Stepfamilies are the fastest-growing family type in the UK, with an estimated one in three of all families being part of one. I grew up with a stepdad, and I’ve been a stepmom for the last seven years.
While it’s a really beautiful role to take on, it can also be damn hard, so I’ve put together a few tips based on my experience to help new stepmoms, or stepmoms who might be going through a tough time.
Don’t be too hard on yourself:
Stepmoms are often more anxious than those who are raising their own biological children. The pressure we feel to get things “right” is tenfold. We feel judged by others, whether that’s the children, your partner, the ex, extended family, even other parents in the playground, but not one of them judges us as hard as we judge ourselves. I remember being so angry, and annoyed with myself if I forgot something, like sending Dan to school without his PE kit. I would berate myself for hours, making it into something so much bigger than it needed to be.
So please, take a second. Breathe. You do not have to be perfect. If you do make a “mistake”, if you forget something, you’re only human. It’s really not the end of the world.
Take time for you:
This is so important – I think as stepmoms, we can very quickly forget about ourselves. Trying to be on top of everything means you will end up at the bottom of your list, but taking time out for yourself to do the things you enjoy is crucial – for all of you.
Putting myself and my needs first, although I felt all the guilt, was actually really beneficial to our family dynamic. I realised I didn’t need to be around all the time, things weren’t going to fall apart without me.
You will sometimes feel like the third wheel, like an outsider, so taking time out is essential. Doing more for things for you, means you will be happier, and so will your home life as a result.
Forget them all. Right now. I’m pretty sure being a stepmom is going to be nothing like you imagine it will, so the sooner you forget how you think it should be, means you can accept it for how it is. Don’t expect anything, especially instant bonding. You’re not immediately going to become this picture perfect family so don’t put yourself under pressure to create it.
I felt the harder I tried to make everything just right, the worse it became. It’s a vicious cycle and the only person you’re hurting with these preconceptions is yourself.
At some point, your feelings are going to be really hurt. You’re going to feel like you heart is breaking, you’re going to feel underappreciated and taken for granted. But stay kind. By committing to your partner, you’ve committed to the child (or children) too, so you need to think about their feelings and put them first. You’ve made a choice to love them, which in itself is an amazing thing, so keep being amazing and fill your stepchild’s world with kindness, even when you don’t feel like it. It will pay off one day, I promise.
Remember your relationship:
One of the hardest things for me was the fact that being pulled into a ready made family meant our relationship immediately took a back seat. With so-called “traditional” relationships, you have the ability to date, to holiday, to enjoy each other properly before you settle down and move onto having children. But in this situation, you don’t get that luxury, so as and when you can, make sure you take the time for the two of you. Remember why you’re together in the first place. Sometimes love really can conquer all.
Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to stepfamilies. You will feel like you’re in over your head, like nothing you do or say is going to be good enough. So don’t keep it in, you need to honest…. with yourself and your partner. Some conversations are going to be really hard – it’s the most sensitive of sensitive topics, but if you can have those conversations respectfully and honestly, it will only breed positivity in the long run.
Don’t expect everyone to understand:
Despite stepfamilies being a common occurrence these days, some people will have no experience whatsoever with this type of family dynamic. This means, not everyone is going to get your situation, they can’t empathise because they’ve never had first-hand experience. It can be difficult when those in your circle can’t quite understand why something is upsetting you so much, but it’s not their fault and it doesn’t mean you’re alone. But it can make you feel like you’re going slightly crazy.
A few years ago, I found a community group on Facebook for stepparents in my local county. Tapping into so many people who were going through something similar made me realise I wasn’t the only one finding the transition tough. It was comforting to see what I was going through was actually very very normal. Be sure to check out your socials for similar groups.
Whatever your relationship with the kids biological mother, aka the ex, don’t bad mouth her – ever. No matter what has gone on in your history, it’s not something that’s healthy for children to be privy to. You can only control what you say, and it may not be reciprocated on her end, but if you can put all your efforts into creating a positive relationship and a more blended family, it will be easier all round.
Ask for help:
There is no right or wrong way for this to go. There’s not a handbook, no two stepfamilies are the same. Finding your role and place within this new family can be so tough and although time can be your biggest ally, if you’re still struggling there a number of helplines and websites you can reach out too.
Family Lives – 0800 800 2222 – www.familylives.org.uk
Children 1st – 08000 28 22 23 – www.children1st.org.uk
Happy Steps – www.happysteps.co.uk
Being a Step Parent – www.beingastepparent.co.uk
Childless Stepmums Forum – www.childlessstepmums.co.uk
Remember throughout all of the ups and downs, you still matter and it will all be worth it. I promise.