‘When I grow up I want to get married, have babies and some step-children! Let’s be honest, no one ever dreams this but the reality is that a growing number of families in the UK are now ‘blended’ with step-parents becoming very much ‘mainstream’ (there is now at least one Christmas advert showing a ‘blended’ family!) There are no clear up-to-date figures, but the latest by the Office for National Statistics recorded that 11% of UK couple families with dependent children were step-families.
Even if step-parenting is more common, that doesn’t mean it feels ‘normal’ a lot of the time. It can be a great challenge, and quite frankly, a pain in the arse. However, it can be very rewarding and of course, if you’re planning for a long-term relationship with your partner, something you will both need to work at. We are all very different and in different circumstances but my own situation is this: I met my husband six years ago. His two boys from a long-finished relationship are now 15 and 12. We now have a three-year-old son and his boys visit for two nights every week. I’m lucky that I have step-sons who are polite, very pleasant to be with and wonderful with their half-brother. (I would be happy for them to read this!) There have been some issues with messiness, communication with their mother (although I get on quite well with her!), time with their dad and my son wanting all their toys, but overall it works.
However, I know that other step-parents can have very challenging issues and, at times, it can feel like it is for us. Many people struggle because of arguments with the ex, rude attitudes, and adjustment to different house rules. As a step-child myself I had the archetypal ‘wicked stepmother’ and I swore I wouldn’t be one of those, (even though sometimes I feel like one for having bad thoughts!) I’m also a teacher which can be good as I know how to communicate with teenagers but weekends can sometimes feel like a busman’s holiday! So, here is my advice from five years of being a step-parent and from reading a few websites on the subject over the years!
- Accept that it’s hard at times and that you’re not perfect – You have made a hard decision (although, sometimes it doesn’t feel like a ‘decision’!) But remember that family life constantly changes: their moods, your moods, the relationship shifts. Make like a Buddhist – all things will soon pass!
- Focus on your relationship with your partner – Again, this can be very hard as you don’t always have the time. You might often feel unappreciated and your partner can feel guilty, being torn between you and the step-children. Try to factor in time together and…
- Talk …but not too much about the step-children. At times, it can consume your life if there is a current issue but you need to also focus on each other and your relationship.
- Make an effort – Try to be empathetic even though, (again!) at times it’s hard to muster the energy. These kids haven’t chosen this life and, deep down, will have a few battle scars. They didn’t ask to have a step-parent. Spend some time with them and be interested in them. Sometimes it can be awkward but try to get over it. Talk to them about their interests. Listen. Praise them. If the children are older, don’t try to be their mother/father. Relate to them as you would with another person.
- Find a balance – (sorry, again v hard!) Sometimes if you get too involved you can feel drained but then you sometimes need to get involved as you are part of this family!
- Make time for yourself – (How you may ask.. with all the extra cooking, cleaning and washing?!) Just try to. You need to put yourself first at times in order to be strong. Keep up with your hobbies or get a new one!
- Talk to other step-parents – They are often the only ones you can be really honest with (and the only ones who are interested!) and they understand/realise you’re only sounding off.
- Be open to a certain extent – (again if kids are older) Tell them when you’re struggling, say thank you to them, let them see you as a real person with feelings.
- Keep going, you’re doing great! – A cliché I know, but you are and if you’re not being appreciated then go and buy yourself a bunch of flowers/beer!
- If all else fails – Buy them all chocolate and go away for the weekend on your own/visit a friend. You will really miss them all .. I promise!
It would be great to know others’ experiences, advice, frustrations, both from step-parents and partners, step-children…
A Guest Blog from Lesley Sainty