Happy stepfamilies can take seven years to build

Following the launch of her new book Understanding Stepfamilies - a practical guide for professionals working with blended families, Regent’s University London psychology expert Dr Lisa Doodson has released 10 top tips for new stepparents.

Dr Lisa Doodson
Dr Lisa Doodson

Speaking to an audience of guests and colleagues at the University on Thursday 5 May, Lisa commented:

'Research shows that stepfamilies have significantly less social support than biological families, resulting in higher levels of anxiety and depression.

'I’ve written this book because there are minimal resources, especially in the UK, for therapists, social workers and students already working with stepfamilies.

'Disciplining stepchildren, understanding what a stepparent is, mediation, and learning how ex-partners can impact a new family are just a few of the examples discussed, using practical questionnaires and exercises.'

Lisa’s top 10 tips for new stepparents are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.’