Dissonant relationships to biological parents and stepparents and the well-being of adult children

Maaike Hornstra*, Matthijs Kalmijn, Katya Ivanova

*Corresponding author for this work

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We examined the importance of adult children’s ties with biological parents and stepparents for well-being in adulthood. We particularly focused on situations in which adult children are not close with the new partner of their biological parent, their stepparent. Following balance theory, it is straining to be in an unbalanced pattern (i.e., close to biological parent, not close to stepparent). Firstly, we studied how many adults are close to their biological parent only (dissonance), to both the biological parent and stepparent (positive consonance), or to neither parent in the stepfamily household (negative consonance). Secondly, we examined if the ties to biological parents and stepparents - as well as, the patterns between the two ties - were associated with the subjective well-being of the adult child. The OKiN data was used, which includes N = 1,477 adults with a stepfather and N = 1,274 adults with a stepmother. OLS regression models suggested that parent-child ties were important for depression and loneliness in adulthood, although associations with stepmother-child ties were insignificant. Moreover, the prevalence of dissonant ties was low, but the consequences for depression and loneliness were considerable. A distant or conflictual stepparent-child tie attenuated the benefits of having a close tie with the biological parent. Consequently, adult children in dissonant patterns are not necessarily better off in terms of well-being than those in negative consonant patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481–504
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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