It can be hard to find the time to look after ourselves – but it is key to feeling positive and being physically and mentally healthy.
If you aren’t looking after yourself well, if you feel overloaded, or are lacking sleep, it can be very hard to manage strong feelings and challenges. Your resilience takes a dip when you don’t eat well or you drink too much, so self-care is actually key to achieving health and happiness in life.
Taking on the responsibilities of a stepparent and adopting the traditional role of mother or father, often does not work very well.
The primary challenge for a stepparent is to develop your own unique role that works both for you and the family.
This will also depend on the ages and personalities of the children in your stepfamily and the time you get to spend together. What is absolutely essential is that you and your partner role model a loving, respectful and emotionally secure relationship for the children.
Couples need to make time for their relationship and have couple-time on a regular basis. Yes, this can be difficult but this helps build stronger bonds as a couple, as a family and also benefits the children. Along with patience and open communication this will help build a successful stepfamily.
Are you a kid in a stepfamily?
8–13 years? – keep reading:
It’s often not your choice – but it happens to lots of people.
Families do change over time so you are not alone.
The following information will hopefully help you understand what’s happening in your family and give you some ideas to help you continue to enjoy life as a kid. Pick some, talk to your parents or a trusted adult such as a teacher, and give them a try.
When your family becomes a stepfamily
A Young Persons’ Guide
Being in a stepfamily usually means being in a family where one of your parents has found a new partner. They may come and live with you or you may just see them a lot. This takes some getting used to and it’s normal to have days when you are not happy about being in a stepfamily or you may really like this new person, which is great.
Even so you will need to settle in as a family and make some adjustments along the way, so don’t expect it to be smooth sailing every day.
“She’s nice, but she annoys me wanting me to clean up my room! It’s my room after all, what is it to her?”
Schools supporting families through change and transition
Schools are often the first place to recognise changes in a child’s attitude or behaviours. More often than not, schools are in the frontline, as one in three families with school age children undergo some kind of transition or change (i.e. separation, divorce, re-partnering/stepparenting).
Children in these families experience many changes in their home life and this can impact on their ability to engage in the classroom and manage socially. Schools can be an important constant for these children, providing stability, familiarity and consistent routines.
Being the primary (biological) parent
When a new adult relationship is formed, this is often a really enjoyable time. However when there are children involved, the situation can become somewhat challenging as well.
Your new relationship and the bond you have as a couple needs to be strong and secure, when you are negotiating your way through being a stepfamily. It may be tested along the way, but taking some time out together when you can will strengthen and reconnect this bond. Lots of honest communication is required to define everybody’s new roles and responsibilities, especially in the initial stages. Try not to assume anything, be aware that you have separate loyalties to your children and new partner, and be open and honest when talking about these loyalties.
Being a grandparent is rewarding and challenging at the same time. Most grandparents relish this challenge and say there’s no better feeling in the world.
Changed family circumstances, caused by divorce or even the death of a parent can mean grandparents have either a greatly increased or a reduced involvement with their grandchildren. Research suggests that most step-grandchildren consider the step-grandparent relationship important, and are eager for more contact with step-grandparents and to maintain this relationship as they get older.
Communication with the parents (your children) is essential in the initial stages, as they may need you in a different capacity than before. They may be particularly sensitive to criticism or your opinions as a result of the changes in family. Accept that the new family formation as it changes and extends all takes time to settle and there will be a role adjustment for everyone involved.
Starting a step family (full time or part time) comes with many differing expectations and emotions, which will be confronting and new to you. It is important that clear boundaries are set from the start so that both adults and children know and understand their roles. These rules and boundaries help everybody feel more secure, and will help children to settle into the new or changing living arrangements.
Stepfamilies vary greatly.
- One or both adults can have a child or children from previous relationships;
- Children or young people of different ages when joining a stepfamily;
- One adult in the stepfamily might not have been a parent previously;
- and the new couple might have an additional child or children together.
It is unsurprising that in comparison to a ‘nuclear family’ there are other emotional and practical problems for both adults and children in a stepfamily to deal with.
Am I a stepparent?
S4 Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) defines a stepparent as a person who:
- Is not a parent of the child;
- Is, or has been, married to or a de facto partner of, a parent of the child; and
- Treats, or at any time while married to or a de facto partner of the parent, treated the child as a member of the family formed with the parent.
A de facto relationship includes same sex couples. Stepparents are legally defined as a ‘relative’ of the child and are therefore able to make an application to the Family Law Courts pursuant to the Family Law Act.
How to work together in a stepfamily
Parenting in general comes with great and many expectations, fears, rewards, joy, confusion, laughter and tears. Parenting in a stepfamily you may feel all these and then some. The roles are more complex and responsibilities can be somewhat divided.
These challenges are best met when parents and stepparents are united and reach agreements on how to handle certain situations. You will have your own style, but it is very important that parents and stepparents are on the same page when it comes to the wellbeing of the children and one another.
This means regular, positive communication and planning along with a unified or shared understanding of acceptable behaviours, behaviour management strategies and consequences for any children’s misbehaviour. It is crucial that you all reassure your children that they are loved and will always have a place in your life.
Being a Step Mum or a Mum in a blended family can be a balancing act requiring some good juggling skills! Walking the line between being a hands-on Mum at times and stepping back at times can be challenging.
Understanding your role
This takes time, so allow for this resettling. If you are caring for your partner’s child, slipping into a traditional mother role may not work as smoothly as you imagined. This isn’t your fault, it’s just that families tend to run along familiar lines. If the kids have been used to listening to their original Mum and Dad, they usually won’t like a new person (however nice they are) telling them what to do.
Becoming a school kid is a big, big milestone. It is an exciting time for a family and also a significant transition for all of you. Enjoy the thrills, spills and chill and seek support or guidance if needed.
Model a positive attitude:
Be mindful of how you speak about school and what it will be like. Try to balance the exciting and fun parts with the reality that there will be ups and downs.
Remind, Remind, Remind your children that Prep or the first year at school is mostly about learning to be a school kid, so it’s not a big deal how many letters and numbers they know right now.
Starting SECONDARY school
This time is an important stepping stone for your young person and a normal stage on the road to adulthood. There will be tears along the way, but at this time, as always, they need your interest, reassurance and support.
Moving to ‘big school’ is a major transition in a young teenager’s life. They will experience new challenges, different to those at primary school, including: a new, often much bigger and noisier environment, larger classrooms, along with new rules and expectations, different teachers and a whole new peer group.
HAPPY SCHOOL HOLIDAYS & wellbeing
Whilst school holidays are generally a happy time for families to enjoy together, it’s worth being aware that they can place additional pressure on families and potentially on some children and young people’s mental health.
There are some simple steps to take to reduce this pressure.
With 1-in-5 Australians part of a stepfamily, interaction, negotiations and arrangements can get quite emotional – especially when dealing with new and old parents and partners and siblings, not to mention different cultures, religions and traditions and increasingly time- poor families.
The following may help you to STEP UP TO A LESS STRESSFUL HOLIDAY SEASON