Divorce changes family dynamics, relationships, living situations, and more. It’s also apparently leading to significantly larger families.
With the holidays all too fresh in your mind, you may still be recovering from trying to schedule festivities with new in-laws, stepchildren, kids who live with their other parent, and more. It’s a juggling act this time of year, but it’s symbolic of a larger overall trend.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts examined recent data and found that divorce has an intriguing impact on family size. They recognized that roughly one-third of all American households headed by adults under 55 have at least one stepparent. For couples over 55 who have adult children, 33 percent have at least one stepchild.
Not only do these shifting dynamics have a substantial effect on family relationships, they also have a big impact on family size. According to the findings, “among households headed by married couples with adult children, stepchildren increase the total number of children by 66%.”
In the U.S., 29% of all marriages involve one spouse who has been married before. And while the overall divorce rate is down, the divorce rate for people over 50 has more than doubled over the last 20 years. With remarriage so common, many of these new unions create stepfamilies.
Another recent study found that “Roughly 40% of middle-aged and older couples with children were in stepfamilies.”
Related Reading: Surviving the Holidays for Divorced Dads
Impact of Changing Family Dynamics
This changing family dynamic not only increases family size, it complicates relationships in a number of ways. Whereas once kids traditionally had a mother and a father, it’s much more common to also have a stepmother or stepfather. This divides time, attention, and focus, among other concerns.
We mentioned the scheduling struggles around the holidays. That’s one particular hurdle, but that also plays out on a larger, continuous scale. When it involves children, you have to consider things like who arranges child care, scheduling visitation and vacations, where health care comes from, and even who pays for college or continuing education.
As a parent and a spouse, this puts you in a precarious position. Do you provide for your biological kids first or look after your stepchildren? Do you have the resources to do both? What can or will your ex contribute? These questions need answers at some point.
Not only do stepparents face different challenges, stepchildren also encounter a unique set of questions. When it comes to caring for aging parents, where does your loyalty or obligation lie? Do you take care of biological parents or stepparents? In some cases, step kids wind up providing for more people than they would otherwise. They may ultimately spread themselves and their finances too thin.
Related Reading: Who Pays for College After Divorce?
How to Contend With Larger Families
These are big questions, but like so many big questions, the answers vary from one situation to the next. No two families, regardless of the make-up, are exactly the same. Many biological families fight like badgers and find themselves estranged. On the other side of the coin, many stepfamilies form warm, loving, caring units. In the end, how things play out boils down to individual relationships and resources.
Over time, family units and the definition of a family have continued to evolve. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon. And what constitutes family to one person isn’t necessarily the same for another. No matter what, families are complex organisms full of complicated relationships.
More than anything, these are things to keep in mind as you marry, divorce, remarry, have kids, become a stepparent, and beyond. They’re complications that may arise and questions that may eventually require an answer. You may need to set a few extra places at the dinner table, plan for an additional college tuition, or even consider what to do with your parents as they age.
Related Reading: 5 Psychological Factors that Predict Divorce