Stepparenting: A comparative study of community perceptions towards stepparenting, stepparents’ personal experiences and coping strategies used by rural and urban stepparents: The Case of Gutu and Harare
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Much has been said in the media and documented about stepparents elsewhere. However, little is known about the psychological experiences of stepparents caring for stepchildren in Zimbabwe. Most of the research that has been done was Eurocentric and utilised quantitative approaches to investigate the social, economic and legal challenges bedeviling stepfamilies and stepparents. The main aim of the present study was to explore, using a qualitative grounded theory approach, the community perceptions towards stepparenting and coping strategies used by stepparents in Gutu and Harare. A total of 20 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), 30 keys informant interviews (KIIs), and 30 in-depth narrative interviews (IDNIs) were conducted with members of the general populace, key informants and stepparents respectively in Gutu and Harare. The grounded theory (GT), Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), Thematic Narrative Analysis and the Qualitative Software Research (QSR) NVivo Version 2.0, guided and assisted in data analysis. The findings of the study highlight the negative perceptions, which the rural and urban communities hold against stepparents. Stepfamilies and stepparents were viewed as disintegrated entities, and stepparents were perceived as incapable of true love toward stepchildren. The behaviour of stepparents on the other hand was characterised by self–monitoring. Chief among the perceived stepparenting stressful issues was introducing stepchildren to others, perceived spousal cheating, being called or addressed by the ex-spouse’s name, being a stepparent versus being a biological parent, legal issues like dispossession of property, relocation following divorce, offering social support to a spouse embroiled in legal contests with an ex spouse, stepchild caring fatigue and coping with in-laws. The results also revealed that not only do stepfamilies experience stressful events, but happy moments too. The stepparents reported using interim coping strategies, adaptive coping strategies, preventive coping strategies, corrective coping strategies and passivity (which signaled failure to cope and adopting helplessness). The stepparents were also reported to use, obliging, avoiding, dominating and compromising as coping strategies. The study highlights the importance of offering support to stepparents. There is need to advocate for fair treatment of stepparents and stepchildren and to improve stepchild-stepparent relationships. The setting up of a Stepfamily Association in Zimbabwe can be a giant step towards understanding and meeting the needs of the stepfamily. A stepfamily discussion forum can be the starting point.