You're my parent but you're not: Dialectical tensions in stepchildren's perceptions about communicating with the nonresidential parent

Dawn O. Braithwaite, Leslie A. Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

59 Scopus citations


The nonresidential parent plays a role in the lives of stepchildren and in stepfamily households. The focus of the present study was on the interaction between the nonresidential parent and his/her child who resides as part of a stepfamily household. Grounded in relational dialectics theory, the researchers performed an interpretive analysis of 50 transcribed interviews with college-aged stepchildren. Stepchildren's perceptions of communication with the nonresidential parent were animated by two contradictions: parenting/ nonparenting and openness/closedness. These two contradictions form a totality, interwoven with one another. The parenting/nonparenting contradiction reflected stepchildren's ambivalence over parenting attempts of nonresidential parents. Stepchildren wanted nonresidential parent involvement and parenting, and at the same time they resisted it, often finding communication to be awkward and challenging. In addition, stepchildren wanted open and intimate communication with their nonresidential parents, yet they found openness to be problematic and managed these contradictory demands via segmentation. Implications of these findings are discussed, along with insights to guide professionals working with stepfamilies and adults co-parenting children to better understand and interact in ways that promote healthy stepfamilies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-48
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 27 2006



  • Dialectical Tensions
  • Family Communication
  • Nonresidential Parent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

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