The wicked stepmother is a long-held cultural archetype, but as blended families become the norm, it’s time for the image of the cruel, unloving step-parent to move on.
Without a doubt, it’s a difficult situation – entering into a ready-made family is never going to be easy – but more people are showing that it can be done.
Comedian Lucy Frederick knows this only too well. When she met her partner James, he came with two children
“To start with it was more difficult,” she told Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time. “You have all the responsibility and none of the authority.”
The whole situation has given Lucy plenty of comedic material; so much so, she based her latest Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, Famtastic, on her experiences.
“The only real difference between being a stepmum or being a natural mum, I think, is that as a natural mum, you can go out to the bar with your natural mum friends and go, 'My kid's a dick!' And all your natural mum friends will go 'I hear you sister' and they'll clink their Prosecco glasses together,” Frederick said.
“But if you're singing out negs about your stepkids, people start muttering about poisoned apples – because you're supposed to think they're brilliant all the time. It makes people really uncomfortable if you're like ‘No, they're dickheads sometimes’.”
If you’re struggling with being part of a blended family, here are some tips from women who have already stood in those shoes.
Try and make friends with their mum
Frederick recently wrote a piece for The Guardian about how she has become really good friends with her stepkid’s mum, which no doubt makes for a smoother ride – for everyone. Not only is it great for emotional support, but it’s also great for the practicalities of two families.
“We have a WhatsApp group that includes the oldest,” Frederick wrote in The Guardian. “He can tell us all if he gets school letters and we can remind each other of the practical stuff like PE kits and musical instruments (useful when you’re in two houses).”
Include the kids in everything
Former TOWIE star Katie Wright suddenly became a stepmum to three kids when she started dating their dad, Rio Ferdinand. Speaking on This Morning, Wright explained that their relationship worked as they included the kids in almost every part of their relationship.
“A really big part in our relationship – and it’s working with the children – is that everything we’ve done we’ve included them in,” she explained.
“From the first date, to us moving in, to him asking me to be his girlfriend: everything we have done we’ve included them in. The kids were part of it, so it feels like I wasn’t taking their Dad away from them.”
An instant family can seem idyllic but just like natural mums, there will be times when those stepkids drive you crazy.
“My step kids are brilliant, and I love them very, very much. But they're humans and therefore they're fallible,” Frederick told Kate Thornton.
“They’re kids as well. Kids are rubbish sometimes. Sometimes they are absolutely brilliant and then sometimes they're just douchebags, and that's fine. I hope that it is a sign of how much I love them that I am able to say, 'No, you're not perfect'.”
Keep your expectations in check and don’t try and create this perfect family – it doesn’t exist.
It can be tempting to jump into the whole stepmum thing head first, without any help, however, Family Lives, a charity that helps parents deal with the ups and downs of raising a family, say support is really important.
“Grandparents and step grandparents offer children stability and will probably be keen to help during this period of upheaval.”
If you don’t have any family nearby, Home Start can offer free hands-on help.
Don’t underestimate your influence
When TV presenter Fearne Cotton met musician Jesse Wood she gained an instant family, which she said was a fantastic novelty at the beginning.
“You’re excited that there are these kids who like hanging out with you,” she told The Daily Express. “You get to go on family days out, which you don’t normally do!”
However, she says once the novelty wears off, you realise that actually you have a great obligation to be a good role model.
“It’s a great responsibility because it’s not just everything you say but how you act,” explained Cotton. “They’re working out how you should be socially, how you should conduct yourself at home, how you should go to work, all by osmosis. I think that cannot be underestimated.”
Decide on your role
Are you going to be like their real mum and discipline them and moan about their untidy room? Or are you going to be more of a friend? Decide on the role you and your partner want to play in the family and then stick to it.
Emily Andre, who is stepmother to Peter’s children from his relationship to Katie Price, believes her closeness to the children is because she’s more like a big sister – especially as she is only 16 years older than her eldest stepchild Junior.
Writing in her column in OK magazine, she said, “I think getting the balance right as a stepmum is crucial. For me, I tend to leave the disciplining to Pete and often feel like a big sister.”
This is your experience, your family and you can decide exactly how to navigate that.
For more help with becoming a stepmum, visit the Family Lives website.
Hear Lucy Frederick talk more about her latest show, plus she and fellow comedian Patrick Monahan share why they’re crazy about their pooches – all on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen on iTunes or Spotify.