Becoming a mum was the ultimate experience for me. It was something I always knew I would love. I have a medical condition that made it difficult for me to conceive so both my babies felt like miracles. Still, I wondered if I would have enough love for them both, turns out it is automatic, unconditional love for them both equally.
Then I became a step-mum to 3 young children. Of course, that is not something you plan for your life or expect when you become a parent, so what does it mean to be a step-Mum?
Well, there is certainly the legal consideration of being a step-parent.
But practically, it means you’re in love with someone that has their own children. It means their children will now be part of your life, whether you want them to be or not. It means that you need to work hard to build a relationship with your partner’s children so you can blend as a family.
1) Love is not automatic
It does not mean you automatically have extra children, or that you will automatically love these children just because you love their dad or mum. You have no attachment or bond with these children. . All children want their parents to stay living together because that means they have access to both their parents all the time. This means that they may have issues with your existence regardless of how nice you are! The introduction of a stepparent makes things official for children, their mum and Dad are not getting back together. Children can feel a strong sense of loyalty towards their biological parent and this can create a loyalty bind. This means as a stepparent it can be incredibly difficult to build a relationship with a child that feels this confusion, “How can I be friends with my new step-mum without upsetting my mum?”
2) Be positive
All of my s-kids have had times of struggle with what seems to be a loyalty bind. They can feel indifferent towards me when they first arrive from their mum’s house and take a bit of time to warm up. We recognise this and support them to love and compliment their mum openly in our home, which has helped them understand that it is okay to have a relationship with me and still be loyal to their mum. Keeping your language positive and talking positively about their bio-parent and extended family is always in the best interests of the children. Even if your situation is high conflict, it is never okay to “bad mouth” a child’s family member in front of that child.
I have read many books, quotes and blogs that all agree being a step-mum is one of the hardest roles within a family. There is this perception within society that thinks of a step-dad as some sort of hero, stepping up and taking care of another man’s children. Whereas a step-mum is generally considered a tramp that has stolen someone else’s man and children. The social stigma of a step-mum is generally negative with the most common terms I’ve come across “Evil step-mum” or “step-monster”.
So what does it mean to be a step-Mum in our blended family?
I spent a great deal of time reading and researching, listening and discussing, on how to be the best step-mum I could be. I am far from perfect and am still learning everyday but this is what I have learnt so far that has helped me build a strong relationship with my stepchildren and give myself to them as one of their people.
- My job is to always support their Dad, in his role, as their parent
This means when Dad is around I back off and let him be their main caregiver. Of course because I run the household and care for the children after school, I need to have some input but whenever possible I redirect my s-kids to their Dad. Chores, bedtime and especially anything that requires discipline is managed by Dad. Sometime he will call me into the conversation to discuss the situation if he feels I can help but I the final decision falls on their Dad.
- When I am parenting them (when Dad isn’t around), I must teach not tell
I try and see my role as a teacher with my s-kids. We have set up family rules and routines so generally I can use gentle reminders but when that doesn’t work and I cannot defer to Dad, I teach, discuss and allow the child to come up with the solution. If it’s a big one that I feel needs more “parenting”, I defer to Dad.
- My relationship with them is always more important than anything else
Basically this means – don’t sweat the small stuff! Whether it’s a messy bedroom or homework refusal, let it go! These things are not worth your stress or your relationship with your s-kids. If it’s minor and not a big deal immediately, let it go! If you’re worried it will become a big deal (homework refusal for example), then discuss with their Dad in private and let him deal with it.
- It is okay for me to love them
Let go of judgements around you and let yourself fall for your stepchildren. There is no guarantee that you will connect with them, personality type has a lot to do with it, but if you do find yourself connecting with one or all of your s-kids, let it happen, don’t hold back because allowing yourself to have a natural relationship with your s-kids will make your relationship stronger.
- It is okay for me not to love them
Just as above – let go of judgements – it is okay if you don’t love them. You may even dislike them, but it is not okay for you to treat them badly. I read an online post recently, the step-mum was stating that she “hated her 8yr old stepson”…. Reading this made me incredibly sad. It is our job as adults to be the adult in the relationship. Fake it until you make it. You don’t have to love them but you have to like them for the benefit of your entire family. If you’re struggling, then talk with your partner in private, let it all out and then endeavour to find a solution. Part of you choosing a relationship with a person that has children is accepting their children.
- It is okay that I am bonded to my own children more
Early in our relationship I went through a stage of guilt. I felt awful because I automatically felt protective of my own children but didn’t have those feeling towards my s-kids. I felt like there must be something wrong with me, how could I not love these children like they are my own, everyone is saying that I must! And then I realised that it was actually okay that I didn’t. Of course I don’t, they aren’t mine! I’m not their mum, they already have a loving, active Mother in their lives and it is my job as their stepparent to support and reinforce their relationship with their bio-parent. Once I let go of my guilt and found a new understanding of my role as their step-mum, I found it easy to just be. I have a different connection with each one of my s-kids, they have decided the level of relationship they want with me and I have allowed them to guide me in knowing how much I need to be bonded to them.
- If you love and respect a little person, no matter what they are being told by other people, they will judge you on their own experience
You must remember that even if your s-kids are being told awful things about you, it is up to you how they receive that message. My s-kids are told some awful things about myself and their Dad. But because we have a loving, healthy marriage and a strong relationship with them, those concepts don’t make sense to them and they have an understanding that we are just “not liked” by certain people.
If you’re in my situation and running the household as the mum and step-mum, talk to your partner, set your expectations and work together to get things right for your family. Your relationship with your s-kids relies on you and your partner working together and following through on the expectations you have set. My husband and I check in regularly to make sure we are feeling supported in our relationships with all our children. My husband is a fantastic father and I love seeing him be a hands on active Dad to his children. Being a step-mum to his children is a privilege and I feel proud to be in their lives.
For more information on what it means to be a step-Mum, check out our article on Step-parents.