Stepfamilies make up more than 10% of all families in the UK and of these, 85% include a dependent child from the woman's previous relationship, which would suggest there are more stepfathers than stepmothers.  My family is one of these statistics.

My husband is stepfather to my son, Teenager No.1 and with the dust just settling on Father's Day for another year, I found myself reflecting on the role of the stepfather against the backdrop of this customary celebration of "fatherhood".

My first marriage broke down when my son was just two years old and my husband has been my son's stepfather now for more than 13 years.  The benefit (if it can be described as that) of remarrying when my son was so young was that the process of him adjusting to another father figure in his life was easier than it might have been.

I remember the compelling need I had when I first met my husband as a divorced, single mother to explain that "I came with baggage".  It was as if I had to warn him and give him the opportunity to say "Forget it!"  After all it is said that it takes a strong man to accept another man's child!  My husband, however, is that strong man.  I had underestimated him.  From the outset he made his view clear.....when you fall in love you don't choose to be a step-parent, but you do choose to love the child as your own and it is that conviction which makes him a fantastic stepfather.

I am certainly not going to suggest it has always been plain sailing.  It requires bucket loads of resilience and the patience of a saint to build a successful stepfamily and I am thankful every day that my husband has broad shoulders built for the job.  It took a lot of hard work on my husband's side to win my son's trust and ultimately that of his biological father.  There have been moments along the way when "You are not my real dad!" or alternatively "You are not his father, I am" have been used in the heat of an argument.  But my husband has stood firm and shown that love has no biological boundaries.  We all know that having a child does not make you a great parent, but raising them does.

From day one he has raised Teenager No.1 as his own and committed to his upbringing emotionally and financially.   When Teenager No.2 was born, my husband was mindful of my eldest not suddenly feeling pushed out by a new baby in the mix and took him to buy a present to give his new sister.  Never in our house have we used the term "half-brother" or "half-sister". They have been raised as siblings in the full sense of the word and without favouritism.

Most importantly my husband has been clear on his role as the stepfather, not once has he tried to compete with my son's biological father and despite the inevitable early teething problems the "Dads" have a good rapport with each other and we all frequently come together over Sunday lunch.  The upside is that Teenager No.1 has a bonus father in his life and all the benefits that brings such as two vocal supporters on the rugby pitch or cricket field instead of one.

So considering the prevalence of stepfamilies it is surprising that the valuable role of the stepfather can be so easily forgotten in the family unit when it comes to Father's Day.   I would hate my husband to feel undervalued or forgotten.  I am thankful every day that I met such a remarkable man and that my son has benefited from having him in his life and I know that even if my son forgets to say it sometimes he thinks it too!

If you are in a step family, please share your experience.

 

 

 

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Responsible drinking, responsible gambling, wherever we look there is a marketing message about behaving responsibly.  But what about responsible parenting?

Last weekend I went to the Capital FM Summertime Ball.  It was a belated treat for my daughter's coming of age as a teenager.  We went with some friends and it was a first for all of us. Wembley was packed to the rafters with teenagers and their families, some camped out on picnic blankets in the mosh pit. "Get your hands in the air!!!" was the popular riposte of every act that rocked the stage and I am sure it wasn't only my stamina that was pushed to the max.  If you weren't taking part, quite frankly you were at the wrong party.

This was not a B list concert.  Over 7 hours we were treated to la creme de la creme ...in our daughters' minds and ours actually.  Little Mix, The Vamps, Ariana, will.i.am, Jess Glynne, Tinie Tempah were just some of the class acts on offer, as well as a surprise appearance from Dizzee Rascal.  The concert flowed seamlessly and @ £90 a ticket it was real value for money, with each act on stage for between 20-30 minutes.  I would highly recommend it to anyone with music loving kids in the house.

Camped out for so long it was difficult not to take notice of the people around you and one thing struck all of us whilst we were there and had us chatting over our champagne in the rare breaks we did take from the stadium to draw breath.

It was eating or rather over-eating.  Now I realise I may be sticking my neck out here as it is a thorny subject, but even the children were commenting.  We were in the first row in the stands and at the end of our row was an obese middle-aged man with his teenage daughters who were also tipping the scales at overweight.

My view is very much live and let live, however, this family did not stop eating. Doughnuts, Burgers, Chips on repeat, all washed down with gallons of fizz and I don't mean champagne.  It was quite simply never ending.They say the apple never falls far from the tree and this was a case in point.  We were at a concert with, as I said everyone on their feet dancing.  The atmosphere was electric.  BUT not once did this man stand up other than to collect more food for his daughters, who at most just stood up.  Clearly the father has made his decision in life but with childhood obesity reaching such high levels And WHO declaring it the most significant public health challenge this century, there is clearly in my opinion a role for the parent to monitor their children's eating habits and if necessary bring it under control sooner rather than later.   These girls were gorgeous but they clearly didn't need the quantity of rubbish food they were eating.  There was an opportunity for the dad to step in and say no.

In the early stages of our relationship my now husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and classified as obese.  To look at him you would not think that was the case.  Yes he was bigger than average but to the untrained eye obese was not a term you would use.   He had rowed to a high level as an adolescent and still exercised regularly.  Yet his blood sugar was out of control and  he was quickly whisked off to see a series of specialists to help him address the problem.  After endless consultations there was no denying the fundamental issue which was that his diet was rubbish.  As a bachelor holding down a senior job, dedication to his welfare had fallen by the wayside and as a result of endless takeaways and litres of fizzy pop he was now a certified diabetic.

For the first year of our relationship we lived on a low GI diet.  It was great for my waistline and his.  He lost two stone and reduced his waist measurement, which was the real indicator, by three inches.  At his next health check he was struck off the diabetic list and heralded as a diabetic success story.  He had combated a popular dietary ailment and reversed his status to "normal".

Maybe as a result of this experience I am now more judgmental of people's diets than the average person.  I know the damage first hand that a diet of rubbish can do.  Quite frankly my husband had no excuse other than pure laziness for his condition but as a parent it is possible to prevent our children ending up in this situation.

We all know it is tough being a parent and saying no is without doubt the hardest part of all, but sometimes "no" is the kindest answer in the long term.  There is no need for our children to be facing obesity at a young age and we have an obligation to guide our children with their diet in the same way we would with their drink consumption or their use of social media.  Anything less is irresponsible parenting.

What do you think?  Let me know your views.

 

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If You Think You Can, You Can!

This week my daughter, received an Achiever Award from the Jack Petchey Foundation.  Until three months ago I had never heard of the foundation and when I asked my daughter's Guide Leader who was responsible for nominating her, she looked aghast and said simply "Google it!" Having now familiarised myself with the Foundation I feel somewhat ashamed that I had not heard of it before and feel compelled to add my voice to spreading the word further. So if young people feature in your life please read on.

The brainchild of Jack Petchey, an entrepreneur from East London, the Foundation was established 15 years ago and since then has invested a staggering £100 million in young people and organisations throughout London and Essex, with a wide range of grant-making, both small and large.  The range of programmes the Foundation invests in is exhaustive and includes a centre for entrepreneurship in East London and an Academy.

"If you think you can, you can" is the Foundation's motto.  The intention is to instill self-belief into young people and to encourage them to go on to achieve their full potential.  Jack's view is that nothing is out of reach and that by rewarding young people's success and making them feel good about themselves they can go on to achieve great things.

The Guides are one of the many 1000's of youth organisations who have benefited from the Foundation's support and it was through her involvement with the Guides my daughter received her award.  So what are the Achievement Awards?  Well to receive one you first need to be nominated by a school or a youth organisation. The nominee is selected by their peers for doing something exceptional or outstanding.  In my daughter's case she was selected by her fellow Guides for being a dedicated Patrol Group Leader, committed to helping and inspiring others by taking an active part in the Group.

Forgive me for blowing her trumpet, but sitting at the presentation ceremony and not only watching her receive her award from the local Mayor but listening to why her peers thought her worthy, made me swell with pride....along with all the other parents in the room.

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As a parent I am always looking for new opportunities for my children to  be involved in things in our local community as well as at school.  I think it is healthy for them to mix with as many different people as possible and to be able to share in a range of experiences.

Girlguiding is something I feel passionately about.  I was one myself and loved every minute of it and so have always been keen for daughter to reap the rewards too.  Girlguiding enables the girls to come together safely to make friends and learn valuable life skills.  It gives girls confidence and last night I felt glad that she continues to go every week, regardless of how tired she is after school.  It has helped her to develop as a person and given her the chance to give something back.

The final word, however, goes to Sir Jack Petchey, knighted this week.  What a remarkable man.  The world needs more people like him.

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An excerpt on the menopause on Polyoaks, the Radio 4 sitcom, had me in stitches.  Faced with a disgruntled husband who is bemoaning his redundant sex life as he and his wife are arguing more now that she is going through the menopause, the doctor reminds him that women approach sex from a different perspective to men.

He points out that whereas men think sex will make any kind of situation right, women need to be in the right situation first.  Advising his patient to sort out the argument before sex, he goes on to say that he may "also have to put the rubbish out, do the hoovering, clean the toilet, cook the supper and put clean sheets on the bed" and then tells him "if she has low mood, bad sleep, hot flushes ......she may just need a hug." 

Nine months from my 50th birthday I have been told by my GP that there is no need for a blood test to ascertain whether I am perimenopausal, as my age is indicative enough of the fact that it is highly likely.  My husband would concur on the basis that over the last year our arguments have increased, as I have morphed into a cross breed of Godzilla and the Terminator.  PMT has always been a problem for me but this has worsened and my irritability is now off the richter scale of bloody terrible.

The declining hormones that accompany the menopause are apparently to blame, as the female brain is simultaneously affected by a dip in chemical activity.  This is in turn takes its toll on a woman' s emotional state resulting in massive mood swings, temper tantrums and in some cases depression.  Sometimes the change can be small and thus unnoticeable and at others it can be greater.  In my case, I can turn from an angel to a witch in a matter of seconds.  My husband refers to this as my "flash to bang" ratio.  The children tend to run for cover whereas my husband fronts it out in the only way he knows how - with his broad shoulders and silence.

Now I don't know whether this is a perimenopausal symptom or not, but "silence" in the face of an argument is a guaranteed incendiary device. To the hormone receptors in my brain this equals lack of interest and understanding, which in turn translates to our marriage is a disaster.  Now in my normal state of mind this is clearly ridiculous but to my menopausal brain this is it, the end of our lovely world. It is as if I have become detached from my sane, rational emotional self and am floating, watching myself from above as I become consumed by completely irrational thoughts and arguments.  Afterwards, (invariably the next day as my husband knows better than to try and solve an argument with sex) if I ask him why he doesn't employ some tactics to calm me down that maybe don't involve silence, his response is "What is the point?.  This is not you, just your hormones and it is better to leave you to burn yourself out."

I laughed today throughout the Radio 4 piece, because it was comical and a part of me could recognise the scenario, but men and families the world over are dealing with this state of affairs and whilst I am only in the early stages and we do laugh about it, for some it is not a laughing matter.

I have many girlfriends who have gone through the menopause without a single sympton, some who have decided to ride it out and succumbed to the emotional mood swings, others who have completely overhauled their diet and lifestyle. The argument about hormone treatment rages on and alternative medicine is bobbing along in the background.  From my perspective I am exhausted of not feeling like me anymore and am now taking tentative steps to investigate how I can redress the balance, as Godzilla and the Terminator is not a look I want for my 50th birthday!

Let me know if you are in the same boat and what is working for you.

 

 

 

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