1st Edition

Psychoanalytic and Psychotherapeutic Perspectives on Stepfamilies and Stepparenting

By Prophecy Coles Copyright 2018
    130 Pages
    by Routledge

    130 Pages
    by Routledge

    Psychoanalytic and Psychotherapeutic Perspectives on Step-families and Step-parenting looks at the role step-parents can play in the psychic development of children. Step-parenting requires enormous confidence and resilience that stretches into a territory of human emotions and conflict that can make marriage seem easy. Prophecy Coles’ concern has been that we are witnessing a new kinship system and our psychological thinking has not kept up with the emotional effect that stepparents are having upon the next generation.

    The author traces the history of our beliefs about stepparents through the oral tradition of the fairy story into our present, arguably prejudiced beliefs about them. Coles explores whether our feelings about stepparents arise from the unconscious tradition that placed stepparents in hostile opposition to the natural forces of parenting. The absence of detailed clinical work on the subject has meant that the author has drawn on interviews, biography and three long term research projects to think about this new family constellation.

    Covering such topics as the prevalence and importance of step-mothers historically, the reasons for psychoanalytic neglect of this subject, and using clinical material drawn from work with step-mothers, children and fathers, this is a much-needed guide to working with families affected by maternal loss and alternative parenting roles. It will encourage a further appreciation of the psychological difficulties that stepparents face, and at the same time offer a re-appraisal of the pain that young children go through when their parents decide to separate. Psychoanalytic and Psychotherapeutic Perspectives on Step-families and Step-parenting will appeal greatly to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists.


    1 The Stepmother in our Fairy Stories

    2 The Fairy Story Stepfather; Where is He? 

    3 The Strangely Shaped Footprint of Women 

    4 The Psychic Moorings of a Stepchild 

    5 No Longer The Fairy Tale Stepmother

    6 Psychoanalytic Theory and Stepparents 

    7 Is Step-parenting All in the Mind? 

    8 The New Reality? 

    9 Are we living in a ‘me’ society?


    Prophecy Coles is a retired psychotherapist. In all she has written she has been pursuing the question as to whether our childhood relationships, beyond those with our parents, such as those with siblings, nannies, wet nurses, grandparents, ancestors, and now our stepparents, can leave a lasting impression that affects the way we relate to others in the world. Her publications include In The Importance of Sibling Relationships in Psychoanalysis. (2003). Sibling Relationships (2006). The Uninvited Guest from the Unremembered Past (2011) and The Shadow of Second Mother (2015).

    "Why hasn’t the psychoanalytic world addressed the role and difficulties of stepparents in our society when almost half of our children now come from divorced families? Prophecy Coles lays bare the failure of her profession as she explores the reasons for the negative image given to stepmothers. She takes us through ancient history, fairy stories, the few existing research studies on the effects of divorce and, for want of any psychoanalytic literature, case studies, autobiographies and self-help books in her attempt to understand the role of stepmothers in relation to their children. Whilst the author ends by indicting current psychological theories for concentrating ‘on the minutiae of the inner world whilst ignoring the outside reality’, she leaves the reader with plenty to think about around the effects of divorce, women’s liberation, fatherhood, the legal status of stepparents and finally the implications of ‘self-interest’ in our ‘selfish society’. This is a stimulating and courageous book not only for psychotherapists and stepparents but also for anyone facing the prospects of divorce."-Dr Felicity de Zulueta, Emeritus Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy at SLaM NHS Foundation Trust.

    "In her books over the last fifteen years Prophecy Coles has been exploring the unacknowledged and the hidden, whether in families or in psychoanalysis, but never more radically than in her compelling new work on stepfamilies. Building on her seminal studies of sibling relationships, the ‘unremembered past’ across the generations, and the place of the nurse and the nanny in both psyche and culture, Coles turns her attention to our ‘new configuration of family life’ and its effects on the psyche. The arc of the book ranges widely, from mythology and fairy tales to literary representations of stepfamilies as well as the social and historical changes that have affected both stepparents and stepchildren, and that form the backdrop to our current clinical practice. Her argument that our psychological theories have ignored the important role that stepparents now play in our new kinship structures does not imply that we think any less about the inner world of fantasy and the unconscious mind, rather that we give full weight to the contribution of stepparents to the structure of their stepchildren’s psyche, and to the intergenerational history that stepparents will bring to their stepfamily. Coles has always blended originality of thought with clinical depth and nuance, and in this significant contribution to psychoanalytic debate on the relationship between inner and outer worlds, she brings us a compassionate and challenging new study."-Ann Scott, Editor-in-Chief, British Journal of Psychotherapy; Senior Member, British Psychotherapy Foundation.