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July 22, 2011

Step Families – The Trials & Tribulations of Stepparenting

by Val Reynolds

Boy next to large branchFamilies are rarely easy. Parenting, as we all know, does not come with a comprehensive User Guide to cover all eventualities. And life moves on – “It wasn’t like this in my day”, we cry (a bit too often in my case!). Put all those factors together – plus add a big dollop of self-sacrifice, resentment and frustration – and ‘VOILA’, welcome to the world of Step-Parenting …

Okay, it’s not entirely doom and gloom. There are moments of loveliness, of joy even, times when the step-parent and the step-child(ren) are happy together, bonded. Happily running through gardenBut too often it feels like an impossible undertaking for all involved. I speak for myself, of course, and I’m sure there are plenty of Step-Mum’s and Step-Dad’s out there who skip through it all with relative ease. But I’ve read enough on the subject to know I’m not alone in my struggles. There are many (Step) voices in the wilderness, equally anguished. I’m also very aware that plenty have it far far tougher than I do; more complex family units, more animosity between ex-partners, etc, and so maybe I should stop the whingeing … but then this would be a very short article!

I have a son from a previous relationship who is almost six years old, and my husband has a daughter from his previous relationship, nine months younger than my son, who spends five days/nights out of every fortnight with us. We have been together since the children were very young, so they don’t remember the situation being any different. From what I’ve read, this all helps enormously. Our situation is ‘normal’ to the kids, they know no different. Yet, despite this, we struggle. Here are some of the classic battle scenes other stepfamilies may recognise:

“You’re not my real mummy”: I had hoped this would be reserved for The Teenage Years, but sadly not. I think it was first uttered (well, screamed) when my step-daughter was about 3. A whole decade early! That’s really bad form; I wasn’t prepared. She used to call me ‘Mummy Lisa’, but suddenly I was cruelly demoted to ‘Not My Real Mummy’. It shouldn’t hurt, but sometimes it just does… Needless to say, I avoid any fairy tales that have the archetypal Wicked Stepmother in – no need to fuel the fires!An ordinary mum

“I don’t want you, I want my daddy”: Typically, this one stings when it’s spat out amidst angry tears when my step-daughter has woken up in the early hours crying after a bad dream or suchlike. When ‘daddy’ is asleep. When ‘Not My Real Mummy’ is the only one available (though a bit bleary-eyed). I’m afraid I am guilty of replying ‘Well, tough, you’ve got me’ on occasion – I’m sure Supernanny would be appalled.

Turning awayI’m going to tell my mummy/daddy about you”: This one usually follows a telling off. It sometimes appears in its extended form ‘I’m going to tell my mummy/daddy about you being so horrible to me all the time’. Nothing shocking, but when you’ve picked said child up from school, played with her, fed and watered her, and have only told her off when she’d been incredibly rude/kicked the dog/thrown her jelly across the table (delete as appropriate) it does grate. Just a little.

Step-parenting can put even the strongest relationship under a huge amount of strain, and I’ve read of many step families that have fallen by the wayside when the tensions became unbearable. But I’ve also been cheered by the number of step families that have risen to the various challenges and stayed the course. With a bit of luck (and a lot of patience and devotion), we’ll be one of those!

Some of the resources that have kept me sane (ish) as a step-parent are:
The Step-Parents Parachute – Flora McEvedy
How To Be A Happy Step Mum – Dr Lisa Doodson

Forums can be good too – some of the discussions on Mumsnet were useful to me in the earlier stages

The author’s name has been withheld to protect the identities of the children. Any correspondence from readers will be forwarded via the editor.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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