Stepmothers are not capable of parenting because only mums know best.
You didn’t carry the child for 9 months, you didn’t breastfeed him, you wouldn’t know what motherhood really feels like.
Have a real child of your own. It’s not worth wasting your good years looking after someone else’s child. He will only love his mother at the end; he will never love you.
These were just some of the negative comments that I faced when became a stepmother to my now five-year-old stepson, Ian. Hand to heart – the discrimination against stepparents is real. Over the past three to four years, I have watched myself accept, learn and occasionally fail as I grew into my role as a mother.
It’s been the hardest, yet most fulfilling journey.
Driving awareness for stepparents’ inclusivity and blended families
Ian and I have a wonderful mother-son relationship– a duo that is bonded by love, not blood, as I would usually say. However, during one of his playtimes with my visiting mother-in-law from Germany, Ian picked up a male figurine and said “Papa”; then a female figurine “Mami” and lastly, another older figurine “Oma” (grandmother in German) – with no mention of “Mimi” (my son’s name for me). When my husband saw my disappointment, he felt compelled to change things. “You deserve the same acknowledgment as any mum out there, because stepmums are mothers first, after all,” he said.
So, we embarked on a journey to look for step-parent friendly storybooks in Malaysia, because Ian responds well to books. But to our surprise, we couldn’t find any from the major bookstores. The only children’s storybooks with stepmother characters we could find cast a very negative shadow on them.
As I begin to research further into the topic of blended families, I found that Malaysia recorded almost 78,000 divorce cases from 2020 to 2021. On average, the age group of divorcees were between 28 to 35 years old. In the event these families had children, their children would probably be toddlers.
With this in mind, I wondered: shouldn’t early education materials that are inclusive towards blended families be readily available to support the transition of toddlers into their new families? If entering parenthood is tough, imagine how these young children would feel?
Give in – or rise above
I was left with a choice: either submit to defeat, or rise above it. I decided that if I couldn’t find any content that explained in toddler-friendly words who I was to my son, and what it meant to be in a blended family, then I would write one myself.
That’s how the idea of my book, ‘Two Homes, One Family’, came about. Anchored on my son’s real-life experience of having me as his stepmum, the story opens with the main character, a boy called Ian, wondering why he looks like his Papa and Mami, but not Mimi. What follows next is an exploration of his extended blended family tree, driving home the important message that it’s alright to have two homes and two mums, because he has one family that loves him.
Without becoming a stepmum and having experienced all my struggles, I would not have written a book. As a result, people that grew up in blended families as children, or who are currently in blended families, have reached out to thank me for helping them introduce their roles to their stepchildren in a positive way. I am humbled by the experience of bringing light to other families through this.
The more we stir conversations, the more there is hope for our communities to change their mindset — and eventually, the system will change too.
What helped me on my journey
For anyone who is on a similar step-parenting journey, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that I hope might be helpful to you:
1. How to settle into the step-parenting role
My no-compromise is commitment, and knowing the ‘why’ I am doing this. My ‘why’ was a toddler in diapers, and easing him into a blended family was my commitment as a parent. It’s hard enough from a child’s perspective, experiencing their world divide when their parents divorce – even more at such a tender age – so it was the least I could do for Ian.
Other things that have helped me include:
- Reading about conscious parenting. There are so many valuable news sites/online blogs that can help with a quick parental catch-up (makchic being one of my favourite go-to platforms for parenting tips and updates).
- Keeping a community of people that uplifted and encouraged me on my journey. It took me a couple of years to find my grounding, but once I did, I removed the people that robbed my confidence and kept the ones that enriched me instead.
- Being brave enough to speak up. This was key when it came to communication with my husband. On days when I felt overwhelmed, I would ask for help; when I disagreed with the way he co-parented, I would share my thoughts too, along with actionable solutions.
- Accepting that “juggling” was my new norm in life. This helped me with FOMO moments with friends, rather that just reminiscing on my days as a single woman. I missed many gatherings, shopping sprees, parties and movies, starting out as a stepmum. I hated the feeling of being left out at first, but then I grew to understand that every new mum goes through this too.
2. How to co-parent healthily
To make things work in a co-parenting relationship, here are some tips that may help:
- Don’t try to replace the role of the biological parent. I truly believe that each parent in a co-parenting relationship has their respective role to play. Doing my part to the best of my abilities led to a rich relationship with Ian, and that’s all that mattered to me.
- Establish clear communication. My husband fronts all communications from our side of the co-parenting relationship. Only in unique circumstances, do I find myself communicating with Ian’s Mami. I think biological parents shouldering the responsibility of communications helps step-parents out of any awkward situations – no one ever enjoys speaking to exes (what more, ex-spouses), even if the ex-spouse is a gem of a person!
- Maintain diplomacy and respect for our respective roles in Ian’s life. This has graced us with the opportunity to be civil. It comes with practice, but respect fuels civility. Co-parents can be civil with one another, and this helps us make rational decisions; ones that prioritise our kids’ well-being.
- Advocating for a “one-family” experience. Although Ian may have two homes, we always ensure that we are aligned when it comes to diet, education, values, daily routines and parenting styles. Offering a one-family experience tells a child that all parents are in sync, and this will ring as stability and security in a child’s mind.
My aspirations for the future
Inclusivity towards stepparents is the essence of a healthy co-parenting environment, offering children a safe ecosystem to heal from insecurities caused by a divorce. With that in place, children of blended families grow up appreciating the beauty of diversity, rather than feeling lost. Every parent, especially a stepparent, has a significant part to play in making or breaking a child’s future.
A stepmother is a mother too. Just because I didn’t give birth to Ian, and I wasn’t there for the first one and a half years of his life, doesn’t make me less of a mum. I am a mother before ‘step’ – and I take pride in knowing that although I may have missed Ian’s past, I am still his present and his future (for as long as I live).
By Yuri Schneider
Yuri spent over 13 years of her life in the corporate world, generating content as a public relations professional. However, nothing has felt more fulfilling to her than writing her children’s storybook,’Two Homes, One Family’, on a topic close to her heart. Her experience has taught her that it takes commitment, hard work and speaking your truth to be a stepparent in a blended family.
To purchase a copy of Yuri’s book, email email@example.com or drop her a message on her socials (Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn).