Step by step

Step by step

Being a parent is more challenging than most jobs, particularly when you find yourself an instant step-mum to someone else’s children.

The negative connotations around step mothering are partly due to the abundance of wicked women playing this role in Western fairy-tales. Yet, in many cases, step-mums have helped raise united and loving families.

With most women dedicating their 20s to developing their careers and only pursuing serious relationships in their 30s, the chances of getting involved with someone who has children from a previous relationship are increased.

Women in this situation may find the prospect of their partner’s brood daunting and subsequently try to “buy” their love and acceptance by giving them expensive gifts, taking them on outings or turning a blind eye to outrageously bad behaviour.

Sadly, in such cases, children, being the manipulative little beings they are, will invariably milk their father’s new partner for all she’s worth and secretly despise her for being unassertive and desperate to befriend them. You’re far better off laying down reasonable, but firm, ground rules from the offset and making it clear that you won’t tolerate infractions, no matter how often you’re tested, because tested you certainly will be. Repeatedly.

The process of getting acquainted with your man’s children needs to be carefully planned. Damage is done when children aren’t ready to accept a stepmother and she interprets their resistance to her advances as rejection. Their suspicions are only natural after all; you’re the woman stepping into the shoes their mother’s always filled in their father’s life, so sensitivity towards their feelings is called for.

Do things progressively and slowly. Try popping into your man’s house to collect something when the kids are there. The first meeting with them is simply to create curiosity; an introduction isn’t warranted at this stage. Then arrange further brief encounters, such as bumping into them at the local shopping centre. Don’t begin arranging birthday parties or taking them on outings. It’s still far too early for that.

A positive attitude, patience and a strong will will be needed by all step-mums wanting to forge a happy relationship with their stepchildren. The more positive and confident you feel about your step-life in the long term, the better short-term management you’ll have. Trust yourself and your spouse to handle things so that the long-range life you see in your heart is still reachable.

So the tale of the wicked stepmother is by no means the only script to follow. With some careful planning, self-assertion and patience, it really is possible to live happily and harmoniously ever after.


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Essential guidelines for new step-mums


  • Compromise on your dignity with your stepchildren. Insolent, offensive language should be off limits from day one.
  • Pump them for information about their parents’ marriage.
  • Allow yourself to be compared with their mother.
  • Tolerate dishonesty. If the children lie to their father about you or your behaviour, confront them in his presence.


  • Agree with your man upfront that he’ll support your decisions and assert your authority at all times.
  • Make an effort to draw out the children by showing genuine interest in their activities, feelings and opinions.
  • Speak respectfully of their mother and recognise that there are certain decisions regarding the children that you can’t make.
  • Maintain honesty at all times. Answer questions truthfully and show the children you’re not there to supplant their affection for their natural parents.

For more tips on improving your family life click here

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