Tag Archives: stepparenting

10 Tips for Building a Strong (Re)Marriage : Today’s Modern Family

Another fabulous article from Kela Price at Today’s Modern Family.

These tips are the perfect reminder that stepcouples need more than just a commitment to stick it out no matter what – we need to make extra effort to be happy and have fun in our partnerships, or all the steely-jawed endurance in the world will be for naught.


10 Tips for Building a Strong (Re)Marriage : Today’s Modern Family.

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Filed under Communication, Divorce, Linkety-Link, Remarriage, Resources, Stepfamily Life

Stepfamilies ARE different (and complex)

I got a serve recently for commenting that stepfamilies are different from first families.

Pretty obvious stuff, some might think.

But no, I was firmly told off for saying that stepfamilies aren’t “as good” as first families.

When it comes to stepfamily issues, it seems like very often people hear what they want to hear. Anyone else ever notice that? </sarcasm>

Anyway, the expense of spirit involved in explaining how and why stepfamilies are different, and what the impacts of those differences might be is probably best outsourced.

Next time, I’ll just refer people to this handout, reposted by Sonja Ridden at Stepmother Matters.


Most people in this day and age understand that the stepfamily is a pretty complex structure. The following explores its complexity:



The structural characteristics which are unique to stepfamilies are:

There is no blood tie between some family members.This is a fundamental characteristic of all stepfamilies.

The stepfamily is born of loss: individuals have suffered important losses such as relationships, community, unfulfilled hopes for the original marriage and family.

All individuals in the stepfamily come together with previous family histories. Initially there are no shared family experiences or traditions.

The stepfamily is constructed differently. An adult (and possibly children) is added to a previously established parent/child relationship. The parent /child relationship predates the couple’s relationship.

There is a biological parent elsewhere in actuality or in memory, with power and influence over family members.

Stepfamily boundaries are unclear. Children are members of two households if They have contact with both biological parents. Parental authority, decisions and financial contributions are often shared between two households.

Stepparent/stepchild bonding is not necessarily established. The major stepparent commitment is often to their partner not to his or her children.

Roles which are not ascribed through a blood tie need to be achieved over time.

Membership in a stepfamily can be unclear and is defined by an individual’s perceptions which change over time.

Sexuality can be heightened – appropriately (between the new couple) or inappropriately (between other family members).

The legal situation in stepfamilies is ambiguous: little legal relationship exists between stepparents and stepchildren; inheritance issues can be complicated.

Stepfamilies are often combining several family life cycle stages simultaneously e.g. bringing together teenagers and toddlers.

These differences mean that the stepfamily is structurally very dissimilar to both the nuclear and single parent family, and that it is certainly considerably more complex than either.

Used by permission: Gerrard, I. & Howden, M., (1998) Making Stepfamilies Work , Stepfamily Assoc. Vic. This handout may be copied for not-for-profit use only, provided the original meaning is retained and credit is given to the copyright owners.www.stepfamily.org.au


Filed under Family, Remarriage, Resources, Stepfamily Life

Meditations on conflict

A recent peek into my blog stats showed up this search string:

“killer care bear”

And this:

“vicious care bear”

And my favourite:

“care bears with guns”

As a mediator, I know that a “care bear” conflict style (often called a “teddy bear” conflict style) is more sinister and dangerous than the pastel-fluffy saccharine images the phrase conjures up would suggest.

(Kind of like My Little Pony: Reign of Buttercup Sprinkles, then.)

Seriously, though, being a typical stepfamily care bear – not speaking up, always putting the kids first, minimising your own needs – may have a short-term payoff in terms of not having to engage in confronting conflict, but it comes at an enormous price in terms of withdrawal, rumination and ultimately, stepmother depression.

I don’t know what the research says (or even if there is any), but it’s easy to speculate that a large proportion of stepfamily breakdowns could well be attributable to unmanaged depression. It’s hard to invest in your relationship when you’re depressed, and the normal emotional rough-and-tumble of stepfamily life quickly becomes overwhelming when your emotional resources are depleted.

By their very nature (and not because your family is a failure), stepfamilies are often rife with family conflict. It’s normal, especially over the first two to five years.

But it’s worth paying special attention to how you “do” conflict in order to learn strategies for managing conflict in your family.

For instance, you could use a self-assessment tool to investigate whether you have a care bear/teddy bear conflict style.

If you do, I strongly recommend Self-Assertion For Women by Pamela E. Butler. It’s available inexpensively on Amazon and provides insights that are potentially quite life-changing.

For instance, did you know that there are four main types of assertive behaviour (expressing positive feelings, expressing negative feeling, setting limits and taking self-initiation action) and that you may struggle with some areas but be appropriately assertive in others?

Whether this has anything to do with an apparent reader obsession with plush toys with fangs, I can’t say.

* * * * * * * * *

Less chirpily, my blogs stats also dredged up this search:

“when stepkids blackmail stepmum”

Hmmm. Saints preserve us.

* * * * * * * * *

As well as:

“what is mean stepmother’s day

If that’s a question, I sure don’t have an answer!

* * * * * * * * *

Finally, though, there was this:

“i am lucky to have my stepmom”



Filed under Communication, Family, Linkety-Link, Resources, Stepfamily Life, The Search String Diaries

Casting shadows

I recently received a question from Vicki about being stepmother to children whose mother has died, and her words got me thinking.

While it is tempting to imagine that stepparenting would be a whole lot easier without the deep shadow a hostile mother can cast over your stepfamily, there are obviously difficult issues specific to partnering a widower with children that cast their own shadows.

Information specific to what is now an “alternative” stepfamily situation seems to be limited in stepfamily literature and resources; ironically even fifty years ago when divorce was still relatively rare but medical science so much less effective at dealing with illness, disease and accidents, stepfamilies were probably much more likely to be formed as a result of death than divorce.

Sadly, in the face of more recent social shifts, wisdom about stepfamilies formed following the death of a parent seems to have been overshadowed by resources focused on dealing with typical post-divorce stepfamily issues such as extended family conflict, parental alienation, and the day-to-day challenges of parenting across two households.

Anyway, I had a couple of ideas, but thought it might be more helpful to turn Vicki’s question over to the stepmother hive mind.

Here’s Vicki’s question:


Have you heard from anyone who has experience with step children whose mum died of cancer?

This is my situation, so I do not have the “other mother” involved. I do, however, know they resent me and my involvement in the house and their lives. Now I deal with them watching home videos of the “first” family, and having them resent me because I’m not her. I do not watch the movies because I don’t want to be sucked into that old life of theirs. My husband lets them watch these videos, out of our presence.

The older one is quietly angry because she knew her mother and must do without her. The younger one just thinks life would be better if her mum were alive…mum would do all the things for her I don’t do, but make her do (cleaning room, two days of loading dishwasher, emptying two wastebaskets…on a schedule, not at 10:30 pm)

I read much about step families with the biological mother involved, good or bad, but not with a deceased biomum. The girls are 20 and 15, and both resent me. My husband is wonderful! Works so hard to make everyone happy…and he loves me so. (Our sweet comment to each other is that I say I love him more than he loves me. He says not so…that he loves me more than that.) After four years of marriage, I am finally learning to “keep my mouth shut” and not knit-pick, tattle, or criticize. I try so hard to let my husband find the not-done chores and spilled drink on the floor. He, then, can deal.

Is there any word out there about this?

Does anyone have any suggestions or input about stepparenting bereaved children (whether or not from your personal experience…)?


Filed under Family, Kids, Remarriage, Resources, Stepfamily Life


On Thursday night I made four dozen cupcakes.

Boy C wanted to take treats to school to share with his whole class; while I didn’t have the energy to churn out enough cupcakes from our somewhat makeshift kitchen in the Boys’ City to feed all the kids in Boy A’s and Boy B’s classes as well, I sent them each off with enough cakey goodness for themselves and their teacher and four friends, and promised to bake for their classes next visit. They were fine with that.

Some of my most enduring memories of childhood are of my mother’s wonderful baking; there was very little money to spare in our house but always an abundance of biscuits, lamingtons and patty cakes. She even baked cakes to sell to local cafes using the tiny gas stove in the bus we lived in while my dad was building our house.

While I bake well myself, my focus has long been on producing fancypants grownup desserts rather than bulk kid-friendly treats. I made Nigella Lawson’s vanilla cupcakes (modded by pushing a square of milk chocolate into each one) for the Boys, and while they certainly elicited no complaints, they just didn’t have the moist, dense-but-light deliciousness of my own mum’s recipe.

I would love to think that my cooking could become part of the tapestry of the Boys’ childhood memories, similar to my remembrances of my grandmother’s Neenish tarts and my mother’s amazing cakes. Not in a “motherly” way, obviously, but Boy C greatly enjoys cooking with me and often thanks me for cooking “such yummy things” for them. I really hope we can hold on to cooking as a shared pleasure as he gets older.

Interestingly, I often notice that when I’ve had successes with dishes for the Boys, next visit it will transpire that their Mum has *coincidentally* cooked pancakes or chocolate self-saucing pudding or whatever it is a few times since then herself, and – of course – that hers is HEAPS better than mine, her recipe is the only “right” recipe and my (previously appreciated) way of cooking the dish is now suddenly “wrong”. And suddenly it can feel like I’ve got three little food police watching, critiquing and sometimes rejecting my meals….

I’m never competetive about the cooking thing, but I do work hard to find a niche where I can contribute to the Boys’ lives in ways they can accept, so it stings a bit when their Mum seems to be trying to undermine me on this level. Still, if that is what’s happening (and it may not be!), it can only be because she feels threatened in her role. Strange, because there’s no question in the Boys’ minds or in my mind as to whether I’m a rival mummy figure – it just isn’t that way at all, even with Boy C who has a close and affectionate relationship with me.

For instance, if we’re out and anyone mistakes us for a mum with her kids, the Boys are so quick to discount the idea that it can leave the hapless commenter looking a bit stunned. Recently we were all boarding a plane and the flight attendant on welcome duty made a comment about how much “my boys” look like me. My instant response was “No, they’re not mine, they’re my partner’s boys.” She was a little taken aback, so I added “Sorry, but if I hadn’t told you straightaway then they would have, and that could get noisy!”

So, since there’s no question that the Boys would ever see me as a mother, think of me as a mother or get mixed up about who is their mother, and I’m not in any danger of doing that either, plus I’ve tried to communicate these things to the Boys’ Mum by mentioning how proud they are of her and how loyally they speak about her to us, I wish I could just be left in peace to cook pancakes or meatballs or chocolate pudding for them without being undermined!

How do food and cooking work in your stepfamily?


Filed under Family, Food, Stepfamily Life, The Ex

Stepfamily Roles

Role ambiguity is described in stepfamily research and literature as one of the biggest hurdles for stepfamily members, and especially for stepmothers.

Basically, many of us aren’t sure who or what we are “meant” to be in our new families – to our stepkids, to our partners in relation to their children, to the kids’ other parent/s.

And of course, when you give people an enormous, high-pressure task that that they are really, really motivated to ‘get right’ because their marriage, their family and much of their self-worth apparently depends on their success, BUT you don’t provide them with clear guidance about what to do or how to do it, AND you throw a lot of interpersonal and societal judgement into the mix… well, surely that’s a never-fail recipe for Nightmare Cake.

So anyway, when Anne O’Connor’s thorough, well-written and very helpful article from DivorceMag on Stepfamily Roles recently washed up on my electronic beach, for the above reasons and more I felt it was well worth reposting….

With separate snapshots of information for stepmothers, stepfathers, mothers and fathers on helpful ways to negotiate their roles in the extended stepfamily system, useful, practical dos and don’ts for each role and a special section on the often problematic mother-stepmother divide, this article would be a great one to keep up your sleeve for reference or to send to someone new to stepfamily life.


Filed under Resources, Stepfamily Life

Small delights

I did the school run for the Boys by myself today and will be again tomorrow, since the Lovely Man has two early starts at work.

By “school run” I don’t just mean the drive in to school but the entire early-morning-drill-sergeant-get-boys-up-and-ready routine.

It only lasts about ninety minutes, but it’s quite an intense process, especially since stepmother authority to compel obedience/listening/quick responses is often fairly limited.

I sometimes dread the prospect of school run days, but today went fairly smoothly, on the whole. (Three boys of various sizes invariably = a range of at least minor hiccups, but that’s parenting, I guess.)

There was one lovely moment, though – I had made umpteen slices of toast with strawberry jam, which had been delivered to the table and duly devoured, and was standing at the sink trying to get the post-breakfast fallout cleared away.

Suddenly, a little pair of arms wrapped around my waist from behind and hugged me, and Boy C said:

Thankyou, B. You’re *really* nice to us!

He’s such a sweetie, and my smile persisted even after I looked down at where his hands had been and saw his little jam-sticky paw prints on the front of my cream dress.

That’s the other side of parenting, I guess, and I like it, jam and all.


Filed under Family, Food, Kids, Me, Stepfamily Life

Shades of beige

Monday was the first night of our regular week with the kids.

As usual, Boy A was fairly hostile towards me: he refused to respond to my hello, and every comment I made (not to him – I don’t waste time trying to make conversation with him directly) was met with a shrug or a smart remark.

For instance, I was talking to the other boys about making Crepes Suzette for dessert this week and describing how we would set fire to the crepes before serving them.

(Setting fire to foodstuffs has gigantic appeal to boys, in my experience.)

At this point, Boy A butted in to snidely suggest that he’d rather pour petrol than liqueur on the crepes. To which I replied that he was quite welcome to add petrol to his own serve.

Normally I wouldn’t have responded that way; that night had me teetering alarmingly close to the cliff edge of my self control.

His rejoinder?

“Yeah, that’s really funny.”

Oh, right, because it was all about me being funny at his expense.

Anyway, by 5pm I’d had it and retreated to the bedroom with my laptop for much of the rest of the evening, feeling besieged and frustrated but glad to be avoiding further hurtful comments and pointed exclusion.

Later, once the kids were finally in bed, I asked the Lovely Man how he felt the evening had gone and whether there was anything extra I could have done to support him with the kids.

I was expecting to talk about specific tasks, like me doing dinner so he could cover homework duty – that kind of mundane stuff.

Instead, I heard:

“I think it was good that you kind of made yourself scarce and kept a low profile in the bedroom, because Boy A finds it difficult when he thinks you’re too much in the foreground.”

*Cue crickets*

Finally, I found my voice.

“I’m all in favour of keeping things low-key, especially in the first 24 hours we have the Boys, but I am NOT going to hide out in the bedroom or generally fade into the wallpaper because Boy A prefers it that way. His behaviour is the problem here, NOT MINE.”

Turns out that the Lovely Man hadn’t even noticed Boy A’s nastiness, and just thought I was relaxing in the bedroom because I wanted to.

I found it disturbing and a bit hurtful, though, that it’s considered preferable that I minimise my presence and role in the house to keep the peace and keep Boy A “happy”.

Ultimately, I think those kinds of accommodations devalue and disrespect me and enable Boy A to continue deferring his adjustment to our family situation.

I understand that the Lovely Man feels stuck in a lose/lose situation, juggling to keep everyone happy, but this incident has made me wonder – if my best contribution is made by downplaying my existence in what is meant to be my part-time home, why am I here at all?

As a stepmother, are you ever asked or expected to downplay yourself or fade into beige to keep others in your stepfamily “comfortable”?


Filed under Communication, Kids, Lovely Man, Speaking Up Challenge, Stepfamily Life

Speak Up Week Challenge – first check-in

The Speak Up Week challenge continues.

Our last few days with the Boys were spent taking them interstate to visit the Lovely Man’s extended family. I find travelling with the kids a real “hot button” time when the biological force field is more in evidence than usual, and my outsider status tends to throb like a particularly bad bruise.

During our time away, I…

- expressed to the Lovely Man that I preferred Boy C not share the bedroom he and I had when we all stayed with relatives, given there was space for him to sleep comfortably elsewhere;

- explained how disposable I feel in the family when we’re all out somewhere and the Lovely Man and boys just cruise off without me while I’m in the bathroom, leaving me looking around for them in a panic; and

- spent a happy morning alone trawling the markets for vintage clothes while the Boys and the Lovely Man browsed Lego stalls, instead of tagging along because I “should” and feeling irritated the whole time.

The sense of freedom this honesty brings is wonderful. Yes, there’s a degree of fronting up for potential conflict in the process of speaking out, and that’s scary, but it’s so much less burdening than the internal conflicts that result from pasting on a smile and stewing inside.

What kinds of things do you try to speak up about?


Filed under Communication, Lovely Man, Speaking Up Challenge, Stepfamily Life, Travel

Stepfamily one-liners

Inspired by The Smirking Cat, I’ve been reflecting again about the shirty things people say over-and-over to stepparents (and separated parents).

When members of The Great Ignorant spit these babies out, I’m generally too befuddled and irritated to come up with a snappy response. More snappy than “Arrrh. Errrh. Ummm?” that is.

So in true Girl Scout spirit, here are a few sample one-liner responses for stepfamily FAQs.

“Don’t you forget you’re not their mother, will you?!”

Hmmm, d’you know, I think you must be right about that. I’m sure I’d remember giving birth to them. So I mustn’t be their Mum after all. Wow.


It’s probably too late to do much about it at this point. If I tried giving birth to them now, firstly, they’re a bit big and secondly I’m not sure they’d be into it.


“Wow, an instant family! Aren’t you lucky!”

Well, that depends. You can’t knit a cake, I find.

(I love the total randomness of that one.)


“How can you stand to live so far from your kids?”

So you’d describe yourself as being in favour of kidnapping them?


And, finally, my absolute favourite:

“So, are you planning to have kids of your own?”

We’re exploring all orifices at present.

Although I must relay thanks to Peggy at The Stepmom’s Toolbox for her slightly less confronting suggestion:

“Waiter, another martini please!”


Share the giggles: do you have any Fantasy Family One-Liners? Have you ever used them?


Filed under Communication, Random, Stepfamily Life