings. If these results prove to be true it will give men another factor to weigh when deciding if they want to marry a single mom. We’ll make an effort to look deeper into the issue as our research continues.
Surprise – Surprise
We asked the respondents what things surprised them most about being a Stepdad. The men were allowed to list any and all that applied. Seventy percent of them agreed “having the feeling of being unappreciated” was the top issue.
Men in traditional marriages share this same complaint –but at a much lower rate. This could be because bio-dads have a better sense of their role as parent. Stepdads aren’t always sure of their role –and they deal with issues bio-dads don’t have to. Many report they’re surprised by problems they hadn’t considered before marriage.
- Their parenting role was undefined
- Disagreements over how to raise the kids
- Being a Stepdad was harder than expected
These are especially important facts. It shows that most men aren’t prepared for the challenges they encounter when they become Stepdads. Most don’t know what their role is supposed to be. This leaves them feeling disconnected. Many bio moms and Stepdads have conflicting vision of how he’s supposed to help with the kids. If there’s no discussion about it, he’s left to guess his role. Communication is the key. It’s hard to fulfill her expectations if you don’t know what they are. Without a clear plan stress and frustration can build. Husbands begin to feel unappreciated. This all leads arguments and over the kids. These men openly admit they didn’t expect it to be so hard to be a Stepdad.
No man has to marry a single mom. Men who become Stepdads are free to choose. Most don’t realize how difficult it will be. Many men will make this decision with their hearts, not their heads. By weighing the facts before marriage men can make an informed decision. Those who realize they aren’t cut out to be a Stepdad avoid the pain of divorce. They also spare the children the anxiety of a dysfunctional home and the pain of losing a parent figure.
Knowledge is power. Understanding what’s on the road ahead will help many avoid a painful journey. In the end, the kids benefit from the adults making a smart decision.
Stacey James Wheeler Founder of Stepdadding.com Author of The Stepdad's Guide - Resolving Family Conflict