By Elizabeth Collison, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
I have been a stepdaughter and am now a stepmother, but by no means consider myself an expert at navigating the stepfamily life.
In my own experience, becoming a stepmom was not something I had necessarily planned on, but felt like the role chose me when I met (and fell in love with) my partner. What I’ve since learned is that being in a stepfamily takes all the complexities of traditional parenting and adds layers to the mix that are as varied and diverse as relationships can be.
This creates a vast range of what it means to be part of a stepfamily.
Thus, despite the growing number of stepfamilies in our country, it can still feel like an isolating experience.
To navigate this, a strong relationship with my partner who involves my opinions and advocates for my importance in the family has been essential. We have been incredibly lucky to have immense support from my own family of origin and from my in-laws.
Having supportive friends and growing a network of bioparents and stepparents has also been helpful for sharing ideas and reminding me I’m not alone.
“There is no one-size-fits-all stepfamilies approach.”
Given my own experiences as a stepdaughter, I knew to remain humble about my expectations from the relationships with my stepkids and to look to them for allowing that bond to develop. I’ve done my best to augment the existing family dynamic rather than intrude and set my own agenda.
These things seem to have helped our stepfamily flourish, but it’s not come without sacrifice, heartache, or struggle. And that’s only how it’s worked for me in my family – I can imagine (and have witnessed through friends’ experiences) things unfolding very differently. There is no one-size-fits-all stepfamilies approach.
While turning to social media for support can be tempting, it’s important to be cautious. People may readily give opinions and advice that can be uninformed and potentially harmful.
You don’t have to go it alone, however, as there are vetted resources for education and support on how to aim to best navigate the stepfamily life. Here are some freely accessible resources in case you wish to learn more!