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Sibling Relationships

Stepsiblings And Half-siblings

Half-siblings. The number of households that include either a half- or stepsibling increased 21.4 percent between 1980 and 1990 (Statistical Abstract of the United States 1994). Demographers predict that 33 percent of all children will live with a stepparent before the age of eighteen, and the predominant type of family form will be a stepfamily by the year 2010 (Visher, Visher, and Pasley 1997).

Stepsiblings. When children from different family backgrounds are brought together to live in the same household, the new situation contains more ambiguities and fewer guidelines than exist for full brothers and sisters who live in first-marriage families. For example, they generally have had few opportunities to get to know and adjust to one another before living together; remarried family boundaries are more fluid and children may come and go, visiting a parent, perhaps moving in for a period of time; stepsiblings have no shared family "history" that helps to develop common habits, values, customs, and expectations; and changes in family size, place in the family, status, and role expectations may precipitate strong emotional reactions in children. However, children tend to be adaptable and, in general, stepsibling relationships are characterized by positive affect even though they are not as close as those of full siblings (Ganong and Coleman 1995). Marilyn Ihinger-Tallman (1987) proposed seven conditions under which stepsiblings develop positive feelings for one another: frequent contact; shared experiences; family conditions fostering intimacy and interdependency; similarities in age, sex, values, and family culture; mutual benefit from association; perceived equality or equity of the children's changed circumstances and new living arrangements; and a minimum of competition over scarce resources (e.g., parental time).

According to Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman (1994) half-siblings who live together commonly call themselves brother and sister, rarely using the term half. Only when children have little to do with each other (i.e., they do not share vacations or other time together) do they tend to use the term half-sibling. Anne Bernstein (1997) proposed several factors that help develop strong relationships between half-siblings. These include a parental remarriage that is well established; a larger age gap between half-siblings; a shared residence; fewer children belonging to each spouses; sharing a mother as opposed to sharing a father; same sex; and similar temperaments.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelatives & Extended FamilySibling Relationships - Sibling Similarities And Differences, Siblings In Non-western Cultures, Sibling Relationships Across The Life Span