Parent and Stepparent Interviews
A thematic analysis was conducted on the advantages and challenging experiences of Māori parents and Māori stepparents in stepfamilies. The following three themes emerged:
The quality of the couple relationship is important
Extended family supports adaptive step-family functioning
Parenting is a challenge
A number of subthemes including positive and negative aspects of participants’ experiences, related to the three main themes.
Theme One: The Quality of the Couple Relationship is Important
Interviews usually began with participants relating their experiences of meeting each other for the first time, resulting in participants talking about the positive and not so positive aspects of their couple relationships from the beginning and as the relationship progressed. Descriptions of the couple moving their children into a combined household to live as a step-family followed. An important aspect of a good quality relationship included the experience of being both supported by, and /or supportive of their partner in both practical and emotional ways. As well, external supports such as friends and extended family and sharing financial and parenting responsibilities appeared related to positive relationship experiences for couples in stepfamilies. Given many of these stepfamilies included more than two children, the quality of the couple relationship appeared important because when the couple were experiencing a satisfying relationship this appeared related to overall stepfamily functioning and ‘happiness’.
Most interviews included suggestions by the couple or the individual interviewed, that the relationship had met at least some of their expectations in both emotional and practical ways, which served as positive reinforcement for the relationship, and possible contributors to the future continuation of the relationship. Only one individual indicated that her needs were not met overall. Her account was of dissatisfaction, and at times resentment with her step-couple relationship.
In general, couples demonstrated their reciprocal affection and regard for each other with appropriate body language cues (couples sat close to each other, sometimes touched each other’s hand or arm, nodded approvingly and talked quietly). They maintained appropriate eye contact with each other throughout the interviews (and also with the interviewer) and their verbal language reflected camaraderie, empathy, compassion and respect for their partner. Such behavioural observations were consistent with their verbal accounts.
Mutuality in the adults’ relationship helps
The first subtheme refers to mutuality in the couple relationship. While some participants described their couple relationship in terms of its’ “ease” or “naturalness”, these participants also acknowledged that certain attributes contributed to the harmonious quality of the couple relationship including communicating readily, a sense of humour, continued effort and acknowledging past mistakes:
So…when I look at my relationship with Ivan we, we’re not even a team, we’re one unit now and we, we consult each other for everything and stand up against whoever. I think it makes you more whole or something you know um I don’t think there’s anything I do without asking what he thinks about it like wallpapering our room, um…whether I should plant corn or lettuces or something, you know, we just talk about everything..um.. I just need to talk to Ivan about it first…because I feel um…half-hearted if I don’t. (PC5, mother)
Um .Well we do enjoy having a casual talk to each other with laughter involved and we do silly things which helps. Perseverance certainly helped. (PC2, father and stepfather).
Further, the quality of the couple relationship was derived for most couples from shared interests, goals and values, which appear to have been appreciated by participants. Most participants appeared to derive mutual positive reinforcement and positive identity as a couple through their shared family, social and work interests.
Cindy and I are totally parallel… we always, like we’ve said Cindy and I say to each other, we say ummm… if we ever broke up we’d probably just sorta hang together anyway. Because of the shared values. Umm so no, no things are smoother and clearer and ahhh I think cos you, also cos you got your goals in common and ya know, we’ve sorted out our goals. (PC1, father and stepfather)
Yeah, we do, um, we have lots of similar sorts of values which is one of the reason why we get on so well. (PC4, stepmother)
However, for most of participants, the maintenance of a harmonious couple relationship involved consistent effort. For example, a few participants verbally expressed their support of their partners and said that the quality of their couple relationship was in some way improved by the presence of “love”, at least on their part. One participant expressed her “love” or affection for her partner in what appears to be an attempt to communicate her reliability as a partner. She appeared to do this by drawing parallels with her own personal experience in a stepfamily as a child, possibly in an effort to relate understanding and empathy for her partner’s feelings of insecurity regarding the permanence of the relationship and offered him her reassurance of her continued dedication.
This is where he was starting to get very insecure because of what had happened with him and his ex. So I would try and turn it, and say, ‘Stan, I’m here, I love you, I love you from here’ *participant points to her heart]. I said ‘So don’t ever think that I’m going to do exactly what your ex did to you, cos that’s not me’. (PC7, mother and stepmother)
Some participants stated that persevering through difficult times as a couple could be extremely challenging, but could also be emotionally rewarding and fulfilling in the end.
I think for us, um, where we’ve been, I feel like Ivan and I have been to hell and back and then went to hell and back, and then probably to hell and whatever’s beyond that and come back and still and I….and I think that particularly in the last two years, we’ve become closer than ever…and I think we’re…for me, I probably feel the closest that I’ve ever felt complete. (PC5, mother)
External affirmation / approval is important
When discussing the quality of the couple relationship, many participants stated that external (to the couple unit) sources of support are important in the maintenance of positive interactions within the couple unit. This appeared to be a distinct area and separate from the individual and personal qualities the participants brought to the couple unit. For example, family members and friends expressed their approval and acceptance of many participant relationships, giving rise to the conditions likely to encourage positive interactions for the couple.
The interesting thing too is that umm once we hooked up it was interesting because, everybody who knows either of us would actually say, that’s a great match. (PI1, father and stepfather)
I’ll say from my family, my mum and dad, and brothers and sisters, were happy for me…me, when I first got welcomed back to the family so they could meet Pete. They were actually quite taken with him, and then said that, said to him ‘hope you don’t hit women’ coz my last husband, I left him…abusive relationship. (PC9, mother and stepmother)
Alternatively, the lack of conflict arising from the disapproval of the relationship by in-laws step/children or friends, may positively impact the couple relationship. One participant mentioned that her relationship with her stepchildrens’ father had been positively affirmed by the stepchildren and this had had a very positive emotional impact on the participant.
And that they can see their father is um quite a different person with me than what he was like with their mother and um. That they are very happy about the difference that this person their father, um is now, to what he was like before. Mind you everybody has commented on that so. I feel good about that. (PI4, stepmother)
Sharing financial and parenting responsibilities helps
A few participants appreciated shared financial and parenting. This also appears to be a related but distinct area from the individual inherent qualities each partner brings to the relationship. Given that most participants were either semi-skilled or unskilled workers and were likely to have at least three (usually more) children in the step-household, it seems surprising that so few comments were made by participants about financial difficulties. This indicated that these families either had no money worries which seems unlikely or simply that money was not a primary focus for them. They apeared to value relationship (familial as well as couple) quality more. For the few participants who mentioned sharing financial responsibilities the advantages to the couple relationship appeared to include feeling supported and more at ease that financial responsibilities regarding the step/children were being met.
Well….the key advantages, when you’re emotionally happy, you’re a better producing, performing individual…ummm, and the combination of of the two people isn’t just one plus one, its, yeah its, it is multiplied, so you get four times as much output, effective output, effective. Yeah yeah, your finances are far more ummm efficient and effective. (PI1, father and stepfather)
Yeah so umm kinda glad too shes doing well ya know in terms of her career yeah. Umm, I said, ‘the better we’re both doing the better, our kids will be better off’, ya know. Umm, and we share our expenses and stuff and umm with the kids, and that, umm, and my mum and dad have been a big help, especially when she [participant’s partner+ was training to be a nurse. She’s just been and got her ticket, so shes quite, ya know, is better paid.
For the few participants who mentioned sharing parenting responsibilities, the advantages to the couple relationship included feeling that their partner was committed and contributing to the couple relationship, and the step / children giving rise to a ‘happier’ couple.
Ummm your ability to take care of the kids, cos you’ve got two people you’re just sorting out ahhh drop off and pick up…all those kind of things ummm commitment to just support the kids, kids in their schools, we’ve got all our kids at the same schools, put our time in to them. (PI1, father and stepfather)
Theme Two: Extended Family Supports Adaptive Step-Family Functioning
When discussing their experiences as a stepfamily, participants often referred to interactions between extended family adults and children. This appears to be a distinct theme from positive external approval of the couples’ relationship. Comparatively, this theme relates to support for the entire stepfamily, including the couple and their children. Additionally, this theme is dissimilar from the previous one because it involves adults’ perceptions of their roles and expectations in relation to extended family members, and the extended family’s reciprocal expectations and roles, and how the inability to fulfil such roles may lead to conflict.
All participants referred to an expectation that they would support extended family and /or be supported by extended family in some way and that support required that extended family members be included and actively participating with the stepfamily. Only one participant expressed some dissatisfaction with the level of extended family support they received. This participant had few relatives living close by to call upon for support and described a dissatisfying relationship with their partner, who themselves had no living relatives with whom they had a close relationship. Another participant did not like parents of his new partner, even though she continued to interact with them on reasonably amicable terms.
Extended family included related (but not necessarily biological) adults such as aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and related persons such as in-laws and ex-partners or non-resident parents of the children, Māori and non-Māori. The interactions and arrangements discussed appear to have been “learned” across time and were ongoing. They also appeared to be emotionally rewarding, providing positive reinforcement for the participants and of emotional benefit to all members of the step-family and extended family.
Active participation with extended step-family is important
Reciprocal support with extended family involved collectively attending tangi (funerals) and important hui (meetings) and appeared to be an extension of traditional marae, whanau, hapu and iwi systems for Māori. Most participants mentioned experiences attending marae functions with their extended families at some time or other including Māori reared in Pakeha environments, and the process of re-establishing familial connections (whakapapa; pepeha) with biologically related people with whom they did not have day-to-day contact. While not all participants necessarily wanted to attend these events, most felt obligated to be present in support of extended step / family. At marae events they would reveal their genealogical origins thus providing a familial link or connection between the person being spoken to and them. These interactions, a common courtesy at such events, appeared to reinforce acceptance of the person at the event and connect them to a common hapu, or iwi. For instance, the following participant was asked the name of her ‘Koro’ or grandfather which was likely to begin making connections.
Nicola (Stanley’s daughter / Charlottes bio-daughter), she went running around, because the tangi [at the marae], we were manuhiri [guests] for the tangi, they respected us in that [Māori] way, so with *relatives’ whanau+, they were all there and Frank *distant relative+ knew straight away who I was. And Frank is from Taumaranui, yeah, well back then, um and then he knew straight away who I was. But by the time Stanley’s whanau and rellies [relative] and all got onto the table, my girl [daughter] started running around. And she ran up to *relative+ and Stanley was going to me ‘Go and get that girl’, and so I’d run up there and I’d have to get her and because the Koro there was ‘kei te pai’ (you’re good!), and next minute the *relative+ turned around and said, here my Moko’ and she just set up a plate for Nicola and Nicola was sitting at the table too. And she asks me ‘Whose your Koro?’ (PC7, mother and stepmother)
A few participants expanded on the idea of reciprocal obligation to both family and the wider hapu or iwi and in so doing highlighted distinctive Māori kaupapa (philosophies) or ways of living for some Māori, particularly on the marae or at school, situations which were managed with traditional Māori tikanga (protocol) such as karakia (prayer), action songs and haka, and kai (food) after introductions and speeches.
Our mother had high aspirations for her children to do things for the good of the whanau. It was reinforced everywhere I went, including school. ‘Err, ka pai’s not good enough, boy. You do excellent or I’ll tell your mother’. The obligation was huge. ‘You will go to university’. Values were driven right through your fabric in action songs and haka. Like Apirana Ngata, ‘err, you will send your eldest son to university’. He had a huge influence on education etc for Māori. These were the benefits of such a staunch background. Most tribes talk to a connection to settling canoes, yes, whakapapa. It was a way of thinking about ourselves. You were obligated to honour it. (PI1, father and stepfather)
For most stepfamily participants reciprocal support occurred by providing the venue for family gatherings or ‘hui’ where joint participation was sought with extended family in expressing family concerns and celebrations. These experiences appear to have been valued by participants, and often involved kaupapa (philosophy) and tikanga (protocol) characteristic at such gatherings, similar to those practiced on marae, albeit in a less formal way, and usually when there were large numbers of people to accomodate. For example, the practice of arranging mattresses in the main living space for everyone present to sleep reflects traditional practices on the marae and in the wharenui (meeting house).
It’s a family trait and you start opening up your door. You can’t go back to the Marae, but all your family’s in Auckland, in South Auckland. And your house becomes a marae for your family cos that’s how you were brought up like that in your house, your house back at the marae. You see all your whanau get together. And then all the things they do down there ay, you kind of use that in your family, like for instance, living the lifestyle, like the chairs in the lounge and the mattresses on the floor. (PC4, father and stepfather)
Interestingly, some participants implied universal ‘understandings’ about Māori in general. It seems likely that these understandings may in some way be associated with communal or marae living that dominated traditional step/family life. This point is illustrated in the following extract, where the participant creates an analogy of Māori as similar in their need for the company of other related Māori people in the same way plants native to New Zealand will thrive only when grown in groups. The practice of describing Māori ways of understanding through analogy appears often in traditional Māori legends and narrative.
Table of Contents
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES
LIST OF APPENDICES
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
BACKGROUND TO THIS RESEARCH
THE DEVELOPMENT OF STEPFAMILY RESEARCH
ETHNIC VARIATION IN FAMILIES
MĀORI IN STEPFAMILIES
AIMS OF THE RESEARCH
RATES OF SEPARATION AND DIVORCE IN NEW ZEALAND
STEPFAMILIES AS INCOMPLETE INSTITUTIONS
CHILDREN LIVING WITH MARRIED PARENTS
CHILDREN LIVING WITH UNMARRIED PARENTS
PATHWAYS TO STEPPARENTING
CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND OUTCOMES
THE NON-RESIDENT FATHER
IMPACT OF PARENTAL ADJUSTMENT ON CHILDREN
ESTABLISHING NEW ROLES AND NORMS
ETHNIC VARIATION IN SEPARATION AND DIVORCE
WHANAU AND RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AND PATTERNS FOR MĀORI:
PAST AND PRESENT
IDENTITY, ACCULTURATION & POSITIONING OF MĀORI CHILDREN
CHAPTER TWO: QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY OF THIS STUDY
CHAPTER THREE: METHOD
KEY INFORMANT INTERVIEWS
CHAPTER FOUR: PARENT AND STEPPARENT INTERTVIEWS
THEME ONE: THE QUALITY OF THE COUPLE RELATIONSHIP IS IMPORTANT
MUTUALITY IN THE ADULTS’ RELATIONSHIP HELPS
EXTERNAL AFFIRMATION / APPROVAL IS IMPORTANT
SHARING FINANCIAL AND PARENTING RESPONSIBILITIES HELPS
THEME TWO: EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTS ADAPTIVE STEPFAMILY FUNCTIONING
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION WITH EXTENDED STEPFAMILY IS IMPORTANT
IT HELPS WHEN EXTENDED FAMILY ARE INCLUDED BY STEP/PARENTS
LOYALTIES, JEALOUSIES AND PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES ARE A CHALLENGE
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NON-RESIDENT PARENT CAN BE DIFFICULT
THEME THREE: PARENTING/STEPPARENTING IS A CHALLENGE
RELATIONSHIPS WITH STEP/CHILDREN REQUIRE
PATIENCE, TIME AND COMMUNICATION
SHARING ACTIVITIES HELPS
DISCIPLINE NEGOTIATION IS DIFFICULT
MAINTAINING CLOSENESS WITH A BIOLOGICAL CHILD IS IMPORTANT
MANAGING TEENAGERS CAN BE DIFFICULT
CHAPTER FIVE: KEY INFORMANT INTERVIEWS
THEME ONE: UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL PRESSURES ON MĀORI FAMILIES IS IMPORTANT
THEME TWO: MANAAKITANGA: THERE ARE MĀORI WAYS OF BEING A FAMILY
ACCEPTING NEW PARTNERS CHILDREN CAN BE SEEN AS PART OF TRADITIONAL WHANAU VALUES
CHILDREN KNOWING THEIR BIOLOGICAL WHANAU IS IMPORTANT
CHAPTER SIX: DISCUSSION
MĀORI PARTICIPANTS AS PEOPLE AND THEIR CULTURE
THE LANGUAGE OF MĀORI STEPFAMILIES: CULTURE IN ACTION
RELATIONSHIPS WITH SIGNIFICANT ADULTS AND CHILDREN’S WELLBEING
EXTENDED FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS WITH STEP/CHILDREN MĀORI AND RE-PARTNERING:
A CULTURAL, SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND GENDERED CONTEXT
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
A Qualitative Study of Māori Experiences of Stepfamily Living