Dr Lisa Doodson is a psychology expert at Regent’s University London, author and a stepmother.
Here she offers her top 10 tips for stepfamily harmony:
- You won’t love your stepchildren at first
A common myth is that you will automatically love your stepchildren. Sadly this isn’t reality. Be respectful, build trust and hopefully those feelings will grow.
- Your house, your rules
Don’t be afraid of setting house rules that may be different from their biological parent’s. Thank them when they remember to do something as it will encourage them to do it again.
- Have realistic expectations
Research suggests it’s quite normal to take seven years to build a happy, successful, functioning step-family. Even the fastest families take four years before everyone is comfortable.
- Build your relationship with your partner
Couples with stepchildren miss out on the initial years when it’s just the two of them together. This makes it vital to make time together and talk.
- You won’t get any thanks
Biological parents understand children don’t thank you for changing their bedclothes, but it can be a shock to a new stepmum. Expect gratitude from your partner who can help restore the balance.
- Find something to share together
It’s much easier to share something new with younger children, perhaps planting seeds or cooking, and with older girls shopping ticks most boxes. With my stepson it’s watching Doctor Who.
- Don’t try to be a parent early on
If your stepchildren are younger, think of yourself as an aunt or godmother figure. If they’re older or you don’t have any parenting experience, start by being a friend to them.
- Put yourself in their shoes
It can help sometimes to think about what stepchildren are going through. It’s the couple who have got together – the children have not asked for any of it.
- Create your own traditions
It’s important to build your own traditions and memories. Family mealtimes are an important glue. You’re not aiming to be The Waltons, but one shared meal during the weekend is realistic.
- Toddlers and teens are different
The last thing any teenager wants is another parent when friends are more important, so try saying, ‘you have a mum and dad and you have me as well as an extra person who cares about you.’