The Stepmother's Guide to Mother's Day & Beyond
The Stepmother's Guide to Mother's Day & Beyond
Here's some help through this minefield
You don't have to be the wicked stepmother of the stuff of fairytales to know just how precarious your role can be in helping to raise your partner's children. There are thorny issues that keep you awake at night ranging from how far should you go in disciplining your stepchildren (as far as is agreed with their parents). To how affectionate you should be towards them (as affectionate as they want you to be when they’re not shrugging off your cuddles).
Day-by-day there are other contentious issues like should you expect the same standards from them you'd expect from your own children? And when it comes to you - their all-singing all-dancing step-mum - should you expect special treatment on things like your birthday or even more nerve-wracking to think about – on Mother's Day?
Here are some helpful insights to get you through this particular minefield.
Insight No. 1: If your partner wasn’t widowed - so in other words they still have their mother - you can expect that she'll rightly receive special treatment on Mother's Day. And you’ll probably go without any recognition.
When you've been putting your heart and soul into their well-being it sounds a raw deal that you should assume you'll get ignored on Mother's Day. Because of course we want recognition when we try hard in our relationships. But having been there as a stepmother I say it's a resounding No to expecting special Mother's Day treatment particularly in the first few years of your relationship with them.
Insight No. 2: Such recognition, as on Mother's Day, will only happen in exceptional circumstances - and that’s when their father encourages them to honour you as their stepmother. Most men hardly notice things like Mother's Day let alone getting their children to remember two mums! Unfortunately getting him onside to have a secondary Mother's Day celebration with you will only come about if you cajole him. In the grand scheme of trying to create a happy stepfamily you've got to wonder if such pressure and cajoling is a good thing!
Insight No. 3: You also have to see this issue from your stepchildren's emotional and psychological point of view. Although your stepchildren may on occasion (or even often) in their interactions with you treat you like a second mother, to actually make this ‘official’ on Mother's Day could be quite daunting and even feel threatening to them. Particularly with young children they may think they’re being disloyal to their own mother to honour you in any particular way. That's a tough one to get around and you don't want them to be put in that tricky position feeling torn between loyalties.
With those in mind here are some stepmother strategies for success:
Strategy No. 1 – Slowly does it
You'd probably love to get your stepfamily established as quickly as possible. You want things to fall into place and run smoothly. But mixing all the different personalities involved takes time. Don't feel you have to get routines, etc., sorted out straight away. Instead give yourself time to work such things out.
Strategy No. 2 - Timing is important
There are lots of things to consider when it comes to the timing of different aspects of your lives. For example, in your mind it might be the right time to discuss which stepchild does what in terms of household chores. However if they just come back from a half term holiday with their mother and you suddenly present them with a list of things to do, you're definitely going to be Ms Unpopularity! Of course they have to do their fair share of jobs around the house when they stay but choose your timing wisely.
Strategy No. 3 - Setbacks do happen
Things have been going smoothly for a while and you breathe a sigh of relief and think everything is sorted. Not so fast! Suddenly you're stepchild has a wobbly over something in your household. First off, it's not the end of the world. Second, take the time to get to the bottom of what’s behind their behaviour.
Strategy No. 4 - Love can take time
Again you may be feeling that things are hunky-dory and you're feeling very fond of your stepchildren. And they’ve been acting warmly towards you, too. But don't expect them to "love" you for a very long time indeed - particularly if they're older children. It's one thing for them to settle in to a routine at yours and seem happy to get along with you but that's very different to them forming a loving bond. It takes time and patience to lay a solid foundation. When they recognise the effort you put in to creating a stepfamily and you've given them time, you're much more likely to receive love in return from them.
Strategy No. 5 - The past doesn't go away
Your stepchildren will have a whole history of routines and traditions that have been part of their life. And that includes the way they spend Mother's Day! You need to use your common sense and allow them to carry on doing their traditions. Slowly you can introduce some new traditions to signal your burgeoning stepfamily.
Strategy No. 6 - Relax - don't worry
Finally, try to avoid giving away any ‘step parenting nerves’ around them that you might have. Make time to simply relax in their company. This will give you all the chance to adjust to the new situation and get to know each other without things being fraught.
Useful contacts - Parentline Plus helpline - 0808-800-2222
Published in The Express Newspaper