- Set realistic expectations of your relationship with your stepchild
They aren’t going to love you straightaway. Newsflash: They might not ever. They’ll probably ignore you or resent you for not being their real mum or dad. That’s normal. They’re children and you are the grown-up. Just carry on doing your best and when they start showing you in their own way that they appreciate you, it’s a great feeling.
- Accept that there are things beyond your control
As the stepparent, you may feel that your opinion of what’s in the best interests of your stepson or daughter is not as important as that of the biological parents. If the ex is present in the child’s life, decisions may be made that you don’t agree with. They may do, or fail to do, things that leave you feeling furious and wanting to reach for the Merlot at 11am on a Monday. The lesson I have slowly learned is to just accept there are certain things beyond your control and Let. It. Go. Sure, there are times when you need to say your piece or stamp your feet – do it! But you’ll feel happier and more sane you if you can let some things go over your head.
- Don’t try to be perfect…
Being a stepparent is hard work and some days it can be hard to hide your frustration from your children. Forgive yourself those times when you’re fed up and be honest with them (if they’re old enough) by telling them that sometimes, grown-ups have bad days.
Then have a cuddle.
- …Or worry what others are thinking
You might feel that the Mummy Mafia at the school gate is judging you. Sections of society will label you a home-wrecker. Rise above it! As long as you know you’re trying your best every day that really is all that matters.
- Put time aside for just you and your step-son/daughter
I find time on my own with my stepson hugely beneficial to our relationship. Especially since the arrival of his half-sister (my daughter). Try and let them choose and activity for you to do together and give him or her your undivided attention for a few hours. It can really help to strengthen your bond.
- Think about long-term rewards for the child (and you) rather than short-term gratification
Day-to-day, being a step-mum might sometimes seem a thankless role. If you’re feeling dispirited, remind yourself that by being a consistent, loving presence in your stepchild’s life, you are helping them grow into secure, confident adults. And that’s a priceless gift. Whether they thank you for it or not doesn’t really matter in the long term.
- Encourage everyone in the family to talk openly
Due to the separation or loss that has to have occurred in the first place, stepfamilies naturally bring with them complicated and painful issues.
Children in particular are probably struggling to understand and accept their family set-up and may act up as a result. I’ve learned to look for the signs that my stepson is feeling angry or upset about his situation rather than ‘being naughty’. Then I encourage him to talk about how he’s feeling and offer reassurance. Similarly it’s as important for my partner and I to discuss any issues concerning our family dynamic, to prevent any feelings of resentment from cropping up.
- Hang out with your partner
The logistics of managing stepfamily life are complicated. Life is so hectic that your relationship needs end up relegated to the bottom of the pile. However, a successful stepfamily needs parents who are strong and happy. Making time to hang out with your partner away from the children isn’t something done at their expense – it’s done for them.
- Take time out for yourself
OK, this is stock advice for all parents but make sure you find some time in your week that’s just yours. It is vital to your well-being.
- Learn as you go
I hope that sharing some of my insights helps you with your personal situation. But of course, your family will be different to mine. You know yourself, your partner and your children better than anyone. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get everything right straight away.
Take each day as it comes, count the positives, learn from the mistakes and trust your instincts.