These children are likely to have a parent living elsewhere, with whom the children have a continuing relationship

Young people report significantly higher levels of conflict in stepfamilies and lone-parent families than in intact families. Stepfamilies in particular create new sources of tension. Living in a stepfamily is not easy. In addition to all the challenges of ilies involve numerous pressures and tensions from raising children who have different parents. Numerous issues can arise in terms of forming a single family unit, including discipline, issues about financial provision for the different children, and difficulties in relationships between the children. There can also be issues of resentment of step-children and competition for time and attention. Children from stepfamilies are less likely to complete year 12 at school than children in intact families or with a lone parent.

Children’s safety

The loss of family stability in turn has effects in relation to children’s safety. Children, and especially girls, are at much greater risk of sexual abuse from the presence of men living in the household who are not biologically related to them than from their own fathers. For example, Diana Russell’s landmark study of 930 women in San Francisco found that one in six girls who had grown up with a stepfather were sexually abused by him. In contrast, one in forty girls were abused by their natural father. Similar results have emerged from other studies.

“Extrapolating from available data, the results indicated a considerably greater risk represented by stepfathers than by genetic fathers. At least five times as many children live with genetic fathers, while the raw frequencies of filicide were roughly equal in the two groups. A most liberal estimate for the prevalence of stepmothering (5%) also suggested that stepmothers represent a substantially greater risk of filicide.”

There is a much higher likelihood of child protection services needing to be involved with a family if the children are not living with two married biological parents.


The ramifications of this are considerable, and not just for the mental health of children and young people. The instability of family relationships affects us all. The inability of so many to form and maintain stable relationships is likely to lead to a much greater level of loneliness as people age. This is a problem particularly after they have left the workforce, since work provides some degree of community. Relationship breakdown affects people’s finances. It can have devastating impacts upon people’s wealth and capacity to care for themselves in retirement. Women with the care of children who do not re-partner after a relationship breakdown are especially vulnerable.

It even affects people’s sex lives. The sexual revolution was meant to lead to a much freer attitude to sex, more availability of sex with more partners. The old joke was that the only people who are not having sex are married people. The real picture though, is much more complex. A satisfying sexual relationship involves a continuing partner. Sex and the City presents one view of the world but it is probably not what most people experience. The evidence from many countries is that people are having less sex than they used to.

I believe it is essential that as church leaders, we work to re-evangelise the flock, to persuade Christians afresh of the wisdom of Christian teaching on sex, ily life more generally.

Another ramification is in terms of fertility rates. People are waiting much later than 30 years ago to marry or form de facto relationships in which to bear children. If those relationships prove unstable, then women of child-bearing age may find themselves without a partner or struggling as a single parent at a time when they would like to have more children than they have.

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