study shows the median remarriage interval to be approximately three years (Chamie & Nsuly, 1981). This points to one of the stumbling blocks for stepfamily formation: The members, both individually and collectively, are not likely to negotiate the grieving stages in the same way, at the same time, and in the same amount of time. This may make family members vulnerable to the changes that occur in stepfamily formation and set the stage for emotional chaos.
Visher and Visher (1979) discuss loss in the context of working with children of divorce in stepfamily formation. They note that while the parents experience losses of their own regarding the marital relationship, the sense of loss in the family is exacerbated by the children’s experience of losing a parent, arousing emotions that become particularly salient around the time of their parent’s remarriage. Visher and Visher note that if the remarriage occurs following a death and prior to completion of the grieving process, the children may be additionally challenged by the perception that their parent is no longer grieving. Truncated grieving and its consequences could occur in remarriage or re-partnering following divorce or relational breakup, as well. An abbreviated grieving process increases the fragility of future, similar attachment bonds.
Issues of hierarchy impact the stepfamily, and may be worsened by unprocessed grief from the sense of loss. Lawton and Sanders (1994) cite Crosbie-Burnett’s (1989) observation that children may experience loss through a status change at their parent’s remarriage, as there are again two adults at the head of the new family. The impact may be stronger for older children, especially around issues of responsibility for younger siblings, household tasks and even decisions affecting the family (Lawton and Sanders, 1994). The higher status once bestowed on a child due to living in a single parent household either disappears, or is challenged by the arrival of the new stepparent, who usurps that status. Now the stepparent is challenged by the children in his/her new role: Executive authority must be re-established at the adult level while creating a sense of caring from stepparent to stepchild (Lawton and Sanders, 1994). That duality of purpose is a great challenge to a new stepparent, and to the stepcouple.
The hierarchical issues also have bearing on questions of loyalty. Discipline and negotiation are new territory for the stepfamily, where some members may have memories of the times their family was defined differently (Visher & Visher, 1995). A frequent stepfamily dynamic relates to the perceived negation of power and authority of the new stepparent, due to lack of biological ties. Papernow (1993) notes that, in spite of the best intentions of a stepparent, his/her input may be held not as helpful, but as an intrusion. This creates a loyalty conflict both for the stepchildren and the stepcouple. The stepchildren feel righteous in maintaining the stance that the stepparent is not their relative and so is rightfully disempowered. The stepcouple experiences trouble when the parental pull toward supporting the child overcomes loyalty to their adult partnership. Papernow (1993) describes the new stepparent as an outsider, a phenomenon that may become salient when this parental pull by biological ties conflicts with the adult relationship. It may further occur when the resident and non-resident biological parents co-parent. Visher and Visher (1979) consider the impact of relational bonds that existed prior to the current relationship, noting that parents may experience a feeling that they are betraying their children when they ally with the stepparent. Further, the new partner may