Dear Future Step-mum : 5 Things you Should Know
I remember going home one day and completely breaking down in my partner’s arms. When he sought to find out what was the matter with me all I could say was “this is so difficult”. I guess he understood exactly what I was talking about because he didn’t say a word after that, just held me until I was calm which I really appreciated because at that particular moment that is all I wanted to do was cry.
You see we were still dating and I had met his two wonderful children. I had been eager to meet them and in my head had all these plans and fantasies of us being one big happy family after all, I loved their dad and by extension I would love them. Thing is, it didn’t quite go as I had expected. They did not warm up to me instantly as I had thought and this made our interactions very awkward at the beginning.
I struggled with the fact that his ex would be a constant part of our lives, sometimes I felt like an outsider in my own home and other times I felt like I had this dirty little secret that I could not share with anyone about being a step-mum, I didn’t want to be judged or labelled as ‘evil’. I also felt guilty opening up to my partner about my feelings because I thought he would get the perception like I didn’t love him or his children. Took me a long time to understand all the new family dynamics, why I felt like I did and re-adjust my expectations.
So today I will share with you 5 things I wish someone had shared with me before I embarked on my step-parenting journey.
1. Know what you are getting yourself into.
The most common confession of every stepparent I have worked with is “I wish I knew it was going to be this difficult”. A lot of people get into step-families with the notion that they will function just like the traditional family they were raised in. This ends up in disappointment because blended families are nothing like traditional families therefore the same principles just don’t work.
Make it your mission to learn as much as possible about marriage, parenting and step-family life. You can find this information from reading books, the internet, audio and video tools. The more you know, the more you are able to decipher and understand your own behaviour and reaction to different situations as well as that of your spouse and children. This in turn enables you to be objective and tackle the situation instead of attacking the people in it.
2. Acknowledge and Mourn Loss
Step-families are born of loss. The adults are dealing with the loss of the marriage and the spouse either through death, divorce or separation. The children are dealing with the loss of their parents and the fact that they are no longer under the same roof. As with any loss in life it takes time for people to grieve and come to terms with their loss. Acknowledge that all family members will have experienced significant losses in their lives prior to this new family and that they all need time to deal with the situation. Be patient.
Children, unlike adults do not know how to voice their emotions. They may act out as a result of not having the opportunity to talk about their fears, how they feel about the situation. As the biological parent take time to speak to them and find out how they feel. More importantly re-affirm your love for them despite the change in family dynamics.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
There will be no automatic love between a step-parent and a step-child. The adjustment will take time for everyone and by no means will the step relationships be the same as the biological relationships. Do not make the mistake of comparing your first marriage/relationship to your current one.
Dr Patricia Papernow, a widely recognized expert on blended families and the author of the book “Becoming A stepfamily” says that it takes between 4-7 years for a step-family to go through all the development stages to create intimate and authentic relationships so be patient. Let the children be your guide when it comes to the speed of developing a bond with them.
4. Couple strength and team work
Your relationship and marriage needs to come first. Make conscious and deliberate efforts to spend time alone away from the children. Remember that how your children view marriage and relationships with the opposite sex is from years of watching you and your spouse. Children also benefit from the healthy and happy relationship that you have.
Always present a united front in front of the kids. Discuss any differences in opinion privately and once you have agreed the way forward then talk to the children that way they know they cannot play you against each other.
5. Get Support
Find a supportive church or an organization that caters to step-family needs. By doing so you are able to get help from a professional, as well as meeting other like-minded individuals walking the same journey as you.
Learn more about step-parenting from Wendy.
You might also like: 6 Strategies for a Happy Marriage in a Blended Family