Communication Studies, Department of



Centered but not Caught in the Middle: Stepchildren's Perceptions of Dialectical Contradictions in the Communication of Co-Parents

Date of this Version



Braithwaite, D. O., Toller, P., Daas, K., Durham, W. & Jones, A. (2008). Centered, but not caught in the middle: Stepchildren’s perceptions of contradictions of communication of co-parents. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36, 33-55. (Author manuscript)
Published version online at (paywalled)


Copyright 2008 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor&Francis. Used by permission.


The researchers adopted a dialectical perspective to study how stepchildren experience and communicatively manage the perception of feeling caught in the middle between their parents who are living in different households. The metaphor of being caught in the middle is powerful for stepchildren and this metaphor animated their discourse. A central contribution of the present study was to understand the alternative to being caught in the middle and what this alternative means to stepchildren. Reflected in the discourse of stepchildren is that to feel not caught in the middle is to feel centered in the family. Stepchildren's desire to be centered in the family was animated by the dialectic of freedom–constraint, which co-existed within the contradictions of openness–closedness and control–restraint. These contradictions are detailed in the analysis, along with advice to parents from the perspective of stepchildren. Implications for the interaction of stepchildren and their parents are discussed.