Family

Challenges stepmothers face

By: Anjum Nayyar

Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Getty Images

Family

Challenges stepmothers face

By: Anjum Nayyar

When Jasjit Sangha married a Caucasian man with two children, her family welcomed the idea that she would become a stepmom. She and her husband went on to have two children of their own, and soon they became a blended family of six.   

However, Sangha felt that her more traditional Indian-Canadian friends and family didn't accept her choice to become a stepmother in a bi-racial family. Not only was she navigating the challenges of co-parenting a blended family, she now struggled to fit into a community that was once an integral part of her life.

"They never said anything negative to me, yet I never felt fully included with my stepdaughters," Sangha says.  "I think it was very hard for them to know how to connect with my stepdaughters, and perhaps how to explain the situation to their own children."

Becoming half of a biracial couple was a huge life change for Sangha, and she felt isolated as she struggled to discuss the challenges of her new life. "I always felt that if I did bring up a problem I was facing, I would be judged or get a response such as, 'What did you expect would happen when you married outside your culture?'"

Being a stepmom can be daunting, especially when friends and family aren't supportive. Here are some of the challenges stepmoms face, and tips for how to navigate this family role.

Knowing where you fit in


The challenge: Megan Edwards, a Vancouver-based stepmom of one, found it tough to establish her role as an authority figure for her stepson among members of her husband's extended family. "I felt I was just this person coming in; I wasn't really accepted by my mother-in-law," she says.

The solution: Edwards and her partner presented a united front when they sat down and with her mother-in-law to discuss their problems. Having her partner stand by her views made all the difference. "I never feel like it's him and his son, and then me," she says, "I feel like it's the three of us."

Navigating the holidays

The challenge:
It's important for Sangha to celebrate her cultural traditions, but she doesn't feel that stepmoms can force stepchildren to participate.

The solution:
Sangha, her husband and their two children celebrate holidays with relatives, but they don't compel her stepchildren to join them. "During the holidays Vaisakhi and Diwali, we go to the Gurdwara [place of worship] with my parents [without my stepchildren] and we spend a few hours there."
 
Working with the ex-wife


The challenge: Edwards, who manages StepMoms Anonymous on Facebook, says the most common questions posted on her page are about how to deal with the ex-wife. "A lot of people are trying to make relationships [with their partner's ex] and it's not welcomed," says Edwards. It can be even more complicated to successfully combine a family when kids take sides.

The solution: "What I say to a lot of my clients is that this is the kid's journey," says family mediator Bev Lewis. "There has to be a place for Mom and Dad specifically, and there is also going to be a place for stepmoms or stepparents as well. All parents can do is what is in the best interest of the kids."

Tips to make being a stepmother just a bit easier:
 
1) Be patient with your kids and his. Allow your stepchildren to become part of family events on their own time and on their own terms. They may take time to get to know you and accept you as part of their family.

2) Find ways to share your culture and traditions with your stepchildren. A small celebratory dinner without the extended family, a cheap-and-cheerful gift exchange or setting off holiday fireworks together can be fun and low-pressure.

3) Back each other up. Stand behind your partner when communicating with your family, and make sure he's on your side when it comes to negotiating with his.

4) Have a plan for discipline.
Discuss if and how each parent will discipline their stepchildren, and make sure all kids understand the authority each parent (biological or not) has in their lives.

How do you establish your role as a parent? As an aunt or a grandparent? Share your thoughts with us below.

Read more: 10 Things Not to Say to A South Asian Stepmom 

This series is presented in partnership with MasalaMommas, an online magazine for today's moms with a South Asian connection. Visit their site to sign up for their newsletter.

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Challenges stepmothers face

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