Religion and psychology

The development of adolescence in a blended family

The main purpose of this research is to understand the development of an adolescence that was brought up in a blended family with an abusive step-father. The main focus of this research is to study the link between the experiences faced by the subject during his crucial years and his development beginning with the remarrying of his mother at the early years of the stage till her death at the late years of adolescent.


Adolescence is the crucial stage for a human development. Adolescence is the time why by a child goes through a series of transition in preparing for adulthood, example developing an identity of their own base on the values and vocational goals (Erikson's 1950, 1968). While coping with the emotional demands, adolescence have to learn to deal with biological change (puberty) such as growing of pubic hair for males, and development of breast for the females. Due to such factors, a child that's going through puberty will tend to have lower emotional self-control, and felt that the world does not understand them. Adolescence (teenagers) tend to react to negative life events greater than children, and the negative mood are often linked to number of negative life events (Larson & Ham, 1993). Many studies done shown that puberty is related to parents-child conflict (Laursen, Coy, & Collins 1998; Steinberg & Morris, 2001). At this stage, teenagers that are going through this transitions will start demanding themselves to be treated as adults, hence when parental effort to protect a child from negative activities and harm, the more quarrelling rise (Dekovic, Noom, & Meeus, 1997).

The cognitive development of a child will start to develop critical cognitive thinking at the age of eleven, closely to the age where a child starts to move in to the adolescence transitions. Developing such thinking no longer requires concrete events and things and a child will be able to generate more logical ideas through reflection of thoughts (Piaget, 1955/1958). Adolescence's a time where by a child developed a change in self-concept, which often subjected to pressure of individual self-concept due to inconsistencies (Harter, 19998, 2003). At the adolescence stage, the child usually press for a greater sense of independent and freedom that take place near the end of middle childhood/beginning of adolescence stage. However, research has shown that a parent child relationship is the single most consistent predictor of mental health (Steinberg & Silk, 2002). Development at adolescence involves striving for autonomy, and teenagers strive to rely more on themselves and less on parents

Family is another social context for the development of identity for a child. A child well being, partially too focus on the family the child was brought in, such as biological family, or blended family. Typical for adolescence, family circumstance is important for their identity development, as it is a period of gender intensification where by increased gender stereotyping of attitudes and behaviour movement towards a more traditional gender identity (Bascow & Rubin, 1999; Galambos, Almeida, & Peterson, 1990). Family context at this point helps to strengthen the child's gender identity.


Subject was born in May 1990, he was raise by both his parents until the age of ten when the separated. At the age of twelve when subject approaches Adolescence, his mother remarried. Subject was having coping difficulty at that time, and found it too much to bear and moved out of the house for a year. Subject only return to live with his mother a year later (thirteen years), when he was able to be more accepting towards his step dad. Subject recall life was blissful when he first moved back to stay with his mother and step father, due to the strong financial support, it was easier to adapt because the family were loving and caring, it makes his blend in easier however, subject do recall that he still have doubt towards his step dad.

When subject was fourteen, his step dad business started to decline, and their financial support was shaken, that's the year his step dad started to be abusive towards his mother and him. Subject and his mother was constantly being blackmailed emotionally, however there were no sign of physical abuse. During this period of time, subject found more comfort in school, because he sees it as an escape from mistreat he was facing at home. Subject had very limited number of friends due to his trust issues. I was lucky to be one of the few who made it into that ring. I can recall subject has a very cheerful personality, and you could never tell what he was facing at home. Base on subject statement, he would return to his room whenever his at home, and hide in it so that his step dad would not shout or scold him, but he felt free when his out of his home.

Towards the age of fifteen, subject step dad became physically abusive. He would try to hit subject, but was always stopped by subject's mother. According to subject's recall, his step dad once tried to knock him with his car. At the beginning of form four, subject mother moved him out of the house so he could live with his cousins and not being affected by family conditions. It was that period of time (two years) that subject spends most of his times in school activities. Subject was a natural born artistic who was capable of playing numbers of instruments. Subject really made use of his gift and was the lead actor for the school's drama team who represented the state in national level.

Subject mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was seventeen. It wasn't easy to bear at the beginning for him as he was at the peak of his life with his drama achievements, and he was preparing to sit for SPM. However, with the assurance from his mother that she would be there for him, subject was able to concentrate. More major problems followed up shortly after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. His step dad asked for divorce, and attempt to take away his financial support. Subject was in a state of distress when all that happens, because he needed those financing to fund for his college or higher education. Base on subject account, he felt really stress knowing that he might not end up with a tertiary education. Subject mother was cured and she defended him to put him through college.

At the age of eighteen, subject was still living with his mother and step dad. The abuse from his step dad never slowed down, and subject will be the one to take the blame. His step dad would attempt to distract him from his studies by shouting outside his room and kicking his door. I do remember one incident where by his step dad reverses subject's car into a pole damaging his car boot on purpose. However all that happening did not distract subject from his studies, because he knew his mother will be there for him. Thing took a drastic turn when subject finished his A-levels examination, his mother was diagnosed with cancer elapse, and was given not more than five month to live. Subject felt into distress but because of his strong social support he was able to hang on. Subject always believe his mother will be there for him, and he believed she would see him graduate and made it in life. However, he was forced to face the fact when his mother passed on.


A one on one interview is being conducted in this research. In order to provide subject with a space where by he can express himself freely, locations of the interview were done at places where subject was given a sense of privacy. The interview was conducted on a weekly basis that spread out within a month time, and each section does not exceed three hours.

In the first interview, subject was asked to speak about his life, from birth till his mother remarriage. Questions about what's it like growing up with a single mother and the difficulty he faced was asked. Subject was provided with papers to allow him to write down things he doesn't feel comfortable talking about it. However, none of the given sheet was used.

During the second interview, subject was asked to speak about his experience when his mother re-married. For example, the things he faced and other relevant experiences. Question was given to subject to facilitate his answers and papers and pen were given to allow him to write down his experiences, but none was utilised

Subject was asked to list the three most important things he felt that has shaped his life in the third interview, follow on by questions that require subject to reflect on the experiences that he had gone through during the years living with his step father. Subject was encourages to express his thoughts regardless of the feeling he felt.

The final interview pushes subject to reflect about the emotions he had from the period of time his mother discovered cancer, until the time she passed on. Again, subject was provided with papers and pen to allow him to write down experiences and events he doesn't feel comfortable with.

Further interviews were conduct to allowing specific understanding in certain areas. Interviews were conducted in less formal manner, but maintained the privacy of subject.


Linking Parenting and development

Subject as mention was brought up by his mother since the age of ten after the divorce of his parents. In this case, subject formed a stronger trust towards his mother (Erikson's 1950, 1968). This trust between subject and his mother was formed so strongly that even being in an abusive household, subject was able to feel a sense of safety with the presence of his mother. In the third interview conducted, subject responded towards my question about his mother presences by saying "I trust her and I believe she'll keep me safe". The strength of the trust was strengthened with events that took place along the development of subject. For instant, the times when subject's mother send him live with his cousin to prevent him from being hurt by his abusive step father. Such behaviour of subject's mother acted as a reinforcement towards the trust formed between subject and his mother (Skinner, 1956).

In fact, the trust was not only about presences, but the sense of safety and belonging. In the fourth interview conducted, I asked subject about his coping with his mother chronic illness, subject's answer was highly governed towards the trust formed between he and his mother, "I trust she'll be around to see me grow up, because she told me she would". Subject believed that his mother would recover, despite knowing the fact that she have months to live, because he trusted she would, just like the first time she promised and recovered from the illness. Erikson's (1950, 1968) stated that an infant will learn to trust a person from the warm and responsiveness of the person, and develop a strong sense of confident. From the statement of trust between Subject and his mother, it's clearly shown that subject mother was a warm and loving mother who provided subject with support when needed. In the first interview when subject spoke about his mother, he described her as a warm and loving mother who would allow him to experiences many things, which I conclude that Subject's mother fit perfectly into the authoritative parenting style (Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Hart, Newell & Olsen, 2003). Perhaps it's the authoritative parenting that strengthens subject's sense of self-control, self-esteem, and social maturity (Amato & Fowler, 2002; Aunola, Stattin & Nurmi, 2000; Luster & McAdoo, 1996; Mackey, Arnold, & Pratt, 2001; Sterinberg, Darling, & Fletcher, 1995).

Subject responded to the breakage of trust in a very uncomfortable manner, according to subject, the trust was broken with the death of his mother. This was because subject trusted that his mother will be around to see him graduated, but passed on before she could. I was able to experiences the intensity when subject's mother first passed away. Perhaps it was because of the development of subject's self efficacy, and the event (the first time recovery of cancer of subject's mother) that further reinforced a high self efficacy that his mother's not going to leave him (Bandura, 1989). Thus, when subject's mother passed away, there's an unfulfilled promise between he and his mother, and perhaps subject felt betrayed by the departure of his mother because his efforts was not met (Bandura, 1998), hence breaking the trust that was formed in his early infancy development (Erikson's 1950, 1968).

Blended Family, Social Context, and Achievements

Subject mother remarried when subject was twelve years old. In the first interview, subject spoke about how he left the house and moved in with his biological father for a year upon the remarrying of his mother to his step dad. Base on research, in a Mother-stepfather family, boy tends to adjust quickly, as mother and sons friction declines with a greater sense of economy security (Visher, Visher & Pasley, 2003). However, it took subject a year to accept before finally moving back to live with his mother and his step-father, still he did not really felt blend in living with his step-father beside having a better economy status.

Buying on subject recall, subject spoke about the times when he first moved back with his mother in our second interview. He described the household as a warm and loving place, partly because they were doing well and financial was not an issue. However, when subject's step-father business took a drastic turn, his step-father started to show hostility towards subject's and his mother. The behaviour of subject's step-father can be linked to a low socioeconomic status (SES) parenting that involved physical punishment and commands (Bradley & Corwyn, 2003). The abuse started to get more aggressive from verbal to minor physical. In our second interview, subject spoke about how his step-father would call him disturbing names like 'bastard' or 'asshole'. This gave me a sense that his being subjected to all this hostile was highly related to the fact that he wasn't the biological son, and that it would be demeaning to behave hostile towards subject's mother. White & Gilbreth (2001), stated that circumstance linked to better adjustment would suggest that perhaps subject was never well adjusted into the family from the beginning, because he was sceptical towards his step-father.

Social context plays a very strong role in the development of subject. In the third interview, I asked subject to list three most important things he felt had governed him and help him surpass all the pressure.

The answer provided by the subject allows me to further understand how subject viewed school. "School's the place where I felt I could be myself", was the answer given to me by him. According to subject, he felt safer as he was away from his step-father hostile behaviours, and was truly able to enjoy his times spend. Such finding could be link to the reason subject was highly involved in extra-curriculums activity (Drama) that often requires him to stay back in school for practices, and meetings. Friendship was a crucial issue for subject as most of his friends were very close friends of his who had long developed a tie (eg. childhood friends). Subject admitted that he needed to trust a person before he could befriend with them (Buhrmester, 1996; Hartup & Abecassis, 2004). Because friends played an important role in subject's development, it further strengthens the link between the extra-curriculums, as spending more time in school means having more time being surrounded by friends, and he felt good being around them (Larson & Richards, 1991).

As for mother, its understanding that subject felt safe with the presences of his mother, and with the strong trust that was developed (Erikson's 1950, 1968) between them that was discussed earlier. However, religion was an important factor for subject. In our third interview, I asked subject how he views religion in his life. He saw religion as a symbol of hope, an alternative solution when there's none. For instant, when his step-father threatened to remove him from school when his mother was first diagnose with cancer, he stated that he prayed very hard every night hoping that god will show him guidance. Perhaps it was a lack of control that was felt by subject thus religion acted as an superiority to suppress the inferiority in subject, a hope and a believe that will guide him through (Alder, 1933).

In 2007, subject team was chosen to represent the state in the national drama competition. Subject being the lead actor of the team, had won the district, and state level before being selected for national level and came home second runner up in the competition. Subject recalled those were the greatest moment in his life. It's a boost to his self-esteem, typically when he has a strong relationship among his peers and his capabilities (Cole et al., 2001; Twenge & Campbell, 2001). Perhaps that achievement was more than just winning. From what I deduces, subject may had felt a sense of confident in the ability to cope with his life problems, and felt a sense of control in his personal and vocational futures (Grob & Flammer, 1999). Such factor allows subject to develop a stronger sense of identity in the society.

Of Death and Development

When subject mother was first diagnoses with cancer, it wasn't terminal. Financial was an issue for subject's family at that time. His mother resulted to medications instead of chemotherapy. This was the period of time when subject felt a great distress, because he was seventeen, he was about to sit for his SPM in a few months time, and his step-father had just asked for a divorce from his mother upon learning of her illness. Subject recalled those were the period that he faced the most stress, and it all happens during the time when he had just made it to national level for his drama competition. What I deduce from this finding's that, perhaps at that period of time, social support highly vulnerable for him. In our final interview, subject told me about the stress he faced when all the things were fallen onto him. However, as I recall subject seems pretty fine at that period of time when he was in school. There's where subject admitted that even when his mom was being diagnosed with such illness, he believes that his mother will still be there to protect him, and she will make it through.

From that onwards, it reflected how strong the trust was reinforced through out the years, that subject will still believe that his mother will be there (Erikson's 1950, 1968) From previous discussion, when subject mother was suppressed, religion kicks in as an reinforcement or an alternative final hope for him (Alder, 1933). It's understood that subject mother was a great mom, who manage to reinforce a sense of Initiative and Industry towards the development of subject, and the subsequence activities (Drama, Music, Dance performance) added as a reinforcements towards the development of self-concept for subject. Thus, when subject was facing those situations, he was able to categories them and not let them affect his performances. I asked subject how did he cope with it and I was given such answer as "I know what is important, and I cannot afford to screw it up." It does sum up that by that age subject was in touch with his feelings, abilities and was able to trust his innermost urges and intuitions (Rogers, 1961). Perhaps it was the context and experiences that managed to shape his development of self.

"I was too numb to react, that's how I was the whole time." This was the answer given to me by subject when he first found out about the months his mother had to live in the relapse of her cancer. He find it difficult to accept, but subject was able to slowly let go with his mother advises. I was in the hospital when his mother told us how important we are to him after she's gone, she asked us to be there for him. Subject had developed a strong sense of social support by the age of nineteen, and had a strong peer support. Knowing the critical stages of his mother, subject still believe there's a hope, until his mother final moment. However, there comes a time that both of them have to let go. According to the statement below

"The single most painful moment of my life was not losing her, it was my duty as her son, to tell her to go and move on. It was about 4.45pm in the evening, the sun was still shining outside when I sat down by her bed, bent close to her so she could hear me and whispered into her ear "mom, don't worry about me, I'm fine, I'm 19, you've done so much and even more for me, you've equipped me with the tools to take care of myself, mom, you've gotten your dream, to watch your son grow up into a fine young man, mom, please don't hold on, everyone has agreed to look out for me so you wont have to worry your pretty little head, mom, I love you very much, so please, you've never listened to your son once right ? So just this once, please listen, and let go"

Subject's mother passed on the next day. However, subject was able to adapt internally, to the reality of what has happened while being able to employ memory and reverie to maintain contact with the lost good (Ryner, Joyce, Rose, Tywmen & Clulow, 2005). Subject not only was able to deal with his emotional feelings, but the ability to move on after that. According to Ryner, Joyce, Rose, Tywmen & Clulow (2005), the final product of the state alone is the capacity to hold on to the good of what is past, and to allow its transformation in the movement towards what is lies ahead . Such placement allows me to observe the strength of subject dealing with such event. Nevertheless, by observing the transitions of subject from early accounts, I was able to deduces the mentality of subject, it's know that from the decision subject made, he was able to thinking logically and make a rational decision (Klaczynski, 2001), in this case it would be role in helping his mother to let go. Further analyzing the situation pairing with the development would be the introduction of formal operational thinking of subject. Such matter requires a critical decision as it involves life and death. However, subject was able to perform propositional thoughts and understand the crucial role he played in helping his mother to let go, and move on (Piaget, 1955/1958). By observing the analysis in a whole, I was able to deduces that subject perhaps had formed an identity self with his ability to cope with the different situations (Eriksson, 1968). Perhaps it's the social context that suppressed the need for subject to be mature, which is partly link to the idea that subject mother wishes to see him "grow in-to-a man".


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