The fun and hard work of building a stepfamily.
Stepfamilies are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Over one third of young peoplehave the stepfamily experience. Your grandchildren may be about to have a new stepparent, or your son or daughter may be married to someone who already has children. Perhaps you have children from a first marriage and you’re now marrying again, or you have become dad or mum to someone else’s children.
What is it like to form a new stepfamily?
Sally and Keith have recently married and are building their stepfamily. They say they never realised how difficult and how dramatic the changes would be. “We just focused on the wedding and overlooked all the other stuff,” Keith admits. “As we had both been married before, we assumed we knew all about it!”
Sally adds: “I didn’t find my first marriage difficult, so I suppose I was a bit naïve and thought I wouldn’t find number two difficult.
“When I was married before, we were DINKYs – Double Income, No Kids. My son Joshua was born after my husband left, so when I was a mother, I wasn’t a wife any more. I had five years as a working single parent. And then suddenly, I am a wife again, a biological mother to my son, a stepmother to two teenage daughters and I work full-time
“I had never experienced having to balance being a wife and a mother. Previously I never had to worry if my husband was getting upset or not getting attention; my whole focus was on my child. That’s what we struggle with now. I don’t give Keith the time which he ought to have, because I am looking after Joshua.”
Another challenge for Sally has been taking on teenagers (14 and 19) who are not related to her. “They have mood swings and are very different from me,” she says. “But they gave me cards for Mothering Sunday, and Amy gave me a card when I was unwell saying they would look after me. I really appreciated that.”
Keith feels that no matter how hard they work at it, there will always be a sense of “my daughters, your son”.
“I have an unconditional love for my daughters which is more forgiving,” he says. “But I do want to be a father figure to Joshua. It makes a difference that he is quite young. When we first married, if we were in the kitchen and I gave Sally a cuddle, Joshua would try to separate us. Now he joins in for a three-way hug.”
“Joshua has always called me Keith. We have great fun times together, but at other times he doesn’t want me near him and I can feel rejected.
But then recently he and I were in the supermarket getting food for lunch. We were chatting away and when we reached the cake aisle Joshua announced, “I’m not going to call you Keith any more. I have a new name for you. I’m going to call you Dad.” And he has called me this ever since. It’s really encouraging. You have to be patient.”
“The girls are pleased that their dad is married as they want him to be happy, but it isn’t always easy for them. Everyone enjoyed last Christmas together, but at the end Amy said, “It was a great day, but I wished we could have Mum and Dad like we used to.”
But, as Keith says, the new family has not yet had time to build up shared experiences. They will go on their first family holiday this summer, which should create some memories for them.
“I believe we will be in a very different picture in four or five years’ time,” Keith concludes. “We’re still working through the baggage – ours and the children’s. Talking with others has helped us to see all the positives and not to focus so much on the negatives.”