For many years now, there has existed a looming debate over the rights and/or responsibilities of stepparents and stepchildren. Confusion over financial responsibility for stepchildren by stepparents, for example, is a matter that permeates the American society. From the political arena to the legal portfolio, to the attitudes and/or actions of individual families, questions abound regarding the specific roles that stepparents should play in terms of providing the fiscal support to their stepchildren; and their rights. With respect to providing financial support, no uniformity in the stepparent-stepchildren relationship exists between the different states, or even among the different countries. This paper is a written debate on whether stepparents and stepchildren should have the same rights. The article gives a sociological background of the contentious issue, argues for and then against the subject matter. Finally it gives my final stand on the debate.
Historically, philosophers and sociologists have had a relatively small say in family matters (Jensen & Shafer, 2013). This is a surprising phenomenon given the tangible influence and pervasive presence exerted by the family in social life and on individuals. Majority of the philosophers and sociologists who have explored the family and parent-child relationship, Aristotle and Kant, for example, have done so in a fairly shallow and terse manner (Mahoney, 2006). This changed at the end of the 20th century and contemporary philosophers have started to venture into this field in a substantial manner. Similarly, historically stepparents or non-biological parents have had minimal rights regarding their spouse’s children. This, however, began to take a different turn after the year 2000, with such states as Massachusetts and Colorado passing laws to make the roles of stepparents recognized. Generally, these laws vary from one state to another, but in regards to rights it often boils down to the nature of relationship between the child and his/her stepparents and with his/her biological parents. Despite this long history of issues regarding stepfamilies, little progress has been achieved in the establishment of a consistent definition of the stepfamily status.
In support of the concept that stepparents and/or stepchildren should have equal rights and responsibilities, I have three imperative observations to make. First, evolutionary views portray stepparents as finding challenging to bring up their step children (Grossman, 2006). On the contrary, perspectives based on gender stratification opine that stepfathers do a better job than stepmothers when it comes to parenting. Owing to the fact that a majority of stepfamilies are whereby the step father parents the biological children of the mother, it is in order for all of them to have equal rights and or responsibilities. Secondly, based on a study by MacDonald and DeMaris (1996), it becomes more difficult for both stepfathers and stepmothers to derive satisfaction from stepchildren as compared to from their biological children; unless the first born child is his/her own biological child. This is to say that by according the same rights, privileges and responsibilities to the stepparents and/or children, this emotional gap can be reduced substantially. Thirdly, when children perceive their mothers, for example as open, responsive, and available, they are more likely to be stable and consistent (at an equilibrium) in cases of dramatic systems changes in the family (Mahoney, 2006). For mothers to be able to nurture this qualities, there should be an even platform or setting within the family with which to practice and bring out these neutral motherly characteristics.
This can only be achieved by having the stepparents and stepchildren having the same rights and responsibilities. It is also worth noting that when children perceive their mothers as being communicably accessible to their stepfather, they will be less likely to harbor resentful feelings towards their stepfather (Grossman, 2006). Again, this can only be achieved by having both parties enjoy the same rights and responsibilities.
In opposition to the motion that stepparents and/or stepchildren should be accorded the same rights and/or responsibilities, first, stepparents are perceived as being “third party” relatively to their stepchildren. Adults who form de facto family unions with children who have no legal relationship to them as a parent are the ones who inspired this symposium (MacDonald & DeMaris, 1996). According to the law, the “parent” status is generally restricted to either adoptive or biological parents. Within this school of thought, stepparents constitute the largest category of “third-parties” who enter into relationships with their non-biological children yet are not recognized as the legal parents. Secondly, the dynamics that surround the closeness or nature of a stepparent-child relationship and how they are formed makes it difficult to make the platform on rights and responsibilities even.
Most of the contemporary philosophers are opposed to the notion that children are the property of their parents; and therefore oppose the ideology that parents have rights over their children and to their children. In the best interests of the child, therefore, I oppose the ideology of stepparents and/or stepchildren having the same rights. Lastly, as children grow and move through the different levels of education, they increasing become more responsible and assume bigger roles, learning to manage such matters as school assignments, projects, etc. on their own (Grossman, 2006). As a result, they should also pick up more and more responsibilities at home. Unlike in their early and middle years when they are directed to perform certain activities, during their adolescent and later years they should be allowed some substantial amount of freedom, rights and/or privileges.
In conclusion, the subject matter still remains a bone of contention and attracts more and more research by modern sociologists, legal experts, religious institutions, and or the ethical whistle blowers. The claim about parents having obligations, as parents, is not really controversial. The disagreement is on the nature of such obligations. As philosophers and sociologists continue to gain interest with the theoretical questions in this debate on parenting rights and obligations, in my opinion, stepparents/children should have equal rights as well as responsibilities.