The last Sunday in July is National Stepfamilies Day – a day which recognises and celebrates the many different family types in Australia and acknowledges the important role stepparents can play in childrens’ lives.
It might be a new concept in Australia, but the day has been recognised in the United States and other countries around the world for more than 20 years.
It is a belated but very important day to recognise the vital role many stepparents fulfil every day to help raise children right across our nation.
Stepparents are too often the forgotten people within the dynamics of modern families. Their role in helping to parent the children in their family is often overlooked.
They do not have the biological and legal recognitions that parents have but they play such an important role that definitely deserves recognition and celebration.
These are people who have made the choice to step up when they could have so easily put it all in the too hard basket and walked away.
Step and Blended Families are the fastest growing family type in Australia. Latest census data shows that while there are around six million families, stepfamilies now account for more than 10% or 600,000 families across our great land.
Being a stepparent is not exactly on anybody’s bucket list. Nobody ever says I’d really love to be a stepparent one day and likewise no stepchild dreams of having a stepparent either.
It is a role which actually chooses you, rather than you choosing it.
One of the biggest challenges in defining your role as a stepparent is trying to work out when that role actually begins!
The majority of stepparents choose to make a positive difference in the life of their stepchild. They do not sign up for the emotional games, the bad-mouthing games and in the worst cases the legal minefield that they are often subjected to.
They sign up not realising that establishing relationships with their step-kids can sometimes take years and years rather than weeks or months.
Many friends and relatives mean well. However, THE most annoying thing you can say to any stepparent, especially those enduring drama at the time, is to say, “well, you knew what you signed up for.” The stepparent will quickly simply change the subject and never mention it again.
Successful parenting does not just simply happen.
It is a tough job at the best of times but helping to parent someone’s else child is a whole different ball game complete with challenges many biological parents simply don’t realise.
More often than not, stepparenting is more about copping criticism than claiming credit.
Blending a new family should not all fall on the stepparent, it needs both the biological parent and the stepparent to be working together.
Stepparents do not want a medal. They do not want to replace a biological parent. But want they do want is some recognition that they exist rather than being ignored by others.
And so, a little shout out for all those stepparents on this special day. Remember this: most of the “well-meaning” advice you get about stepparenting and blended families comes from people who are not stepparents and do not live in a blended family.
When a stepparent has fallen in love with someone who has children, they are choosing to love that person. They accept that the person already comes with children as part of the package.
There is no one right way to stepparent in a stepparent family, but there is always one right way to behave towards other human beings and that is with respect.
The fundamental value of having good communication in a stepfamily between the stepparents and biological parents so that everyone can be on the same page working together for the benefit of the children cannot be underestimated and has never been more important.
Stepfamily and Blended family life, even at its happiest, is still far more complex than most people could even begin to imagine.
It is not the stepparent’s job to ‘fix’ their stepchildren but it is their job to do the best they possibly can under the circumstances.
Stepchildren and biological children in the same home cannot be parented in exactly the same way. There will be different ages, personalities, needs and histories.
Parenting is not a competition. There is room for both stepparents and parents to play the most important role they will do in their lives.
During the last few months, Covid-19 has shone the torch on the need for many partners to bury the hatred and start discussing proper parenting plans to deal with the challenges of shared parenting. Home schooling and disrupted visiting schedules needed to be dealt with.
No family is perfect and hopefully if your family dynamics have improved during lockdown you can keep them that way.
Life is short. This Sunday, just simply appreciate that stepparent within your family’s life and realise nine times out of 10, they truly do appreciate you for being you. So, thank them for being there when they might have chosen to walk away instead.
About the Author: Karalee Katsambanis is an accomplished Australian TV commentator, journalist, columnist and media trainer. She has worked across Australia’s mainstream TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and online for the past 20 years. She is a mother of 3 children and stepmother of 2 young adults. Her book “Step Parenting with Purpose – everything you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask” provides invaluable insights and advice to those beginning or already on their stepparenting journey.