Truth: The only people who are going to understand your situation are other stepmums.

I’ve read no end of articles telling me that the only people who will understand my feelings about being part of a stepfamily are other stepmums.

And every time I read one of these articles, I have an ‘ah-hah’ moment and I think to myself I must remember this so that the next time I need to vent, problem solve, or express my feelings I can make sure that I am speaking to ‘the right person’.

By ‘the right person’ I mean another stepmum.

Because your friends and family aren’t going to get this unless they’re also step parents. 

I love my friends and family and they are incredibly supportive but they don’t really get what being a stepmum means and that means that they aren’t always the best people to discuss my stepfamily issues with.

I know that some of my friends and family would be hurt if I told them that it isn’t helpful for me to discuss my stepfamily ‘puzzles’ with them. They do try their very best to be supportive but they’re are extremely few situations where I want to hear the words:

“Well, he better be worth it if he has three kids!”

“But don’t you think the Boys’ Mum has a point?” (Of course I consider her point of view, and sometimes I even end up agreeing with her but most times I just need to say how I feel. And that should be okay).

“You’ve made your bed and now you’ve got to lie in it.” 

And other phrases of that ilk.

Equally well, you need to find the right stepmum community for you. I found that a lot of the groups on social media were extremely negative and didn’t really focus on finding positive and supportive solutions to problems.

So, I’ve made sure that the people I’ve followed on Twitter or the Facebook groups I’ve joined are focused on proactive and positive solutions to the ‘complications’ that arise from stepfamily life.

I also check in with a few of the stepmums I know through work and have a quick review of the good, the bad, and the ugly! It’s brilliant when a quick lunchtime chat means that you head home with a much more positive outlook on things.

I am constantly looking for ways to expand and develop my stepmum circle. I think wine on Wednesday evenings might be the answer!

Make it your goal to expand your stepmum circle! We all need each other so that we can enjoy the privilege of being part of a stepfamily.

 

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Co-Parenting–Remember, you’re all on the same side.

One of the first things people tend to ask me when they find out that I am a stepmum is, “What’s his ex-wife like?” There was a time when this probably would’ve been my first question. Now I know better.

Now my only answer to this question is that,”it doesn’t really matter what G’s ex-wife is like.” My response sometimes causes some raised eyebrows but the fact is that no matter how difficult a co-parenting relationship is, everyone involved usually has the same goal. My mum has always said, that when it comes to parenting, “everyone does their best with the skills they have.” In my experience as a teacher, coach and now as a step parent, this statement is almost always true. G, the Boys’ Mum and I all have the same goal; we may approach things differently. We may value different things but we all want the boys to be healthy, safe and happy.

It’s easy to forget this when you’re in a tricky situation. Initially, I used to get upset by our co-parenting conflicts. I found myself obsessing over them which was not at all helpful as it neither resolved the problem nor added to the brilliance of my day!  However, I have found that reminding myself that we are all working together, makes it much easier to cope. It helps me to be more patient, sympathetic and logical rather than overly emotional (which does still happen from time to time). As a result, co-parenting conversations can be productive rather than destructive and I can make sure that we come to a solution that we are all happy with.  I also recommend wine.

Remember, it’s not easy but nothing valuable ever is! X

 

4 Ways for Stepmums to Leave Negative Judgments Behind!

I hate it when people tell me, “Well, you chose a man with children,” and give me an unsympathetic look. As if anyone knows what they’re getting into when they decide to become a step-parent! But just like other parents, step-parents need people who are there to listen and support them.

It feels utterly horrible to seek help from someone close to you and leave the conversation feeling judged, demoralised and insecure. It’s incredibly easy to feel this way whether you are taking your first tentative steps into stepmotherhood or you’ve been practising the art of stepmotherhood for years. In my experience, people assume that because I am not a ‘real’ mum I couldn’t possibly understand, that I am far too young to be a good parent (Hello, I teach teenagers how to be brilliant human beings every day!), or that by being with a man who has children from a previous relationship I am ruining my life. None of these judgments are helpful (judgments rarely are)!

Here are some ideas of how you can leave all that negativity behind and step forward:

  1. Everyone needs a buddy! In order to flourish as stepmums, we must learn how to leave these unhelpful comments behind and find supportive networks that help us move forward (because this job is already hard enough). In my opinion, no one says it better than Atticus Finch: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” There are plenty of Twitter and Facebook groups to join where you can discuss your step-parenting triumphs and difficulties. Take the time to look for one that suits you because if it doesn’t meet your needs, you won’t find it helpful. I’ve also made an effort to connect with acquaintances who I know are also step-parents. Their experiences may be different to mine but they definitely know how important it is to have someone to celebrate and commiserate with.
  2. Celebrate the small successes. It can feel awkward to share your ‘warm and fuzzy’ stepmum moments. I know that I’ve felt like it’s almost inappropriate for me to gush about how well the boys have done at sports’ day. Don’t be shy! Take a moment to dance around the staffroom to celebrate that your stepson recieved a merit for sitting smartly in assembly (Yes, I actually did this)! By highlighting the positives, it’s easier to forget the yucky moments. If dancing isn’t your thing, find another way of acknowledging those small victories.
  3. Surround yourself with positive messages. This sounds incredibly cheesy but it works. I’ve used phrases like, “You can do this!” or “You are smart. You are kind. You are important”. I have post-its with positive quotations and phrases in key places, my computer monitor, my handbag and even the pockets of some of my coats. You can also set reminders on your phone that will pop up and give you some encouragements or there are apps such as Mindful Moon which provide you with inspirational and positive quotations.
  4. Find a Playlist. I am passionate about music and dance so I use music to help me process my feelings. I slip my headphones on when I go for a walk,  when I’m on the train and even when I’m in the bath. I’ve got playlists for every feeling under the sun. For those of you who are super busy (aren’t we all?) Spotify even makes them for you!

Remember that it might take a few goes at making these strategies work for you so don’t give up at the first hurdle. Test and adjust. Just remember: you’ve totally got this!

It’s Not All About You (but at the same time it is)! How Being a Stepmum Made Me Less Self-Centered, Arrogant and Entitled.

From the age of twelve to– well recently, my family has responded to many of my behaviours with the phrase, “It’s not all about you!” In grade nine, my brother even wrote a story called ‘The Princess of Insufficient Light’ which outlined my egotistical attitude.

Becoming a stepmum is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

Because if you’re going to be a good stepmum, it can’t be all about you (all of the time)! You just won’t survive. It’s easy to assume that your partner’s ex-wife is trying to ruin YOUR relationship with the kids, your partner or both. It’s easy to assume that the ex-wife ruined your birthday on purpose because she couldn’t find a babysitter. It’s easy to assume that your stepchild left his paper plate unattended and covered with ketchup on purpose so that it would take flight and land face down in your lap on your linen pencil skirt (yes, this one happened and at the time, I nearly cried. Now we laugh). Resentment creates divisions and is the reason that many stepfamilies collapse. Continuous paranoid thinking will only get in the way of your brilliance so wear your crown instead!

It it is guaranteed that difficult situations will arise that will shake your confidence and make you feel as though everyone is against you. That’s normal in life but especially in step-parenting. And I think what stepmums need to know is that it’s okay to feel disappointed, short-changed or abandoned when these situations come up. However, it’s essential to give yourself a window (15 seconds or 15 minutes, I don’t care) of time to feel those emotions and then move on. You’re entitled to your feelings. I find it useful to find a quiet space to take some deep breaths, put my headphones in (Spotify has some brilliant playlists for these moments) or go for a walk. This ensures that I have time to process my feelings and hopefully come back to the situation in a calm and logical state of mind. Then things can move forward in a positive manner. Just remember, it’s not just about your kids being happy. You need to fight to be happy in your family (this is where it’s important to be selfish). Self-care is essential otherwise feelings of resentment build and shroud the beauty of your family life.

I know none of this is rocket-science. However, not every problem has a complicated answer. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple things in order to overcome the hurdles we face. Remember there’s a difference between getting through the day and thriving. Challenge yourself. Go out and Experiment with different ways of giving yourself time to ‘feel’ your emotions so that you can be the brilliant stepmum you want to be.

 

 

 

Surviving and Enjoying a Day Out with the Kids when you aren’t used to doing “kid stuff” in the First Place!

Before the boys came into my life, it was calm and tranquil. My days out consisted of eating at gourmet restaurants, seeing foreign documentaries at the cinema, visiting quiet country pubs (for more food of course) and shopping for the next gorgeous pair of 5 inch heels. I still do these things but when the boys are involved things are generally quite different. To give you an idea of how things have changed, in the last year I have: played manhunt at Chatsworth House Gardens, ridden a bike on a BMX track (I was terrified but I believe it’s essential that they know that women and girls can do “cool” things too), been to a few trampoline parks and, most recently, visited the waterpark at Alton Towers (the list goes on and on).

These outings have been wonderful and challenging. I can honestly say that at times they’ve pushed my boundaries and made me step outside my comfort zone which I see as one of the greatest privileges of having the boys in my life.

However, it can be easy to miss sitting in a trendy cafe for an hour with a latte and a book. So when we plan days out with the boys, I plan in bits and pieces for myself. This balances the “kid stuff” with what I like to do.

Here are some tips for enjoying your days out with the kids:

Choose to split the day. A few weekends ago, we went for a walk following the Tree Trail at Nottingham Arboretum which has a great “grown up” cafe serving flat whites to go. The boys burned some energy and I enjoyed the quiet and the fresh air. In the afternoon, we drove to Clip n’ Climb- Nottingham and G and the boys had a brilliant time scaling walls while I took photos and enjoyed more coffee and cake!

Think about what you like to eat. If hotdogs and chips aren’t your thing, bring your own lunch, choose a place with lots of different options (at Chatsworth Horse Trials, the boys had burgers and I had strawberries and prosecco) or even just pack a treat for yourself in your handbag (I carry a stash of Lindt chocolate with me).

Be comfortable enough to say when you’re done. Yesterday, I had a great time at Alton Towers Waterpark from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm. Then I’d had enough. I told G, we agreed that he and the boys would do another hour and I would meet them at the bar upstairs. This worked brilliantly. I had a glass of wine, ate some chocolate and listened to my audiobook. An hour (ish) later, the boys had loads of stuff to tell me about what they’d done while I was relaxing.

I know this by no means covers everything that stepmums struggle with when transitioning from “adult life” to “life with kids” but hopefully my tips give you some ideas for how you can have some “you time” while enjoying your quality time with the kids. xx

The Honest Truth: Aspects of my Step Children’s Lives Horrify Me!

It’s true. On a Sunday morning, the boys will spend a few hours on the Xbox. They eat A LOT of frozen pizzas (they were disgusted by my carmelised onion sausages in their bangers and mash). They stay up way too late (this belief could be due to the fact that I regularly fall asleep at 21.30 on a week night! But hey, I work hard). The list goes on…

I’ve definitely communicated my thoughts on all these topics to G because I am seemingly incapable of containing anything that I am feeling and he’s listened and even agreed. And decided to go another route. He and the Boys’ Mum make the majority of the rules (they have the power).

This used to grate on me until today when I decided that it was time to chill out and let all this go. I am tired of walking down the stairs on Sunday morning and feeling my heart drop because the boys are plugged into the Xbox and their brains must be melting.  It’s too hard to fight it. I’ll get frustrated, the boys will get annoyed because their precious Minecraft has been removed from their lives and they’ve been told to go play outside, and G isn’t bothered enough to enforce my way of thinking because my concerns are not the same as his (or her’s)!  It’s difficult enough for biological parents to agree on parenting strategies let alone getting Mum, Dad and the step mum to agree.

Pushing too hard on any of these ideas is just going to turn me into the evil stepmother fight a battle without any allies.

Will my own hypothetical child be allowed to spend hours of time each day in front of a screen. No. Will said hypothetical child spend half an hour reading each day? Hopefully. I tried to get the boys reading more. I bought them books, I spoke to G about the benefits of reading regularly, and I’ve offered to read with them. But I’ve had to accept a compromise on this one. G reads often reads them a bedtime story (they’re reasonably into Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan. I love this novel and recommend it to anyone with 8-12 year olds) and we listen to audiobooks when we are on car journeys. It’s a compromise and one that I feel pretty good about. People sometimes get upset when people treat their step children differently from their biological children. However, as I’ve said before, every situation is unique and there is never one way to deal with things. I would never discourage anyone from having an open conversation about their parenting concerns with their partner but ultimately key parenting decisions are up to G and the Boys’ Mum.

And on Sunday morning, I am going to try really hard not to cringe when I walk down the stairs and see FIFA 2017 playing on the bloody Xbox.  This battle is definitely a work in progress. XX

Going Through all the Motions and Having No Say: When your rules expectations differ from theirs (his & hers’)

Every step and blended family is different. That’s one of the things that make them so wonderful. However, it’s incredibly common for conflict between stepmums and their partners to centre around how children should be raised. Stepmums are often left confused.  Do I weigh in? Should I leave it to their Mum and Dad? These conflicts are often about rules and boundaries– what’s ‘okay’ and what’s ‘not’.

G and I are no different. despite expecting the boys to behave, he is comfortable with a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach that I just don’t subscribe to. When I teach or when I am at school, everything is incredibly structured and I set very clear boundaries for my students. How else are they supposed to know what’s expected of them? I find it extremely hard to switch out of teacher mode when I am with the boys because I want to make sure they have all the ‘right’ developmental opportunities and life skills. This is clearly motivated by a fear that they won’t meet their potential or will end up with fewer opportunities down the line because they didn’t get the ‘right’ stuff. This is a pattern of thinking that I am working on.  Nothing driven by fear is positive.

Plus, I like many stepmothers, am terrified of becoming the evil stepmother.

But I digress. Part of my wish for a structured environment is down to the fact that so much is out of my control! But the fact is that the boys’ mum and dad hold the power. Their expectations and rules will differ to mine. Depending on your role as a stepmum you may not feel comfortable disciplining your stepchildren at all (this is something I’ve decided to take a step back from for the foreseeable future). Some times I realise, that the problems I have with the boys aren’t really about the boys at all but with whether their biological parents are managing their behaviour consistently. They may not even see that the boys’ behaviour is problematic. This is just a difference of expectations and with clear communication between all three parents a compromise can usually be reached.

The tricky bit for me to get my head around is that I, stereotypically, do a lot of things that a mum does. This varies massively between families and other people choose different approaches (H*ll! Half-the time I feel like I change approaches from week to week). So when I am standing at the sink, having just made dinner for the boys, and am washing the dishes I can get a little grumpy because the fact is my vote is important but it isn’t equal. I mean why am I trying so hard?

I’ve come to decide that the most important thing is that I’m respected by everyone in the family and I would expect that the boys would show the same respect for any adult, who cares for them be it their Granny, teacher or family friend.

And I am afraid that this one can’t be solved. However, what I’ve found incredibly useful is sitting down with G and discussing ‘our house rules’.  We’ll never be perfect. He’ll miss things and I’ll miss others but the fact that we’ve had an initial discussion regarding rules and expectations means that we can have further discussions in order to amend the rules in future. Additionally, we can openly communicate about the feelings surrounding the boys’ behaviour– our reactions to it– which reduces everyone’s stress!