I became a stepmum eleven years ago aged 32 and foolishly thought “How hard can this be? These girls are 14 and 18, we will be just like friends. It wasn’t that long ago I was their age.”
Yes I can hear your laughter because it was not exactly what happened and the journey I went on both surprised and delighted me.
I was very lucky in that my stepdaughters were great and very open to meeting me. Not all new stepmothers are greeted with the same level of acceptance and this is understandable. All blended families are derived from a death or divorce so all children are grieving in some shape or form.
So it is within this context of grief that stepmothers are introduced into the family dynamic to hugely varying circumstances and outcomes. Understandably often children will express their sadness for their parents’ death or divorce at the time a new partner is introduced. Enter the stepmother …
Historically the idea of a stepmother has long been feared and despised. Without giving it too much thought most of us to associate the term with the words mean, ugly and wicked.
With one in four Australian families in a blended arrangement there is certainly going to be a large contingency of these women in our community, yet we seem unwilling as a society to give up the negative image that has been so pervasive for stepmothers through the years.
As a stepmother who wants a loving family environment for my family I find it hard to accept that we continue to be labelled with the rotten warty imagery. My book and website are all about changing this negative image by sharing stories of women who are brave, resilient and very loving in their approach.
Being a stepmother or being part of a step-family is not for the faint hearted, that’s a well- established fact. But to try, to struggle, to be challenged every day by this tough job, now that’s an act of love and it’s long overdue that these stories are told in a stepmother’s voice.
Stepmother Love is a collection of stories with nine told anonymously so that all the honest and candid thoughts of these women can be fully explored. Each of the circumstances are very different yet there are so many common themes across each. There is also a chapter on Australia’s most famous stepmother Sara Leonardi-McGrath, stepmother to Holly and James and wife of Australian cricketing legend Glenn McGrath (main picture).
Sara has done it tough as has she come into a family who has lost their wife and mother, much loved public figure Jane McGrath who died after a long battle with breast cancer. And she did it in the very bright glare of the Australian and world-wide press and public.
Sara shares her early learnings and also reflects on how she experienced this transition into a stepmum who is very much loved by her stepchildren.
Each story allows us to walk awhile in the shoes of these women as they share their experiences and also provide their advice with the benefit of looking back over their journey.
Just like my own experience, many women have commented that they are so comforted by reading about other women working through similar issues and feel a great sense of validation to hear that it is okay to say it’s tough and that there are also so many great outcomes that families achieve. Often the focus on the stepmother’s story is the challenges only and the outcome is a very negative narrative.
Stepmother Love is about looking realistically at the challenges but also highlighting where some great relationships have developed over the years and explore their journey.
The most common advice often given to stepmothers is often - don’t strive for love, just be happy with respectful and effective relationships.
I want to take that conversation further and say I agree that we should not define success by trying to achieve saying “I love you”. These three little words for a step-parent may never be attained, received or uttered however the effort they put into making that relationship the best it can be, is an act of love. It’s love for their partner, their stepchildren and their new family.
Stepmotherlove.com is not about having rose coloured glasses or a Pollyanna view of step-parenting, it’s about acknowledging how hard it can be and celebrating those who persist and work hard. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I am offering a place to feel good about the efforts we make and be congratulated without all the caveats, conditions and statistics.
Congratulations to all the stepmothers who are working so hard to make their family work, I hope you find some inspiration at the website stepmotherlove.com or within the book to keep you energised to keep on trying!
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You can purchase Sally's book at all good bookstores or online via her website stepmotherlove.com