Forming A Family: Step-Families

Anne Muir and Adam Navis talk about the family that forms when a person with children marries again – a step-family. This is the first program in a series about forming families.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Anne Muir.

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And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Children love to hear fairy tale stories. There are fairy tales about magic, travel, and even animals that talk. Each of these stories has a hero. The hero is usually a boy or a girl. But in many of these stories, the hero’s mother has died. Then, another woman enters their lives. She marries the hero’s father and becomes the step-mother. But she is not a good step-mother. She is an evil step-mother.

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There is truth to all these old fairy tale stories. There is something bad about step-mothers. Having a step-mother means that something bad has happened to the first mother. It makes sense that a child would see a step-mother as a bad thing. It makes sense that they would like these kinds of stories. But what is the truth? Are step-mothers really evil? Are step-families less loving than other families? Today’s Spotlight is on forming families through step-families.

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Leslie Jamison became a step-mother. And she knew about all the step-mother fairy tales. She wrote for The New York Times about how these stories let children act out their dreams and fears. She described her experience as something different.

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“My relationship with my new daughter was not like the stories. It was not like the story of popular media: that the child hates her stepmother and loves her true mother. Our story was a thousand talks on the train or at the playground. Our story was painting her fingernails. Our story was telling her to take deep breaths when she was angry. Our story began one night when I felt her small, hot hand reach for mine during her favourite film. That first night, when we sang songs at bedtime, she moved over and touched the bed. It was the same bed where her mother rested during the years of her sickness. “You lie here,” Lily told me. “You lie in Mommy’s place.””

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Like Jamison, many step-mothers are full of love and care for their step-children. It does not matter that these children started with a different mother. Step-mothers can care a lot. And it is not just mothers. Step-fathers work hard too.

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Edward Pratt became a step-father when he married his wife. His step-daughter’s first father was still a big part of her life. And things became even more complex. Edward and his new wife had a child of their own. It was sometimes difficult for Edward to know how to act. He wanted his step-daughter to have a good relationship with her father. But he also did not want to be seen as something less than a father to her. It was hard to do. But when his step-daughter grew up and finished college. He wrote that,

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“I was sitting there and so was her birth father. We talked and were as happy for my daughter as any two men could be. That was a great day. I am very lucky because my daughter and I have a great relationship. She calls me ‘father’ to her friends. And she loves her other father. Sometimes she will say that she has two great fathers.”

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But not all stories have a happy ending like this. Being a step-family takes a lot of work. One common problem is that the child does not listen to the step-parent. The child does not see that parent as someone they must obey. This is especially true when the children are teenagers. Linda Carroll wrote for NBC News that,

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“Child development experts say that teenagers often do behave worse for a step-father than for a birth father. If children sense that their mother is not going to give total support to the step-father, the child is more likely to resist.”

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All parents and children have fights. As children grow up, they want control over their own lives. This is not just in step-families.

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But sometimes, step-families are not safe places. People who re-marry too quickly may not know enough about the new person. In the country of Namibia, there are many different family structures. Only 25 percent of children live with both their parents. A 2013 study found that many people had very good relationships as step-families. However, it also said that:

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“People in every part of Namibia thought stepchildren had a higher risk for experiencing physical, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. In particular, sexual abuse of step-daughters by step-fathers was seen as a big problem in the country.”

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Laws can help protect children from bad step-parents. But it is important for a parent who is marrying again to think about how the marriage will affect his or her children.

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All families have problems. But every family has to work on things together. And there are some good things about being in a step-family. Step families know that they need to talk a lot, spend lots of time together, and be patient when things get difficult.

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Many studies have shown that healthy family life depends more on how the parents treat each other than the fact that they are a step-family. This can be difficult because most divorces are not easy. People can feel angry towards each other. This can make it hard to continue to work together to raise children. Virginia Rutter wrote for Psychology Today that,

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“It is all about respect. Both parents must require children and step-parents to treat each other with respect. Only then can connection between them develop. First and second parents must also give one another respect. For their part, the children also need each of the parents to talk to the other parent with respect.”

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If someone is part of a step-family, they will need to work hard on their relationships. They should not think that things will be easy. But it does not mean that things cannot be good. And while evil-stepmothers may still appear in films and stories, most step-parents are trying hard to care for children they love.

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What about you? Are you part of a step-family? Has it been good or bad for you? Tell us about your experiences. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at

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The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Forming A Family: Step-Families’.

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Look for our listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Are you part of a step-family? What do you think is the most important thing for a step-family to succeed?


Avatar Spotlight
said on December 31, 2018

first : happy new year to spotlight staff . second : are good and bad men and women in the world no matter that they are your real mother and father or step family . you must have a good behavior with them .

Avatar Spotlight
Lan Can
said on January 01, 2019

It is not easy to become a stepfather or a stepmother. A child will not accept anyone replace her birth parents. But with love and honesty, they can change their stepchildren’s attitude.
On the concentrary, in some families, it is dangerous for children because of their stepparents’s behavior.
I am lucky when living with my birth parents. But I think in any situations, if we live with selflessness and sympathy, we will have happiness. :)

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 06, 2019

My mother died when I was seven years old. With me there were three more daughters, my sisters, with 1.5, 3 and 5 years, respectively. Our life was not good, but when my father married my stepmother, we were much more unhappy. The argument used mainly by my stepmother was always violence and so living with her was impossible. I left my father’s house when I was only 11 and never came back. Fortunately… Each fact is a fact and think it’s possible will exist different and happy stepfamilies.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 13, 2019

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer the questions below
Date: Sunday 13, January 2019
Local: São Paulo city, São Paulo Brazil.

Dear Michio Ozaki, Adam Navis, and Anne Muir:

Firstly, I want to thank you for bringing us more one great article, thank you.
Question 1 - What about you? Me?
Question 2 - Are you part of a step-family? No, I am not.
Question 3 - Has it been good or bad for you? I am from a first family of the my father and my mother.
Question 4 - What do think is the most important thing for a step-family to succeed? The most important thing that I think for a step-family to succeed is respecting and loving the child.
Thank you.
Your regards,
Severino Ramos