One in three people in the UK is part of a stepfamily. Remarriages now make up 38% of weddings and many of these marriages involve children from previous relationships on both sides.
Nine years ago, single-mother Joanna Collie fell head over heels in love with single-father Paul. But when Joanna and her daughter moved in with Paul and his child she found herself unprepared for blended family life and desperately in need of help and guidance. Unfortunately there was no advice out there that was applicable to her new role as a blending stepmother.
Here’s an insight into why she decided to take matters into her own hands and write the definitive guide for blending stepmothers herself.
Too few mothers who become stepmothers are as aware as they should be of the tough times ahead of them. Had someone prepared me for them I’d have been very grateful –although I confess that I would have come extremely close to changing my plans of becoming a blending stepmother.
Becoming a stepmother when you already have a child of your own – ‘blending’, in other words – is certainly noble, but a bit barmy. Within weeks, you’ll be asking yourself why you ever thought your child would accept these new people without feeling as though he’s slipped into second place in your books; you’ll wonder if your partner’s child will ever be respectful to you or resist resorting to sibling rivalry for her father’s affections. You’ll enjoy precious little romance, let alone hanky-panky, without having to book a hotel room.
No – blending is idiotic, but lots of us do it anyway. Love is blind, after all; the desire to make it official and tie the knot, to create one family out of two that have been crunched in their attempts at familial togetherness in the past can be a heady drug. You started a family before so, presumably, you once had dreams of family life. What could be better than to see those dreams come true after so much disappointment? It really can work out well – and that makes it all worth it.
When a blended family feels like it’s working properly, it can be as happy as any other family. When things go wrong, though, the misery for all concerned can seem too much to bear. I think that all stepmothers who are attempting to blend families should be sent on a course – at least a week away – which mixes loads of pampering with inspired, hands-on help, advice and books from those who have been there, done that and are now proudly wearing the T-shirt.
I failed to sniff out a single one.
You need a library for the amount of guidebooks rained on you when you become a mother: whether to use towelling nappies or disposables, when to wean, how to socialise your toddler, how to keep the lines of communication open with your teenager – the list is endless. In fact, the sheer volume of information available to you on becoming a mother, and being the best at it ever, can overwhelm you. Happily, there’s also a growing wealth of information and help for stepmothers, as half of today’s marriages involve them.
The blending stepmother, however, that doesn’t have access to ready supplies of expertise from those who’ve gone before her. Finding a guidebook for this brave lady has proven a frustrating exercise until now. Hers is not a new breed, though.
For as long as there have been mothers and stepmothers there have been blending stepmothers, only they’ve been so busy and muddled that none of them thought to write it all down. Either that, or they assumed that no single mother of the future would be idiotic enough to take on a new partner and his offspring in addition to her own, much less attempt to help raise them under the watchful eye of his ex.
I searched for such a book as I blundered into blending, and never found it. I needed it – badly. Surely I wasn’t alone? I reasoned that there must be thousands of blending stepmothers like me out there, all at a loss and feeling more than a bit gloomy. So here it is: the book I wrote as I groped my way through the ups and downs, stumbling over all the ideals that my original, nuclear family had left behind.
There is no such thing as an ideal blended world. Just as you once wondered why babies don’t come with handbooks, now you’ll be wondering why nobody’s written the definitive ‘how to’ guide on blending families. I think everyone was waiting for someone else to do it, as nobody had much of a clue where to start. From Mother to Stepmother isn’t the definitive guide – that would be like finding the Holy Grail – but it’ll help!
Here are some top tips to get you through this tricky time:
- Slow down – don’t agree to take on all the responsibility for everyone’s happiness in the family.
- Seek out other blending stepmothers’ company. They’re not so hard to find – there are more and more blending stepfamilies these days. If you’re feeling brave, start a conversation with a likely candidate in a supermarket – you’re more likely to find them there than in spas and gyms; let’s face it, who has the time?
- Remember that you are not alone. Really. You might feel that way now, but things are set to change.
Joanna Collie was born in the UK but moved to South Africa at the age of thirteen. For many years she divided her time between the two countries, working primarily as Head of Creative for Primedia’s 567 Cape Talk radio station and then as Senior Creative Writer for GWR Radio Group in the UK (now Global Media). She has also worked as a session vocalist for over fifteen years in South Africa and the UK. Joanna is now an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing for the Open University. From Mother to Stepmother is available to buy now.
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