One in three of us belongs to a stepfamily. Marrying again and creating a new family unit is now far from unusual. We’re led to believe that, with a little patience, lots of hard work and the right approach, this disparate group of people can live happily ever after.
But, there’s no real right or wrong way when it comes to step-parenting. Flic Everett gives us some of the nuggets of wisdom she’s learned from becoming a stepmom to three girls…
The simple Do’s and Don’ts from a stepmom:
‘I truly believed I was Mary Poppins crossed with Maria from The Sound of Music. I thought I could learn to love all the children equally and heal the girls’ pain. That was my first mistake.’
- Don’t expect the energy, time and love you give to your partner’s children to be returned immediately: affection and trust have to be earned.
- Do treat your new stepchildren as you would your nieces and nephews; with warmth, interest and connection – but never as if you’re their new mom.
‘The first year that we were all together I tried to force my idea of a perfect festive celebration on Simon and the girls, and when it received a lukewarm reaction I felt disappointed and rejected – which led to several fights with my husband. It was only when I’d calmed down a bit (mid-January!) that it dawned on me that changing everything around made the girls feel as though they were being disloyal to their mom.’
- Don’t ignore the old traditions, but don’t let them stop you from making new ones as your new family develops.
- Do let the kids set their own agenda – after all, they didn’t ask for their existing family to be turned on its head.
Agree on a strategy
‘A huge issue in most stepfamilies is discipline. In ours, I dealt with my son, while Simon dealt with his daughters. But when Simon wasn’t around, I didn’t feel comfortable being strict with his girls.’
- Don’t disobey the ground rules you’ve set with your partner.
- Do set rules as a family. Simon and I sat the kids down and agreed that whoever the lone adult was, they’d be in charge.
Read more: Parenting: expectations vs reality
Spend some time apart
‘I decided not to spend time alone with my son for fear of alienating the girls, but over time I learned that Simon and I needed to spend time separately with our own children. Now that they are grown up, their memories are happier because they knew that, when they really needed their own mom or dad, we were there.’
- Don’t ignore your own child. Your kids need personal time with you, not just to talk about what’s worrying them, but to have fun.
- Do let your stepchildren enjoy time with their parent. It shows you do want them to be happy.
Give them respect
‘It sounds obvious, but when you have a 13-year-old sneering at your cooking, a nine-year-old muttering ‘you’re not my mother’, and a seven-year-old insisting she’s allowed chocolate for breakfast, it’s tough.’
- Don’t forget that kids can be selfish, sometimes even nasty, because they don’t know how to handle their emotions.
- Do take a step back and enjoy 10 minutes to yourself – you’ll feel refreshed and ready to go again.