Positive illusions: A comparison of the unrealistically positive views parents and stepparents hold of their children

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Counseling Psychology

First Committee Member

Blaine J. Fowers - Committee Chair


The present study continues the investigation of positive parenting illusions (Wenger, 1998), unrealistically positive perceptions parents hold about their children. The sources of these illusions have not been adequately addressed, leaving unclear if their development is consistent with an evolutionary basis or the adoption of a parental role. This study investigated the source of parenting illusions by examining their presence in stepparent-stepchild relationships. Stepparents exhibiting parenting illusions would suggest that such illusions develop through the adoption of a parental role. This study also investigated parents' projection of positive self-perceptions upon their child. Finally, this study examined the relationship between parents' unrealistically positive perceptions of their children and parenting satisfaction.Data were collected from 67 couples with a stepchild aged 3 to 13. All participants were voluntarily recruited from a national stepfamily organization. Participants completed a demographic form, the Illusions of Parenting Scale, the Cleminshaw-Guidubaldi Parenting Satisfaction Scale, the Self-Deception Scale, the Parental Investment Inventory, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and adjective ratings of self, their child, and the average child selected from the Anderson (1968) Personality Trait List.Biological parents and stepparents were found to exhibit positive parenting illusions, as they rated their child more positively than the average child. However, these illusions were found to be stronger in biological parents. These findings suggest that positive parenting illusions develop through the adoption of a parental role. This study also found that, for stepparents, parental investment and amount of parent-child interaction were relaxed to positive child ratings. Furthermore, this study questions the projection of parents' self-perceptions upon their children, as some hypothesized relationships among self-ratings, self-esteem, and child ratings were not found. Finally, for biological parents and stepparents, their unrealistically positive perceptions of their children were the most important component of reported parenting satisfaction. Implications for theory and application are discussed.


Psychology, Social; Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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