I’ve recently been thinking about the ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ of stepparenting. It’s a bit of a minefield at the best of times and having searched through about 20 articles, I can’t honestly say I’ve found one that applies to real life.
It’s all very well saying ‘Do have a grateful attitude‘ but that’s really hard at times. Those days when your stepchild has drawn up the wall, spat out the food you spent hours making or refused to talk to you at the amusement park you drove them to (and paid for) makes being grateful a bit of a mission. ‘Do have weekly family meetings and make sure you’re on the same page as your spouse and your ex’. I know – let us all laugh together. Clearly, these people have never actually been stepparents.
Being a stepparent means coming into a family unit that already has its own ways and traditions and that might include things you don’t agree with. Over time things should and will change to incorporate your thoughts and perspectives, and as a result, behaviours and practices will also change. But it’s a stupidly long process, one that nearly all of us at some time or another considers walking away from.
I’m 3 years in and by no means the most experienced stepmum out there. However, I think we have reached a place of relative peace and harmony, and I have a few helpful pointers to share.
- DO be sure he (or she) is the one. DO NOT enter into this if you’re not sure/have any nagging doubts. Wait until you are sure. Time is your friend here.
- DO have realistic expectations. You might get on like a house on fire when you first meet but at some point, conflict will occur. It might be because the novelty of you has worn off, or because you’ve said ‘No’ for the first time. DO NOT expect everything to be rosie all the time. Remember ‘normal’ families have big rows too.
- DO NOT beat yourself up. About anything. If you shout, if you cook the wrong food, if you try hard and then wonder why you bothered – just don’t do it. Lesson learned. You have a lot more to learn. Every day can feel like a lesson at first and some days are a write-off. DO know you’re not alone. We have all been there (big hugs).
- DO get to know your stepchildren and learn a bit about them before you meet them. It will make starting a conversation a bit easier (although if they are teenagers just accept a grunt is probably all you will get). It will probably also make your other half a bit more relaxed about introducing you to his kids, as he will feel you’re interested. DO NOT impose too many changes too quickly. Trust me, I made this mistake and it’s not a brilliant idea. Even if you very strongly disagree with the way something is done, discuss it when the children are gone and take changes on slowly. They are more effective that way. ‘Don’t come into the stepfamily with your list of ways to “fix” things. If you do, the kids might see you as trying to erase all evidence of their life before you entered it’, says Jenna Korf 1
- DO remember children lash out at biological parents too. They are going to try it out on you as well. In the beginning, they are trying to establish new boundaries with you in this new family unit and process their own feelings of hurt, sadness, anger, etc due to the split/change in the original family unit. This might be added too if BM is fuelling the perception that you are responsible for that change. DO NOT fight that battle alone. Ensure your partner is going to sit down with the children and explain this isn’t the case.
- DO expect to get a sort-of-pass to the mummy club. After all, you now have a title with the word ‘mummy’ in it. Unfortunately, it’s the least appealing title in the history of the world. DO NOT expect anyone to react positively. Sorry, that’s the most disappointing thing in the world. I still introduce my SS as adopted (in my eyes, I’ve adopted him!) and then people are all ‘Oh wow! How lovely!’ I think to myself yes, isn’t it? I’ve taken on a child I didn’t give birth to, agreed to love them, care for them, educate, discipline, clothe and feed them. I find most mums see me as a bit of an impostor or pretend mum if I tell them I’m a stepmum!
- DO keep talking. DO NOT list all the things your step kids do that annoy you. Prepare what you want to say before it comes out your mouth. Otherwise, it will feel like a very, very personal attack.
- DO get as much support as you can. Read my blog, read books or join groups. DO NOT feel alone.
- DO allow yourself to love your step kids. It might happen over time, but when it does, just let it. You’re not doing anything wrong. DO NOT let anyone feel like you are. Love is love and all kids thrive on it.
- DO remember your relationship is the foundation for all this. Keep working at it. Go out still. Make time for you. Hire a babysitter if you need to. DO NOT neglect this. If the foundation crumbles, basically, you’re stuffed.