Lets face it, becoming a stepmum is difficult for almost everyone (there's always exceptions!)  but there are different challenges depending on the type of stepfamily you find yourself in. For example if you don't have children yourself and only look after your stepchildren some of the time, research suggests you are more likely to suffer from anxiety than other stepfamily types. If you and your partner both have children when you meet, you're probably more relaxed about the parenting aspect but feel frazzled with the likely chaos of a busy household! In this type of family low mood or depression can be more prevalent.

But if you find yourself in a stepfamily where a biological parent has died you not only have to navigate the minefield of steparenting but also cope with the grieving process your partner, stepchildren and their wider family may still be going through. Lets face it, its impossible to fill the void left by a biological Mum. You can't criticise someone who isn't around to defend themselves and as time goes by, we only tend to remember good times so you're left living up to the perfect Mum.

So it's clearly a difficult job to fill but many people do - and they do it incredibly well. In 2019 I worked on the BBC documentary with Rio and Kate Ferdinand and have to say that Kate has been an incredible role model for stepmums in this position. She has allowed the children to continue to grieve for their Mum and still remember her, with photos and memories around the home. She doesn't try and replace their Mum but has become an extra 'Mum' to them, providing love and support in spades. The children will never forget their Mum but will forever love their 'Mummy Kate'.

So here are a few things to consider if you're in this position or know someone who is

  • Remember that your partner, their children and the wider family may still be grieving and not ready to move on. Everyone moves on at their own pace and whilst your partner may be ready it doesn't mean that his children, maternal grandparents or family friends are ready. They may be resistant  and make things difficult for you to find your place.
  • Give everyone time to grieve and come to terms with the changes. It will take longer than you expect or want but persevere and it will get better over time
  • Encourage children to talk about their Mum. Make sure there are photos and reminders of Mum around
  • Be sensitive - they might want to talk or they might want their privacy. Just keep checking they're ok
  • You are not replacing Mum, you're an extra person to love and care for them. Over time they may call you Mum but that's got to be their choice
  • Keep some traditions but don't be afraid to make new ones as a family
  • Don't feel you have to do things the same as before - but never criticise
  • Welcome maternal grandparents and wider family members to ensure they don't feel left out and always feel they can visit or call.

Overall, focus on building a supportive environment where everyone has a place and feels loved and cared for. Don't assume the disciplinary role at first - leave that to your parent and take the time to all get to know one another.

My book 'How to be a Happy Stepmum' published by Vermilion, looks at this topic in more detail and of course if you have any questions or comments please let me have them!

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