29 Pages

Confronting Nuclear Family Bias in Stepfamily Research

WithSusan J. Gamache

Assumptions from the nuclear family model permeate our view of the stepfamily (Coontz, 1992; Ganong & Coleman, 1994; Levin, 1993). As researchers, we are situated within a culture that holds the nuclear family as the golden standard against which all other family configurations are compared (Crosbie-Bumett, 1984; Ganong & Coleman, 1984). Post modem philosophers suggest that cultures contain dominant perspectives that exert a powerful influence on how knowledge is constructed (Gergen, 1990; Giddens, 1991; Shotter, 1990; Kvale, 1990; Peavy, 1993). Dominant cultural norms ‘colonize’ those of lesser power, encouraging some perspectives and discouraging others (White & Epston, 1990). Values and beliefs from the dominant perspective distort our vision and cloud our thinking when we attempt to examine experiences of the non-dominant culture. In this way, nuclear family thinking dominates our construction of the stepfamily (Clingempeel, Flescher, and Brand, 1987; Gross, 1986; Levin, 1993). As the stepfamily remains ‘unistitutionalized’ (Cherlin, 1978; Cherlin & Furstenburg, 1994) appropriate social structures are not in place to validate and support it and the nuclear family model remains the cultural standard by default. Continued use of the ‘nuclear family map’ (Ganong & Coleman, 1994; Levin, 1993) masks unique characteristics of 42the stepfamily and encourages misrepresentations of the stepfamily in the stepfamily literature. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ambiguous and often confusing relationship between the stepchild and stepparent.