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Stepmother Rejection and Psychological Maladjustment Among Stepdaughters: Mediating Role of Social Competence.

Byline: Sultan Shujja, Najma Iqbal Malik, Adnan Adil and Mohsin Atta

The current study investigated mediating role of social competence between perceived stepmothers' rejection and psychological maladjustment in stepdaughters living in stepfamilies. For this purpose, sample was drawn from different private and public schools of Lahore city through purposive sampling technique. The respondents (N = 141) exclusively belonged to stepmother families and their age ranged from 10-14 years (M = 12.34, SD = 1.01). Stepdaughters perceived their stepmothers less rejecting and showed lower level of psychological maladjustment. Baron and Kenny (1986) approach to test mediation revealed that social competence partially mediated between stepdaughters' perceived stepmother rejection and psychological maladjustment after controlling the effect of demographics. Findings are discussed in cultural context.

Keywords. Stepmother-father families, stepmother rejection, psychological adjustment, stepdaughter-stepmother relationship

Stepfamily researchers report that although stepparents, specifically stepmothers take too much responsibility of care and nurturance of stepchildren even more than their biological parents yet children do not welcome step parental extra care and perceive it as undesirable favor (Cartwright, 2010; Ferri and Smith, 1996). Children in stepmother families appear to be less warm, less interactive, and more aversive in stepmother-child relationship (Hetherington and Jodl, 1994) and perceive stepmothers as rejecting (Shelton, Walters, and Harold, 2008).

It becomes very difficult for the children to accept stepmother because they perceive their stepmothers as sharing partner in time and attention of real father (Bray, 1999).

Golombok and Tasker (2015) demonstrate that far less information is available about influence of stepmother on children's socio-emotional behavior than that of stepfathers. Studies conducted on university students living in stepfamilies reveal that respondents' attitude towards stepmother is less positive than towards biological mothers (Fine, 1986; Planitz and Feeney, 2009). In the same stream, qualitative research investigated attitude of adult stepdaughter towards stepmothers and it was found that stepdaughters gave more favorable account for stepmothers and perceived them as friendly (Crohn, 2006). However, studies conducted on British adult sample who spent time with stepparents gave less favorable opinion about stepmothers than stepfathers.

Perhaps mothers (biological or step) take responsibility of socializing the children and stepmother can never substitute the biological mothers' place in children's lives despite all the efforts that stepmother put to satisfy the stepchildren. This might be the potential reason that children give less favorable account of stepmothers (Barnes, Thompson, Daniel, and Burchardt, 1998).

Parental acceptance or rejection has been conceptualized within the framework of Interpersonal Acceptance-Rejection theory which categorized the parental acceptance-rejection into four dimensions (Warmth/Affection, Hostility/Aggression, Indifference/Neglect, and Undifferentiated rejection). These dimensions influence seven major personality dispositions named as hostility and aggression, dependency, negative self-esteem, negative self-adequacy, emotional unresponsiveness, emotional instability and negative worldview which collectively reflect psychological adjustment (Rohner, and Rohner, 1980). Research revealed that children report more adjustment difficulties in stepparent (mother or father)-child relationship compared to biological parent-child relationship (Golombok and Tasker, 2015).

Gender Differences in Step-parental Rejection. Reviews on step parenting researches provide strong evidence about gender differences in terms of children's attitude towards stepparents. Girls perceive their stepfathers more negatively than the boys (Hetherington and Jodl, 1994; Vuchinich, 1991). In addition, social competence acts as buffer against maternal rejection and psychological maladjustment. Girls who have adaptive skills are more likely to manage relationships with stepmothers than those who are socially less adaptive (Hetherington, 1999a; Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan, 2002).

Social Competence and Psychological Maladjustment in Children with Step-family. The evidences about role of social competence in determining level of psychological maladjustment and perception about stepparents, especially stepmothers, seems to be important but no systematic effort has been put in identifying mediating nature of social competence. Theoretically, social competence has been reported as culturally bound construct e.g., obedience has been identified as core component of social competence in Pakistan but not in Western cultures (Chen and Rubin, 1992; Ogbu, 1981; Shujja and Malik, 2011) Thus, assessment tools developed in one culture may not be generalizable to other cultures.

Existing literature suggests that children, especially girls, respond more negatively towards stepparents in the first two years of step family formation and stepparent child relationship gets stable afterwards. Although stepparent-child relationship improves after two years of stepfamily formation but adjustment difficulties and conflicts arise again in adolescence (Bray, 1999; Hetherington and Clingempeel, 1992). In Asian cultures like Pakistan, it becomes inevitable for girls to co-live with stepmothers for longer time. Girls are likely to stay at home with stepmother for the whole day and continuous interaction between stepmother and stepdaughter can be extremely difficult if one or both are not socially competent, and accepting each other. Social competence appears to have buffering role in stepmother-stepdaughter relationship (Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan, 2002).

Objectives and Hypotheses

Current study aimed to investigate mediating role of social competence between daughters' perception about stepmothers and their subsequent psychological maladjustment. It was hypothesized that social competence would mediate daughters' perception of stepmother's rejection and their psychological adjustment in stepmother families after partialling out the control variables (daughter age, stepmother age, father age, mother education, father education).

Method

Participants

The sample comprised of 141 girls (6th-8th grade) living in stepmother families within the age range of 10-14 years (M = 12.34, SD= 1.01) drawn from different schools of Lahore using purposive sampling technique. Participants were directly asked about the status (step or real) of parents, specifically mothers and the information obtained from participants was cross-verified from school administration and concerned class teacher. The age of stepmothers ranged from 25-52 years (M = 36.1, SD = 5.93) and out of 141 stepmothers, 93 had passed matriculation and 48 never attended school. On the other hand, fathers' age ranged from 35-60 years (M = 43.7, SD = 5.72). Out of 141 real fathers, 109 had completed matriculation whereas 32 were illiterate. The average family income was 30,000 PKR per month.

Exclusion criteria. In order to avoid potential confounding like complex stepmother family structure, sample was exclusively drawn from stepfamilies in which stepmother did not have children from previous marriage. Single stepparent families, and families in which real mothers are co-living with stepmothers or real mothers living somewhere else after separation, or divorce were also excluded from the sample.

Inclusion criteria. Girls living with stepmothers whose fathers remarried after the death of their first spouse were included in the sample. Secondly, girls included in the sample had no psychiatric history as they did not ever seek psychological treatment or reported psychological problem.

Assessment Measures

Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire: Child Version (Child PARQ). Child PARQ (Rohner and Khaleque, 2005) was designed to measure children's perception of acceptance/rejection about mother and father. It comprised of 60 items and respondents rate on 4 point Likert type scale ranged from almost always true (4) to never true to me and high score indicates higher level of maternal/paternal rejection and vice versa. Factor analysis provided four statistically sound subscales namely warmth/affection, hostility/aggression, indifference/neglect and undifferentiated rejection (Rohner, 2005). Psychometric properties of Child PARQ were found to be satisfactory. A study reported alpha coefficient of .96 for Child PARQ father version and .95 for Child PARQ mother version. This scale was translated into Urdu using standardized back translation procedure (Malik, 2012) and for the current study; alpha coefficient for Child PARQ (mother version) was .95.

Personality Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ). PAQ was designed to assess dimensions of psychological adjustment of children. It comprised of 42 items with response format ranging from almost always true (4) to almost never true (1). Factor analysis provided seven mutually exclusive factors i.e., aggression and hostility, dependency, self-esteem, self-adequacy, emotional responsiveness, emotional stability and negative worldview (Rohner, 1975/1999). High score on PAQ indicates higher level of psychological maladjustment and vice versa. Psychometric properties of PAQ have been determined around the globe as meta-analysis revealed alpha coefficients ranged from .71 to .96 (Rohner, 2004). Urdu version of Child PAQ was used (Naz and Kausar, 2011) and alpha coefficient for the current study was .71.

Social Competence Scale for Children (SCSC). Social competence scale is an indigenously developed 4 point Likert type self-report measure (Urdu) designed to measure dimensions of social competence in children (9-13 years). It comprises of 40 items with response format ranging from never (1) to always (4). High score on SCSC indicates higher level of social competence. SCSC is a psychometrically sound measure as factor analysis provided six mutually exclusive factors i.e., self control, empathy and helping behavior, social skills and obedience, antisocial behavior, assertiveness, and communication skills. The overall alpha coefficient was .71 (Shujja and Malik, 2011). For the current study, alpha coefficient was .80.

Procedure

Prior to data collection, formal permission was sought from heads of various public and private schools of Lahore. Respondents were identified through a checklist based on inclusion and exclusion criteria and informed consent was obtained from respondents who met inclusion criteria. Informed consent included information regarding purpose and potential significance of research, potential risks, and rights of participants e.g., rights of withdrawal from the study, confidentiality, privacy etc. Child PARQ, Child PAQ, and SCSC along with demographic form were administered on designated sample and each respondent took 40-45 minutes in completing aforementioned scales.

Each participant was personally approached and was asked to fill the forms without time constraint. Out of 145 respondents, four respondents left the data incomplete and data obtained from 141 respondents were subjected to statistical analysis. After completion of data, institutional heads, class teachers, and participants were formally thanked for their cooperation.

Results

For the data entry, SPSS 21A(r) and PARScore 6.0A(r) (software designed to enter Child PARQ and Child PAQ scores) were used. The data were entered in the PARScore 6.0A(r) online and later it was merged with SPSS file for further analyses. For the initial screening, missing value analysis was run and no missing value was found. Table 1 reports means and standard deviations of the study variables.

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics of the Study Variables

Variables###M###SD

Child PARQ_Stepmother###126.32###35.08

Child PAQ###93.95###12.3

Social competence###122.5###13.3

Descriptive analysis reveals that girls living in stepmother-father families perceived their stepmothers less rejecting as they, on average, scored slightly below cutoff (130; Rohner, 2005) on Child PARQ_stepmother (score greater than cutoff on Child PARQ indicates higher level of parental rejection and vice versa). Similarly, girls, on average, scored below the cutoff (105; Rohner, 2004) on Child PAQ reflected low level of psychological maladjustment (score greater than cutoff on Child PAQ indicates higher level of psychological maladjustment and vice versa). On average, girls scored slightly low on social competence than exact 50% (124; median) of the frequency distribution.

Results in Table 2 reveal that various dimensions of the three questionnaires used in the present study had significant positive relationships with their corresponding constructs. These results not only suggest high internal consistency of all the measures but also provide evidence for their factorial validity.

Table 2 Correlation Matrix Reflecting Relationship Among Study Variables

Variables###2###3###4###5###6###7###8###9###10###11###12###13###14###15###16###17###18###19###20

1. Agg###.11###.19###.37**###.16###.25###.46***###.70***###.22###.27###.19###.32*###.27###-.21###-.54***###-.30*###-.29###-.13###-.20###-.49***

2. Dep###.29###.05###.16###.06###.07###.39**###.17###.22###.16###.24###.21###-.15###-.19###-.14###-.08###-.07###-.18###-.23

3. SE###.21###.20###.02###.40**###.55***###.37**###.32*###.21###.21###.31*###-.11###-.16###-.14###-.22###-.11###-.31*###-.27

4. SA###.20###.04###.44**###.58***###.12###.33*###.14###.07###.19###.04###-.27###-.23###-.07###.19###-.12###-.16

5. ER###.13###.29*###.55***###.20###.17###.26###.17###.22###.03###-.29*###-.18###-.15###-.08###-.38**###-.29*

6. ES###.07###.41**###.03###.16###.19###.11###.13###-.11###-.08###.05###.05###.08###-.23###-.07

7. NWV###.69***###.44**###.46**###.39**###.35*###.46***###-.28###-.35*###-.24###-.11###-.12###-.25###-.39**

8. PAQ###.38**###.50***###.40**###.39**###.46***###-.18###-.53***###-.34*###-.23###-.08###-.41**###-.50***

9. W/A###.72***###.87***###.73***###.92***###-.21###-.09###-.10###-.08###-.28###-.20###-.24

10. H/A###.73***###.80***###.89***###-.22###-.22###-.26###-.06###-.09###-.32*###-.32*

11. I/N###.75***###.92***###-.20###-.09###-.11###-.01###-.29###-.20###-.23

12. UR###.88***###-.35*###-.20###-.29###-.22###-.20###-.34*###-.42**

13. PARQ_SM###-.29###-.16###-.20###-.09###-.24###-.28###-.32*

14. SC/AG###.10###.27###.37**###.03###.41**###.56***

15. EM/HB###.65***###.20###.26###.16###.75***

16. SS/OB###.40**###.38**###.20###.83***

17. ANSB###-.03###.30###.57***

18. ASST###-.16###.39**

19. COMS###.47***

20. SC

Correlation matrix also reveals that step daughters who had high aggression and hostility, negative self-esteem, negative self-adequacy, and negative worldview perceived their relationship with step mothers as highly hostile/aggressive, indifferent/neglecting and undifferentiated rejecting and they also showed low empathy /helping behavior, less communication skills and overall low social competencies.

These results show that psycho pathological personality patterns have strong positive relationship with perception of stepmother's rejection and it is negatively linked with social competencies of stepdaughters.

In order to find out mediating role of social competence between stepmothers' rejection and psychological maladjustment, Baron and Kenny's (1986) approach was used. Prior to computation of mediation through this approach, three simple regression analyses were conducted to meet three-step criteria. Results demonstrate that a) predictor variable (perceived stepmother rejection) significantly predicted outcome variable i.e., psychological maladjustment ([beta] = .46, p < .001); b) predictor (perceived stepmother rejection) significantly predicted the mediator (social competence) ([beta] = -.32, p< .05); and c) mediator [social competence] significantly predicted outcome variable i.e., psychological maladjustment ([beta] = -.52, p < .001).

Table 3 Hierarchical Regression Reflecting Mediating Role Social Competence Between Stepmothers' Rejection and Psychological Maladjustment Among Girls

Variables###Stepmother-father families (N = 141)

###IR2###[beta]

Step I###.15

Control Variables

Child age###.19

Stepmother age###-.36*

Stepmother education###.02

Father education###-.29

Step II###.17**

Control Variables

Stepmothers' Rejection###.43**

Step III###.095**

Control Variables

Stepmothers' Rejection###.33**

Social Competence###-.36**

Total R2###.42**

Hierarchical regression analysis reveals that stepmothers' rejection emerged as significant predictor of psychological maladjustment for girls living in stepmother-father families. In the third step, predictive strength of stepmothers' rejection was reduced after the inclusion of social competence in third model. Third model accounted for 42% variance in explaining psychological maladjustment after partialling out the effect of control variables. Although predictive strength of mothers' rejection declined after the inclusion of social competence as mediator in the model, yet it remained significant. This suggests that social competence partially mediate relationship between perceived stepmother's rejection and psychological maladjustment. This mediation was further ascertained through Sobel's Z test (Sobel's Z = 2.38, p < 0.01).

Discussion

Children stereotypically perceive stepparents negatively and show less warmth, and care towards stepparents. Especially, stepmother-stepchildren relationship is likely to be viewed more negative and stressful experience by the children than step-father stepchildren relationship (Hetherington, 1999b). Studies reported that it is much easier for the stepmothers to built close and friendly relationship with stepdaughter than with stepsons (Ganong and Coleman, 1987; Maglin and Schneidewind, 1989; Quick, McKenry, and Newman, 1994; Verner, 1989). The reason might be that girls may experience less psychological and emotional problems due to stepmothers than boys (Robins and Rutter, 1990; Seligman, 1991). Consistent with existing literature, present study also found that adolescent girls perceived their stepmothers less rejecting and score on psychological maladjustment was associated with stepmother-stepdaughter relationship lower than cutoff score set in Child PAQ (Rohner, 2004).

Present study further yielded that girls who were living with stepmothers showed less step-maternal rejection, dependency, negative worldview, and relatively stable self-esteem, self adequacy, emotional responsiveness, emotional stability. This lower level of perceived stepmothers' rejection and related psychological maladjustment in girls living in stepmother-father families can be attributed to adaptive skills or social competence in girls or stepmother.

The current study focused on stepdaughter's social competence and found that social competence mediated the relationship between girls' perception of stepmother rejection and psychological maladjustment in stepdaughter in stepmother-father families after partialling out the influence of control variables. Mediation analysis revealed that perceived rejection lowers the opportunity for development of social skills among girls which in turn leads to increased maladjustment. Therefore, perceived rejection not only has a positive direct influence on maladjustment, part of this relationship is explained by deficiency in social skills which may arise as a consequence for perceived rejection. Since girls look at their mothers as their role models in social situations (Golombok and Tasker, 2015), perceived step maternal rejection may deter them from internalizing their mothers as the role model owing to which they may not develop the appropriate levels of social competence.

This deficiency in social competence may deprive the girls of important skills needed for healthy psychological adjustment. Few other studies have reported social competence and adaptive skills as important contributors in determining stepdaughter-stepmother relationship and subsequent behavioral outcomes. For instance, Hetherington (1999) and Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan (2002) argued that girls are more likely to be adjusted with changed family structure that is inevitable after the inclusion of stepmothers in the family.

Unlike European countries, home is considered to be the safest place for girls or women in Pakistan. Girls are socialized to get on with odd family relationship like stepmothers and the same is true for stepmothers as well. In stepfamily structure, social competence become even more essential because of conflicts, resentment, and adjustment difficulties associated with step relationships. A study reported that girls are more likely to adapt and adjust with changed family structure like stepfamily than do the boys (Nielsen, 1999). Such adaptive skills may help the stepdaughters to develop positive and constructive relationship with stepmothers and to make home environment peaceful.

Limitations, Suggestions, and Implications. Although current study can be a valuable addition in stepfamily research, especially, from Pakistani perspective but it is not limitation free. This study did not include sample from complex stepmother families in which stepmothers have their own children from previous marriage. Secondly, the problem of common method variance cannot be overlooked because data were collected from stepdaughters and stepmother perspective is lacking. The perception of stepmothers about stepdaughter rejection and stepmothers' maladjustment may determine the stepdaughter perception. It is suggested that future research should include stepmothers as respondents in order to determine reciprocal relationship between stepmother-stepdaughter rejection and maladjustment.

Further research should also incorporate gender differences in terms of stepson-stepmother-stepdaughter relationship. Longitudinal study may be designed to investigate change in psychological maladjustment of mothers and/or daughters in long term step relationship.

This study can be helpful for family researchers, counselors, and clinicians who deal with stepfamilies, especially, stepmother-stepdaughter conflicts. In addition, stepparents may take advantage from knowing about stepdaughter attitudes towards them and subsequent behavioral outcomes.

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Publication:Journal of Behavioural Sciences
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Date:Dec 31, 2017
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