5 ways to be a happier stepmum


Wow - you stepmums are a vocal bunch! I knew I'd hit on a bit of a nerve with my opinion piece for Kidspot but I had no idea people felt so strongly on the topic.

It seems the responses to my article were in one of two camps - the women who got in touch online and via social media were either firmly of the "I get it and I'm with you" opinion or, in contrast, asked me how I could possibly be OK with taking a backseat to my stepkids' biological parents when it came to school and extra-curricular events.

Either way, there are obviously hundreds of thousands of women out there who are doing their very best to meet some kind of stepmum mould and, in my opinion, there is nowhere near enough being written about them (us!).

One of the hardest things I've found about the transition from single girl to stepmum is the enormous amount of patience and composure I need. Those quiet weekday evenings are suddenly filled with homework, pick ups and drop offs and, let's face it, noise!

Whether you’re coming into a stepfamily with or without kids of your own, taking on responsibility for another person’s children can cause stress and could even lead to more serious conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“Women who don't have prior children often suffer from greater anxiety which can be related to their lack of confidence in parenting and the significant changes to their single life prior to the relationship,” says psychologist Dr Lisa Doodson, author of How To Be A Happy Stepmum (Vermilion, $29.99).  “But it’s important to remember all stepmums face similar problems, often related to understanding their role in the family, dealing with the children and also with the biological mum so you’re not alone.”

Taking care of yourself is critical so try these five tips right now to become a happier stepmum today.

  • Organise regular date nights: “The adult relationship is arguably the most important relationship in the stepfamily - without this relationship there is no stepfamily,” says Lisa. The very nature of a stepfamily means there was never a time “before children” so designating time - whether it’s weekly or monthly - for you and your partner to “just be a couple” is super important. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive - just time for the two of you to be together without the stress of kids.
  • Accept that not all stepfamilies are created equal: Custody arrangements, the nature of the relationship between children’s biological parents and how the kids deal with a new adult in their lives are all things that are out of your control so try not to put any expectations on how your stepfamily will grow. “It’s unlikely that a strong bond between a stepmum and her stepchildren will develop straightaway so don’t put pressure on it,” says psychotherapist, family counsellor and stepmum Dr Karen Phillip. “The relationship, as with any other, needs time to develop and so everyone gets to know one another so try not to force things or put undue pressure on yourself.”

  • Leave the discipline to your partner (in the beginning): It’s OK, say the experts, to bow out gracefully when it comes to discipline. “Over time, stepmums can take on a bigger role but it’s vital that they are supported by their partner, and should only start getting involved when they have more confidence and have been part of the family for a significant period of time,” says Lisa.
  • Practice good behaviour: Resentment towards your stepkids isn’t unusual. In fact it’s extremely common especially if you’re coming into the partnership with no kids of your own and suddenly your weekends are taken up with football games, dancing lessons and other kid commitments. “Planning is important, so for example if the children are coming for the weekend, make sure that you have spoken with your partner and agree what the plans are,” says Lisa. “If necessary, split it into segments so some are child friendly activities, but there's down time for catching up with chores or even spending time with friends or other couples.”
  • Take charge of your own happiness: “Don’t get too wrapped up trying to be everything to everyone that you forget about yourself,” says Karen.  Moving in with a ready made family is extremely daunting, particularly if you don't already have children of your own. “It’s important to take things slowly - and that includes making sure you have time on your own, keeping in touch with old friends and maintaining your own interests and hobbies,” says Lisa. “This will help you cope more effectively with the stresses of the new family unit and building new relationships. Happiness is about well-being. If we're happy, were more likely to be healthy and able to cope with challenges life throws at us.”

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