Along with the traditional husband, wife and children, families come in all configurations these days. Louise Chandler shares her thoughts on joining a ready-made family as a step mum.
Step-parenting and stepfamilies are just one of the many blended family arrangements accepted as a way of life in 2021. A total of 1.1 million, or nine percent of all children in England and Wales lived with a stepfamily in the year 2020. What is it like to step into this space and become a stepparent?
As a woman dating in her late thirties, I knew there was a high chance that I would meet someone who already had children from a previous relationship. I was once told that being a parent is the hardest and most rewarding job you will do. Does this include being a step mum too?
For years I disliked the term ‘step mum’. It conjures up visions of a spooky cartoon character who hands out rotten apples and cackles. That is definitely not me. But I love kids and although I haven’t been blessed with my own mini-me, I have always embraced the idea that one day I could be a step mum. The idea is one thing; however, the practicalities and reality are different to what you read and see.
From the time I met divorcee Aaron*, I knew he was a dedicated and hands-on dad to his sons who are eight and 10 years old. As our mixed-race relationship has developed and progressed, we started to discuss the idea of living together. The practicalities involve more than just merging two homes, packing, moving and unpacking. Living together as a couple for the first time will come with lots of compromise and learning but it also means that I will become a full-time step mum. Aaron shares access to his sons with their mother; the boys live with Aaron for a week before heading off to their maternal home.
We have already discussed how his sons will accept and adapt to the idea of us moving in together. For me it’s an exciting time of anticipation and expectation. Below, I have listed three areas that I will prioritise along with expert views from relationship guru, Arika Trimnell.
Coming from a West Indian household, rules, discipline and lashes were the norm and this has informed my perception of parenting and family life for sure. I often feel myself reminiscing about how I was chastised and kept in line. For example, ‘don’t even think about eating sweet treats if ya nah eat your dinner first!!’ But I’ve learned these same rules are not relevant to your step kids. Relationship expert Arika Trimnell agrees. She says: “One of the great things about being a stepparent is that you get to pick your partner’s brain about their parenting. Depending on the child’s age, this gives you a bit of an advantage. You can learn about what has been a successful discipline method. Providing a child with another loving, supportive individual can prove to be very beneficial to their mental and emotional development.”
I couldn’t agree more. I realised very early on that it is not my place to be ‘bad cop’ and tell the kids off, after all, why would they listen? I’m not their mum; but establishing respectful boundaries is important to me. Arika explains: “All adults must discuss roles, expectations, and responsibilities when it comes to child-rearing. Just like having extra support can be beneficial, it can also be detrimental if this new dynamic only creates chaos and trauma in a child’s life.”
When you live by yourself (like me), you do what you want, when you want. I am well known for loving a leisurely lie in (especially at the weekends). But life is about to change with more early morning starts on the horizon. Being in a house with two little people reminds me to be patient. I am learning not to judge too quickly, to think of ideas to solve squabbles, breathe deeply when the boys wake up at early o’clock. Being around the little dudes is teaching me not to sweat the small stuff which is something I hadn’t considered before and I’m asking myself what else will I learn as time continues.
See things through their eyes
Something I enjoy massively is seeing the world through the eyes of an eight and ten-year-old. The questions they ask, the fun they have, and how they interpret the world is fascinating and stimulating. They are not bogged down with life cares and woes like bills to pay, washing to do, and why it took 25 minutes to be on hold to sort out car insurance (and other such life admin). They are carefree, spirited, and happy to roll with whatever happens, and I like this. It makes me want to adopt some of this mindset too. Arika says: “Kids are a wonderful reminder to live in the moment. They can help us embody that joie de vivre we’ve replaced with worry and self-doubt, helping to reignite our own passion for life itself.”
As I pack more boxes and prepare to leave my solo one-bedroom flat to move into a family townhouse, I have vowed to myself to take each day one step at a time. I also see it as a privilege to be in the lives of two boys who are fantastically fun and full of character, and I look forward to the future. I’m just hoping that they’ll let me have a lie in from time to time!