As a rule, I don’t usually speak to bloggers or content creators when I produce my Q&A blog posts. For blogger and father / stepdad Lee Sands I am making an exception.
There are very few people, particularly stepfathers, who are raising awareness and creating debate about stepdads. This is exactly what Lee is doing with his recently-launched blog, OurBlendedFamily.
Lee has two children of his own, sons aged 16 and 7 and two stepdaughters aged 11 and 9 with his partner Nicky. I found Lee’s writing about his family life to be very refreshing and honest.
This is a subject that is close to my heart. I have been a stepson since I was a young boy. I’ve long had the opinion that stepdads and stepsons have a very low profile and don’t receive the recognition or support they deserve.
Lee was very happy to be interviewed. Even if I say so myself, I didn’t always ask him the easiest questions! I hope you enjoy what Lee had to say in this very candid exchange.
To begin with, could you please introduce yourself and explain who is in your family unit?
“Sure. My name is Lee, my partner is Nicky and between us we have 4 children. It’s quite a split, I have two sons aged 16 and 7 from my previous relationships and Nicky has two daughters aged 11 and 9. Oh and a dog. Never forget the dog!”
I then ask the question how long Lee has been a stepdad. This opens up an interesting line of discussion as Lee explains he and Nicky are not married. It’s an interesting point as it’s only in recent years I’ve noticed unmarried couples describing themselves as stepfamilies.
“I mean, it depends. When does that term kick in? Does that kick in from when you move in together? Nicky and I have been together for almost five years now and we’ve been living together for about three.”
And how did you find the transition when you moved in with each other?
“We did it very slowly. We started to do sleepovers and things like that so the kids could get to know each other, and for us to get to know the kids. I think this is one of those things where stepfathers kind of get it a bit easier.
“I think the probability is that in a separated family that the mum’s have more contact with their children. That means I get to spend more time with my stepdaughters than Nicky does with her stepsons. My relationship with my stepdaughters progresses and grows far quicker.”
If I think about my own experiences of being a stepson actually, I think modern blended families are a very different entity to when I was growing up. My children’s friends who live in blended or stepfamilies move between two households with some regularity. They spend a week or a fortnight with one parent and then go back to the other parent, whereas when I was a kid, a child with divorced parents would might spend every other weekend with the father if they were lucky. Things have moved on.
“They have, yeah. I see my boys every other weekend and I do have some weeknight contact in between to make sure that there’s not two weeks when I don’t see them. I have them two weeks in the summer, some time at Christmas, Easter and half terms.
“In this day and age, even my youngest who is seven, he’s got a phone, so I keep in regular contact throughout the week when he’s not here.”
So what has surprised you most about taking on the role of stepdad?
“I think how long it takes to gel as a family. I don’t think you quite envisage that it will take years.
“The kids all get on really well, they’re just like siblings, we often find that people can’t tell that they aren’t biological siblings. They squabble and bicker and just like biological siblings do, they know how to push each other’s buttons, but they also care and look out for each other.
“You know it’s going to take time and maybe in the back of your head you think in six months to a year, but then, two and a half or three years on you’re still kind of butting up against potential issues.
“I also went from having two boys and then I suddenly had two girls in my life. So I’m now in the whole world of doing hair, going clothes shopping and watching girly things on TV.”
Do you think understanding of stepfamilies and the pressures of being a stepdad or stepmum and how they operate is generally understood by people or not?
“No, I don’t think so. I think there’s a lot of stereotypes out there, children grow up reading about and watching evil stepmothers being wicked and essentially abusing their stepchildren. If children actually get a stepmum they are coming into the relationship with a preconceived notion about who their step mum is and what the relationship might be like.
“There are also many misconceptions around in the media about the stepchildren themselves, about being, this kind of entitled brat that you see on TV shows. That is far from the case, actually.
“I think it’s really important to remember that kids often don’t want the new blended family and they still might be mourning the loss of their old family life. The choice to blend families is, rightly, an adult decision. It doesn’t mean the kids are going to be as happy about it as you are.
“Also, I don’t think that there is much stuff about stepdads out there. I think they’re particularly underrepresented and I’m not quite sure why that is.”
I agree with you. As a stepson, I think stepdads and stepsons are essentially ghosts. I have twice seen national newspapers write very long features dedicated to the subject of stepfamilies claiming they’re going to lift the “lid on them”… yet they have only spoken to stepmothers and stepdaughters.
I’ve got a theory about why that is. It comes down to the way that men are raised. Women are raised to be much more emotional. You’ve got the stereotype about women having caring roles and being the main career for children. Men, meanwhile, are generally the ones that go out to work, whether that is true or not is another matter but men don’t speak up because they are not encouraged to talk about feelings, emotions and family. You may totally disagree with that, but I think that has something to do with why stepfathers and stepsons are so underrepresented.
“Yeah, I think I agree. Sometimes stereotypes are there for a reason. Men are generally not great at talking about feelings all the time. I think the other thing for me, is that I can quite often feel secondary to everybody. My own boys for example, as much as I make sure they understand that my home is also their home, that they will always have a bed here, primarily they spend most of the time at their mum’s house.
“With my stepdaughters, again, as a stepdad, you’re kind of in the background. You’re playing a secondary role to their mum and dad.
“I feel like stepfathers are playing a very important but almost a background role, supporting everybody. You’re not necessarily at the forefront of what’s happening. And I think that might also contribute to it.
“It’s strange, because stepdads do have their own unique issues. You know, I’ve always struggled with the guilt of spending more time with my stepkids and my own kids.
“And how do you treat and spoil your stepchildren? Do you treat them when you go to the shops and things like that? Where you are treating somebody else’s kids but not your own? How do you deal with the guilt that might come with that?
“You are also attending special events, without your own children, things like weddings and Christmas can be hard for the stepdad if he has his own children and they aren’t there.
“After three years these things are not so much of an issue for me anymore but you can see why most blended families fail in the first three to five years.”
You said a lot there that that’s fascinating. I am going to come on to the positives. Before I come on that, how do you feel other parents relate to you as a as a stepdad? I imagine you’ve probably had both negative and positive reactions to that, haven’t you?
“I try and be as active as I can with all of the kids. I attend as many parents evenings, assemblies and sporting events as I can. You have to sign in these days, they don’t just tend to let you wander in, and they can see you have a different surname.
“You can see people processing the difference in surname, but no, nobody ever says anything. I think ending up in the situation you learn that, trying to work out what other people are thinking or worse, assuming what people think, is nothing but damaging for yourself. There’s no point worrying about it. But no one has said anything negatively to me about it.
“I can only hope that they see it as a good thing that, that my children, all of them, including my stepkids, have lots of love and guiding figures. I really hope people see that and see that as a positive.”
I’m going to move on. I think that the classic question for any stepdad or stepmum is how do you go about disciplining someone else’s children? Do you sort of struggle with that as a stepdad or how do you handle those situations?
“That is one of the hardest things. Unless your own parents discipline in exactly the same way, you’re going to go into the relationship with different ideas about discipline.
“We are good at talking as you need to be in any relationship, but you need to be very good at talking and being open to discussing these things in a blended Family. Yeah, it is one of the really tricky things. So how we do it is, by and large, the biological parent will be the first one who tries to sort things out. If things aren’t going too well then we back each other up.
“When it becomes really hard is when you have to let go of being defensive about your children. If your partner comes to you and says; ‘Your child has done this,’ you need to take that for what it is and accept it. It’s so easy to be defensive and want to fight your kids corner.
“It’s a minefield! We need to constantly check in with each other and make sure that we’re doing what we’ve agreed. It’s not like we’ve got a big long list of rules. The kids just know that they’ve got to be kind.”
As I said, I was going to ask about the positives. What are the positives to blended family life?
“It’s a huge challenge. If you can rise to that challenge, then the potential for your own growth is huge, your own growth as a person and a parent.
“You’re constantly having lessons in empathy, compassion, your listening skills, and being a parent. I feel like I am a better parent and a better person for being in a blended family.
“I also have the love for, and from, my stepdaughters. It’s quite different to the love between me and my sons and it’s been really interesting to go on that journey, to see that love grow from nothing. So to have that and to be able to see other children grow is amazing.”
I know this is going to be a bit of a tricky one for you to comment on because you’re not married, but if you were married and your legal position changed, you would have absolutely zero legal rights over your respective stepchildren. How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s fair? Do you think there should be some compromise?
“I’ve never been asked that question before. Unfortunatel,y I had to go through the family courts to get access to my youngest son. That process is already complicated enough without stepparents also entering the scene.”
I see your logic. Where I’m coming from is that a stepmum or stepdad has no legal say over their stepchildren and I think that’s a very sensible legal safeguard.
Here’s a scenario. Let’s say two people got married and created a blended family. If those stepparents gained a load of legal rights over the children in the relationship, the natural parent, who could be irresponsible, neglectful or uninterested in their offspring, could walk away from their children altogether. I think some stepparents would disagree with me, but I don’t actually think stepparents should have any legal rights over their stepkids.
“Absolutely, and I suppose that’s why the adoption process exists. I don’t think marrying a person should then give them legal rights over any children.”
How do you handle relations with your stepkids’ natural parents?
“Well, so my boys, they’ve got different mums. My eldest son, I have a great relationship with his mum.
“This is where it starts to get really complicated. My eldest son’s mum, she’s remarried to a great guy, he has a child from a previous relationship and they also have a child together. So my eldest son has got two blended families. We all get on great.
“My youngest son, not so much. I wish it wasn’t this way but it’s still fairly difficult. I don’t want to delve into that.”
Lee does say a little more on the subject, but I decide it best not to go into detail. He does, however, make an interesting, practical point about dealing with exes.
“If you think about trying to organise a summer holiday, sometimes we can’t have the week that we want, because my ex is having that week. This is where it starts to get very, very complicated. It can cause friction, that my ex is the reason we can’t go on holiday when we want too. We just need to be so flexible, we have 3 other parents in the mix.”
Again, just tell me if you can’t comment on this, but how’s your relationship with your stepdaughters’ natural father.
“Yeah, That’s fine. We always say hello. At first he was very concerned. He was just being a protective dad to his two daughters. He didn’t know me so I’m not going to hold that against him.
“He offered to go out for a drink and get to know each other and stuff. I didn’t take him up on it at the time, but I probably would now. You know, now we know each other a bit more.”
I’m not going to keep you any longer. Is there anything that you particularly wanted to get across? anything you wanted to say?
“Only that kids are way more resilient to the situation than adults and I think adults get far more hung up about ‘emotional baggage’ than the kids do. My four kids seem to handle stepparents, stepgrandparents, half-siblings and all of the wider associated families with ease. I think as Adults we can often be guilty of projecting our own emotions on the kids, assuming they feel this way or that way. The reality might be quite different. We might think it’s complicated and assume the kids feel the same when they are perfectly fine with it all.”
At this point I had to being our conversation to an end as one of my daughter’s needed me! If you have any comments or opinions on what Lee had to say, please leave a comment below.