The steady growth of stepfamilies over the past few decades means there are millions upon millions of stepmums around the globe. Stepmum’s experience significant life changes when they transition into the role of ‘stepmum.’ These changes can be transformative as the experience may bring with it an enriching and enlivening quality to a woman’s life.
Some changes can also cause immense stress, anxiety and lead to depression. When considering the wellbeing of women around the globe it is necessary to address the role of the stepmum, the impacts this has her health and to discuss ways in which women can reclaim themselves and their needs in the midst of stepfamily living.
Role ambiguity is argued to be one of the main reasons stepmothers experience stress. Role ambiguity is a common problem for stepmothers as there is no template or guide for her to construct her role. The stepmother is without the support or the boundaries that more clearly define community standards and expectations.
Here are some reasons in which stress arises from role ambiguity:
- Negotiating the sociocultural beliefs and portrayal of mothers and stepmothers (i.e. wicked stepmother, idealization of biological motherhood, female gender norms)
- Understanding her position in relation to: household and stepchild chore division between the adults; the relationship between her partner and the biological mother; financial responsibilities and expectations; and establishing boundaries and limits with the stepchildren (homework, bedtime etc.).
- The woman’s personality, mind set (attitude) and family of origin experiences.
- Differences in the stepcouples expectations of the stepmother’s role.
- The relationship between the stepmother and biological mother relationship.
Relationships are the key. The stepmother’s relationship with her partner, the biological mother and stepchildren are fundamental in supporting her with developing a renewed sense of herself and role as a stepmum. These relationships will guide her in forming her role based on the needs of the environment and also based on what she can contribute to her environment. Building these relationships is not always easy for the stepmum. Stepfamilies are built on grief and loss which brings with it layers of emotional, psychological and relational complexity. However, building these relationships will provide the road map the stepmum needs to construct her role and these will simultaneously support her wellbeing.
Sally Sharman, is a stepmother.
She has worked with families my entire life having worked as an Educator for families who are supporting a loved one with a mental health condition and with families where there has been a significant trauma for the child. She has worked with children with autism, been a nanny and worked in childcare centres, and was even a school teacher in a pre-school in Laos.
Her passion for children and families has led her to study in this area as well. She has a Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood, and recently completed my Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.
Visit her website http://sallysharman.com/
I am a Stepfamily Specialist with a particular interest in the dynamics and growth of stepfamilies and all the people in them. In my work with stepfamily members I draw upon my background in Early Childhood Education and Gestalt Psychotherapy. I have worked with children and families my entire life it seems, and I truly believe that my purpose in life is to walk alongside families.