I talk Step Parenting with the Step-In-Mum, Veronika Durham!
Being a parent can be stressful enough, but being a step-parent can come with a whole new set of emotional and practical issues to unpack and sort through. Hostile ex's, feelings of resentment, disrespectful stepchildren, and tricky transitions between homes are just some of the hurdles that life can throw into the mix. And it goes without saying that these kinds of issues can lead to increased anxiety, stress, confusion, and relationship problems for both the adults involved and the children.
Step families, or "blended families" are now more common than ever (in my decade working with families in London, I would estimate that around four out of five of those families have been "blended families") - so what kind of support is out there for step parents, and is it enough? This January I have chosen "Step Parenting and Blended Families" as the topic for my free online parenting surgery (get in touch via email any time during January for free advice if you have a problem that needs a fresh perspective!), and in this accompanying blog post I talk about this very topic with the Step-In-Mum herself, Veronika Durham...
Meet the Step-In-Mum!
Last year one of my favourite people I came across via social media (how else to meet people during a pandemic!?) was Veronika Durham, the Step-In-Mum, and founder of the UK's first podcast designed specifically for step-parents. I was instantly intrigued by Veronika's passion to reach out to and support those people who often play such a major role in the "team around the child", but often feel overshadowed and unwelcome in both the online and real-world support networks of modern parenting. With an estimated one in three couples now raising children as part of a "blended family", I am fully behind Veronika and her quest to raise the profile and support out there for step parents!
After inviting me on to her podcast to talk about screen time, bedtimes, and co-sleeping in particular, Veronika (who has since given birth to her own baby boy!) joined me for a chat about her experience as a step-parent, and what advice she would pass on to others in her shoes...
Veronika, what made you want to start a podcast for step parents?
"I launched The Step in Mum podcast, the very first UK podcast for stepmums and step-families, in December 2019 because I wanted to honestly share my story, experience and tips for other stepmums.
"I love listening to podcasts but when I was looking for podcasts for stepmums I could only find podcasters based in the USA or Canada. Don’t take me wrong they are great but it made me think that there was not a UK podcast for stepfamilies or stepmums. As a relationship, stepfamily coach and stepmum myself I believe it’s important to be open about what is like to be a stepmum and how you can transform our mindsets, relationships and much more.
"We are much more than stepmums that’s why my guests are from different fields such as sex education, family law, business, social and health care from the UK so they can provide help based on the UK law, school system and traditions."
What do you think the hardest part of being a step parent is?
"For me personally, the hardest part was finding the right support from the beginning. I was feeling very lonely and couldn’t find the ‘right people’. I joined a few facebook groups but I found it more difficult and confusing as I saw a lot of negativity, toxic behaviour or on the other hand super happy stepmums with their stepfamilies.
"I didn’t know what to do with all the new feelings, upsets and triggers that I was experiencing. People often say to stepmums ‘What did you expect?! You knew what you signed for!’ But trust me we did not know! On the top of our own feelings and struggles we have to deal with stigmas and stereotypes associated with being a stepmum.
"The ‘right people’ could be a relationship coach, therapist, following inspiring people on social media, online groups for stepmums (some of them) and friends that will NOT spend hours every day with you complaining and bad-mouthing. Without finding the right help and support I would probably still struggle as I did at the beginning."
What advice would you give to women just at the start of their new role as a step-parent?
"Ok, I’ll be very honest here because I wish someone told me this when I met my now husband. You’re much more than a step-parent! Don’t make stepparenting your priority number one! Why? Because not everything is your business, responsibility and you’re not the co-parent. It’s not your job to save everyone, fix everything and make everyone happy. This may sound very harsh but trust me the two main things you need to focus on is the relationship with your partner and your mindset. You’re the two people who are creating the foundation for your blended family (and your own family).
"It takes time, you might need help from outside but if you two are on the same page, have each other back and work together through anything that life throws at you, your step-parenting journey will be much easier.
"And obviously communication, communication, communication. There are so many tools available so use them to communicate like with your partner, stepchildren and the ex partner."
What advice would you give to mums, who are finding it hard to accept that their ex-husband now has a new partner, and there is going to be a step-mum in the family?
"If you’re a single parent and finding it hard to accept your children are going to have a step-parent, leave the kids out of it. They are already dealing with a lot and it’s not fair to put any pressure because of your own struggles, upsets and resentment. I understand that things didn’t go as planned and you’re worried about what’s going in the other house but don’t let that stop you from living your life.
"I’m a big believer in coaching, therapy or any form of self development. I would highly recommend finding a way to have peace and a happy life . There is nothing wrong with asking for help."
Do you think there is enough support in our society for step parents?
"I’ve been a stepmum for six years and must say a lot has changed, more step-parents including celebrities are opening up their journeys and trying to break the stigma associated with being a step-parent.
"However, I believe that it’s up to the parents and step-parent to speak up and make sure their rights and needs are met. You can’t wait for society to change by being quiet. For example, I was talking to a single dad who was upset about not being informed by his daughter’s school about any changes, emergencies, her progress etc. The teacher acknowledged that their system is not set up to contact both parents if they’re separated. All he needed to do was to have one conversion and he’s now receiving all the information.
"This is why I started my podcast, to share my story and say things that many stepmums wouldn't dare say out loud because they are scared how people will react and that’s ok. Not everyone is ready or can say what they really want because it could cause serious problems."
Thank you so much for talking to me Veronika, and sharing your experiences and advice with us! Looking forward to your next podcast!
FOR MORE RESOURCES FOR STEP PARENTS, CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING:
Being a Step Parent
Childless Stepmums Forum
The British Second Wives Club
Families Need Fathers
Helpline: 0300 0300 363
Parentline: 08000 28 22 33
Helpline: 0808 800 2222
Are you a Step Parent? Do you have any other helpful tips to add for other Step Parents?! Let me know, and I will add them in to this post! What works best for your family, and if you were a child of a "blended family", what mattered most to you as a child? Let me know!
My Spring Newsletter will be coming soon, full of lots of positive, holistic, and sustainable ways to enjoy the joys of Spring. While you are here, why not read my Better Bedtimes Q&A with guest Sleep Consultant Alexandra Collingbourne, and if you are interested, check out my posts with Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness and Nutrition expert, Emma West, about Pre-and Post-Natal Exercise, and Pre- and Post-Natal Nutrition! Emma will be back soon to talk all about Weaning!
Check out my other posts for more info and advice on screen time, dinner times, fussy eaters, buying pre-loved children's clothing, decluttering before your new baby, and thinking about whether or not your family could foster a child.
Get in touch for more information on any of the topics mentioned here or elsewhere on my site, I would love to hear from you!