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Navigating step-families

Navigating step-families
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In 2002, at the age of 30, Mollie H. married her now-husband, Doug, and suddenly had an instant family. Not only was Mollie a new wife, but she was also now stepmother to Doug’s two small children from a previous marriage, Eric, 6, and Hannah, 5. The role of stepmum was foreign to her, since none of her close friends or family had been through a divorce. “I really didn’t have any interaction with people who were divorced or came from divorced families,” says Mollie.

Shortly after getting married, Doug and Mollie had two more sons of their own, Luke and Noah. Today, Mollie and Doug are the proud parents of a blended family of six, with four children ranging from 13 to 23 years old. While Mollie loves being a parent to all four kids, there are a few things she wishes she’d known before becoming a step-parent – and a few things you should know if you’re in a similar situation.

You are joining an established family unit

You are joining an established family unit
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Becoming a step-parent means that you’re walking into an existing family unit that already has its own dynamics, rules and quirks. “You are becoming a part of someone else’s family,” says Mollie. “You really need to respect that family unit that’s already there.” While you will certainly forge your own relationships with each family member, it can still be a struggle to find your role as the non-biological parent.

Learn from these 17 secrets of the happiest families. 

The relationship might get harder as the kids age

The relationship might get harder as the kids age
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Mollie became a stepmum when her stepchildren were 5 and 6 years old. “When they were little, they were always excited to see me,” says Mollie. “We played games and watched movies.” However, as the kids got older, their relationship with Mollie became more tumultuous, especially during the high school years. “Kids go through their regular phases. High school was really hard, just like it is for your biological children, but it’s a different type of hard,” she says. “I think a lot of the struggle just had to do with them growing up and maturing.”

Your stepkids will probably always side with their biological parent

Your stepkids will probably always side with their biological parent
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Stepchildren are generally very loyal to their biological parent. So if you’re a stepmum, don’t be surprised if your stepchildren always seem to side with their biological mum. Also, brace yourself for the times when your stepkids say that you’re not their real parent – and the times when they’re comparing the two of you. “They will compare you to their other parent,” says Mollie. “There would be times when they would come to me with a line of questioning, and I could tell that they were already comparing notes. They’d already had the conversation with their mum, would come to me and ask what I thought, and then compare notes.”

Here’s how to make your kids more emotionally resilient. 

The biological parent will always be a part of your family

The biological parent will always be a part of your family
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“When I married Doug and became a stepmum, I didn’t realise that their mum would also be a part of my family,” says Mollie. “I naively went into this marriage thinking, ‘Oh, it’s me and my husband, and his kids, and then we will have our own kids, and that will be our family unit,’ but it’s not that way and it shouldn’t be.” Like it or not, when kids are in the picture, your spouse’s ex also becomes a member of your new family – and one who will always be a part of your life. “You work really hard to create your own family unit, but you have to realise that it will always involve the mum or other parent,” Mollie adds.

Don’t air divorce drama in front of the kids

Don’t air divorce drama in front of the kids
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Divorces aren’t always amicable, but you should do your best to keep any animosity away from the kids. And certainly, don’t complain about or disparage their biological parent in front of them. “It’s important that Mum and Dad’s relationship is separate from the parent relationship with the kids,” says Mollie. “Although there were disagreements, we really didn’t like to air any of that in front of the kids. We wanted to be positive about their mum.”

Here’s what these people wish they knew before getting divorced. 

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Your stepkids won’t like you all the time

Your stepkids won’t like you all the time
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“Just like any mum, the kids won’t always like what you’re doing, and it’s the same case with the stepmum,” says Mollie. “Just like regular parenting, it’s not always easy, and you don’t get a lot of thankyous.”

Family holidays and experiences are key

Family holidays and experiences are key
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“I think family vacations and family experiences are important,” says Mollie. “Shared experiences are needed to make memories together.”

Don’t miss these 10 hilarious stories about travelling with kids.

There will be a readjustment phase when the kids go from parent to parent

There will be a readjustment phase when the kids go from parent to parent
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Mollie’s stepchildren would spend a week at their mother’s house, then a week at her and Doug’s house, switching off every Monday. “I liked that they were at our house for a week and that they could establish a routine, but I always called Monday the readjustment phase.” No matter how seamless you try to make the transition, remember that it is still a transition. After spending a week at their mum’s, the kids had to get reacquainted with being back in Mollie and Doug’s house.

Get inspired by these 10 ways to have a fun family weekend. 

You might feel alone at times

You might feel alone at times
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“There were years when I felt like I was an outsider in my own home,” says Mollie. “Doug’s related to all four of the kids, and I’m only related to two of them, and there were times when I felt not the same.”

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