What it’s like to… be a stepparent

Moving in with your partner and their children – how does it work? We asked two stepmums and two stepdads – ranging in age from 28 to 59 years old – what it’s like to be a stepparent…

Nicole Bichsel, 29, (see main image) is a photographer living in north Wisconsin.

How many stepchildren do you have and how old are they?
I have one creative, silly little stepson (Knox) and he’s five.

Do you have any biological children?
None, unless you count my 17-year-old cat that I’ve had for half my life.

How did you feel about the idea of living with your partner’s child?
I met my husband shortly before he found out there was a little one on the way from a previous relationship that just didn’t work out. I knew there would be hardships, but I never second-guessed being a part of this family.

Did you worry about other people making judgments?
I really didn’t. Did others think I was absolutely mad for taking on the HUGE, life long responsibility of caring for someone else’s child so early into a new relationship? You bet they did. But hey, I guess that’s what happens when you fall in love… you’ll do anything for that person and in my case – that person’s little person.

How were the early days?
I have been in Knox’s life since the earliest of days… and I’ll admit, they were tough. The timing (breakup, pregnant, new relationship) was just a rollercoaster of stressful events (especially on Knox’s Mom, being that this was her first child), which resulted in her having quite a bit of animosity towards me and my husband.

What did you do to try and make it work for everyone?
I was patient. I knew that both my husband and Knox’s mother wanted the best for my stepson and that eventually I would fit into the puzzle with ease.

Did you and your partner agree to both parent together, or do you leave disciplining (for example) to your partner?
My husband and I parent together… but he is the one that does the majority of the disciplining.

On the whole, do you have a good relationship with your stepchild? 
Absolutely. We laugh together, go on ‘Knox and Cole Adventures’ often (I’m a photographer and he’s totally my muse), we joke around and although I may come off as more of a friend than a parent at times (I’m a kid at heart), he’s VERY respectful and kind towards me… for example: Knox told me not too long along while cooking breakfast, “Cole, I need to find a girl like you.” I’d say we are two peas in a pod.

What would improve the situation?
There’s always room for improvement with my relationship between Knox’s mom (and soon to be stepfather)… it can only benefit my stepson.

What advice would you give another parent about to embark on a similar situation?
Breathe and embrace the crazy – it’s all worth it when your little one tells you he/she “loves you the bestest.” Shhh, don’t tell my husband!

Orange Anchor Photography


Joe and family - theearlyhour.com

Joe Davies, 28, is a building contractor, living in Bexleyheath, England.

How many stepchildren do you have and how old are they?
One, he’s seven years old.

Do you have any biological children?
Yes, one son – he’s a year old.

Which came first – step or biological?
My stepson.

How did you feel about the idea of living with your partner’s child?
No problem, as he was at a good age (four) and we bonded quickly.

Did you worry about other people making judgments?
No not at all, I think it is quite common now. It all depends on how the child acts and in my case he is a very well-behaved, fun boy.

How were the early days?
Good fun! It was quite a lifestyle change from single life, but it definitely makes you want to have kids and it shows you what family life is like.

What did you do to try and make it work for everyone?
Not much really, it all went smoothly so there was no need to do anything.

Did you and your partner agree to both parent together, or do you leave disciplining (for example) to your partner?
I’m not really the disciplining type so I leave that to her, but if either of the kids misbehave I will treat them the same and let them know it was wrong.

On the whole, do you have a good relationship with your stepchild?
Yes, very.

What would improve the situation?
Nothing, wouldn’t change anything.

What advice would you give another parent about to embark on a similar situation?
It’s a perfect situation to see how the partner is going to be if you have a child with them, so in my case it made me certain I wanted her to be the mum of my child.

Any other comments?
If you choose to get with someone who has children, never try and use it against them, you chose the situation so enjoy it – and treat the stepkids the way you would treat your own.


Ruth Thomas - theearlyhour.com

Ruth Thomas, 36, (above right) is a business development manager and lives in Lancashire. 

How many stepchildren do you have and how old are they?
Two – aged 16 (pictured above left) and nearly 18.

Do you have any biological children?
No.

How did you feel about the thought of living with your partner’s children?
Terrified!

Did you worry about other people making judgments?
No.

How were the early days?
An emotional roller-coaster. Once the novelty wore off and we started to settle into living together rather than just doing exciting things together (Blackpool Pleasure Beach etc) it was at times really tough. We had the usual “you’re not my mum”/”she’s not my mum” (when people would refer to me as ‘mum’).

What did you do to try and make it work for everyone?
Sometimes I had to just bite my lip, hold back my real feelings and frustrations and ring my sister for a moan and a cry. I also made it clear I wasn’t trying to replace their biological mum or try to take their dad’s attention away from them. This would include encouraging dad and kids time without me sometimes.

Did you and your partner agree to both parent together, or do you leave disciplining (for example) to your partner?
We didn’t sit down and discuss it, to be honest; the changes were quite organic. My partner continued to do the things he had always done (taking the kids to school/making their meals/weekend taxi etc) and still does a lot of this now. However I gradually started to get more and more involved, behind the scenes initially (washing/ironing/cleaning the house) until it was just accepted by everyone that I wasn’t going anywhere and that we were a family unit.

Regarding disciplining – initially I stayed right out of it! But again gradually I got more involved and the children actually realised that it was beneficial to have a female perspective on some arguments (the obvious – staying out late/being allowed to stay over at friends’ houses/boyfriends/girlfriends/parties) Now I’m as involved as their dad in discipline and setting rules.

On the whole, do you have a good relationship with your stepchildren?

Yes I think I do. (But all teenagers are hard work aren’t they? Whether they are your biological children/step children/grandchildren/nephews/nieces!)

I spend quality ‘fun’ time with the 16-year-old (girl), we share a lot of the same interests (shopping/music/Christmas/food) so I make sure we take trips together as often as possible. (recently The Clothes Show at the NEC & Girls Days Out in Liverpool).

I try and interact with both of them as much as possible but as with most teenagers sometimes I only get a one word answer or grunt! I’m quite sure they both feel that they could approach me with an issue/problem and that I would listen and offer advice if that’s what they were looking for.

What would improve the situation?
I can’t think of anything specific that would improve the situation.

What advice would you give another parent about to embark on a similar situation?
Be prepared for possibly the biggest challenge of your life. Don’t rush into it. At times go with the flow; you can’t always plan the next step or know what will be thrown at you next. It’s tough (no matter how much you love kids).

Ensure you take some time out as a couple and as an individual. Make sure you have a good support network and have someone you can moan/cry to (who isn’t your partner).

You will at times feel like second/third/fourth best and that is sometimes hard to handle but there is nothing you can do to change this so don’t bother trying (if you do then you are fighting a losing battle).

Teenagers are bloody hard work (but that isn’t because they are your stepchildren – they are just hard work – ask anyone who has dealings with teenagers!).

You and your partner will fall out about the children (but you would if they were your biological children). If the other biological parent is still around then that will also bring it’s challenges (at times massive ones!).

Any other comments?
Just as above – it is going to be hard work and by committing to your partner, you are committing to the children too. It’s going to be a challenge (whether you love children or not). However, you can still have a loving, fun relationship – just be prepared for the challenges.


Noel family - theearlyhour.com

Noel McCalla, 59, is a soul singer and lives in Canterbury.

How many stepchildren do you have and how old are they?
Four: Ben, 38, Sarah, 34, Louise, 31, Deborah, 28.

Do you have any biological children (if yes, what age)?
Four: children from previous relationship – Kaisha, 26, Eloise, 24, Mali, 22, Corrie, 20.

How did you feel about the thought of living with your partner’s children?
As my partner’s children were all living away from home at the time of us getting together this was never an issue.

Did you worry about other people making judgments?
That’s one thing that comes with the territory of blended families are all those ‘if only he had’ or ‘if she did that’ opinions, but the most important thing is that me and my partner are in agreement with each other.

How were the early days?
Having been with my current wife for 12 years it was harder for her, as she had raised her children and seen them fly the nest, and then had to deal with effectively having to stepmother my younger children. Even though they lived with their mother I kept up my parental duties.

What did you do to try and make it work for everyone?
We never made activities and gatherings exclusive to one or the other, we always attempted to involve both families together by offering open invitations to all. Making it clear that we had no intention of abandoning anyone helped to improve the relationship with not only the children but also for us as we showed our respect for parenting.

Did you and your partner agree to both parent together, or do you leave disciplining (for example) to your partner?
Fortunately we never had to deal with all having to live together. We would never have had the space anyway. But if we felt that there was any cause to say anything personal in the early years, we would review it after the event. Now we have a relationship and friendship on both sides.

On the whole, do you have a good relationship with your stepchildren?
Very much so…. inclusive of four grandchildren from my wife’s side.

What would improve the situation?
We have been fortunate in the bonding of our blended family but one thing that could help is if we could have more family gatherings throughout the year. It would be great. But everyone seems to be busy doing life stuff…

What advice would you give another parent about to embark on a similar situation?
Never be deceitful or use your children as a weapon to attack the other spouse or indeed new partner/wife. As children do grow to become adults, you may well find that your ill intentions will backfire, leaving an even greater problem to deal with.

Are you a stepparent? How has it been for you? Do you have any tips to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below…

(This was originally published in January 2016)