Book Reviews

Split Ends: Teenage Stepchildren

by Ruth Webber
Review by Margorie Engel

After researching and writing the entry on worldwide divorce issues for the Women's Studies Encyclopedia, the light bulb went on over my head. We at SAA should take a look at how other countries are addressing the needs of stepfamilies and the type of resources and references they provide.

Barbara Barber, who lives in Edithvale, Australia, met with stepfamily members and therapists in the Boston area when she attended a workshop at MIT. She referred me to the program, Living in a Stepfamily by Ruth Webber. The Australian Council of Educational Research forwarded copies of Ms. Webber's material including the leader's manual for the second edition of Living in a Stepfamily and a paperback and tape for teenage stepchildren titled Split Ends.

Ruth Webber, Head of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Administration at the Australian Catholic University and a stepparent herself, has conducted research into the dynamics of stepfamilies and has led programs for stepfamilies and counselors. Responding to the requests from a range of community welfare agencies, she developed Living in a Stepfamily to be a program that is relatively unprescriptive and takes a practical approach.

Aside from the British/Australian spelling of words such as "organization" and references to "access parents" where we would say "noncustodial parents," Australian stepfamilies grapple with the same issues as their US counterparts: stepfamily dynamics and clarifying boundaries and roles. Our SAA materials, Stepfamilies Stepping Ahead, Learning to Step Together: A course for stepfamily adults and the Stepfamily Workshop Manual cover the same ground. The universal aim is to present a positive approach to stepfamilies by showing what works rather than what has gone wrong.

Dr. Webber's work shines when she tackles the issue of teenage stepchildren - not so surprising when I learned that she completed her doctoral thesis on "Adolescents Living in a Stepfamily." I have found no comparable books or tapes in our country. There are no simple solutions for helping teenage stepchildren understand stepfamily life but there are a range of options that other teenagers have tried and found to have worked for them. With an abundance of examples from Divided Loyalty, Access [visitation], Being Invaded?, Gaining Freedom, and Frustrations and Annoyances to Giving It a Go, Split Ends talks with, not at, teens. That is a great deal to accomplish in a single book.

The tone of Split Ends is matter-of-fact and positive; it is also richly sprinkled with cartoons. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on encouraging teens to build good will instead of blaming their unhappiness on being in a stepfamily. As one Australian parent noted, "I wish my six kids had been able to read this book before I plunged them into a stepfamily." Agreed. We have all learned that the ability to make stepfamilies work is not luck.

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