Building a relationship with stepchildren can be daunting and difficult for everyone. But, with patience, love and determination, you can create a bond that lasts a lifetime.
The fairytale stereotypes of wicked stepmothers and the Hollywood tear-jerkers of stepmums who step up don’t deal with the reality of becoming step-parents. The ridiculous rage you can feel at your stepchild dumping their dirty cups in the kitchen, the hurt you can nurse when a child prods at the dinner you’ve cooked, the disappointment when the child you’d coaxed into talking to you reverts to silence; these are the realities you have to negotiate at the start of a relationship.
We talked to stepmums and dads about when they felt truly accepted.
”There wasn’t one single moment for me, just a gradual realisation that I couldn’t imagine life without my stepkids. I do remember recently swiping through photos on my phone and noticing the difference over our first Christmas together three years ago, with the children looking strained and desperate to please (of course,I didn’t fully realise that at the time) and last year when they are beaming, properly relaxed and all bundled around me and their dad on the sofa on Boxing Day. My advice would be it takes time to build a relationship and there is no reason why children who’ve been through a divorce are going to fall into the arms of a woman they see as their mother usurper.” Roz
“When my stepdaughter took my hand when we were out on a walk one weekend, as if it was no big thing. It was HUGE for me. I felt so very nervous and happy and protective of her. “ Graham
”The Scissor Sisters brought us together. Singing at the top of our voices in the car and laughing our heads off. I’d really recommend car journeys for easy, non-intense chatting that can turn into big conversations without any of the face-to-face stress.” Mary
“I thought I could make my stepchildren like me by being endlessly nice and upbeat. But whatever I did was never right, or enough. Their favourite macaroni cheese was ‘not how Mummy makes it’. They sneered at my music tastes and accused me of trying to be cool. They seemed hot-wired to dislike me - even though their parents split up before I came on the scene. The revelation came when I realised I couldn’t make them like me, but I could stop caring so much. What mattered most was the man I loved and theirs and my tantrums were making him miserable. So I stepped back a bit and gave them space to be together with their dad, tamped down the seething resentment and tried to be less desperate to please. When I relaxed, so did they. Now they’re teenagers, we get on well and I think it helps them seeing that although their parents are not together, both have gone on to have happy second marriages, and they have extra adults who care about them.” Paula
“I think the important thing is for stepchildren to realise that you make their mum or dad happy - not in a nauseating kissing in front of them way - and that you’re here to stay. Love doesn’t come overnight but it comes. I never imagined I would love my bolshy stepchildren as much as my own son, but I do. I think they are fabulous, funny, kind, generous people, and I enjoy their company - and Jack has older brothers who will always look out for him. Jack being born was a real changing point for our family.” Justine
“I’d say follow their lead, especially with young children. Kids are great at turning up fakers, so you can’t pretend to have a huge interest in robotics (in my case!) if you don’t have the first clue, but asking them what they want to do today, rather than you always calling the shots, makes your time together much more fun. We really bonded by going swimming every weekend.” Josie
“I hate to admit it but I really resented, even hated, my stepdaughter. She was 14 when I was first introduced to her and she could not have been more rude and reluctant to share any time or space with me, rolling her eyes and slamming out of the door at every chance. I’m a teacher and when she started revising for GCSEs I suggested a few tips and tricks. That’s when she started seeing me as a person, rather than an irritant brought into her life.” Dave
“I had NO experience of children, other than admiring friends’ babies - and handing them back when they got smelly or cried. My husband is 18 years older than me, so there was just a 10-year age gap between his 10-year-old daughter and me. It was weird for all of us. But I will always be grateful to Sophie for being so open-hearted and easy to get along with. I used to get into such a tizz about what to feed her and how we should entertain her. I started to relax and realise I didn’t have to pretend to be ‘super mum’.” Rachael
“I split up with my stepchildren’s dad two years ago. It was a very painful time for me, but what really helped was the kids, who were 16 and 18 by then, texting me and suggesting meeting up. I’m so incredibly happy to have a continuing relationship with these amazing young women. We meet up every couple of weeks for a bite to eat. No one makes me laugh as much as those two do. It’s ironic that it took me splitting up with their dad to realise how huge a part they are in my life.“ Anna