My mother and I often talk about stepparenting. Yes, she's also a stepmom. And by her own admission, not a very good one.
When she and my stepfather married, he shared joint custody of a son with his ex-wife. My stepfather moved into our family home and gave up his smaller abode five minutes away. However, my stepbrother actually lived with his mother over an hour away from us during the school week and visited only on weekends. That's not unusual for most stepfamilies. But in our family it didn't allow for a lot of bonding time. It also didn't help that our home only had three bedrooms. Therefore, my stepbrother had no designated personal space for his visits. Those facts alone allow for some stepfamily beginnings that were less than ideal.
Looking back, I can see choices that would have enabled us to become a more cohesive stepfamily earlier in the process.
First, I think that having a bedroom, a closet, a den or some other personal space where my stepbrother could have stored his belongings would have made him feel more welcome in his dad's home. Coming with a bag packed each and every time he spent the weekend must have made him feel like a visitor. Even more so was sleeping on a pull-out sofa in the great room.
Secondly, I know that we could have made time to bond more throughout the week if we had made it a priority. Whether a dinner outing, a sporting event or just a visit to a local park, time together allows for deeper connections and more meaningful relationships. My stepfather would have been less conflicted about being away from his son and my mother would have enjoyed a closeness with her stepson during his adolescence. Moreover, the effort expended would have been evident to my stepbrother.
Third, I am a proponent of encouraging biological parents to spend time with their children, separate from the stepparent. Initially, children may feel abandoned by their biological parent because of the involvement with the other family. No child should feel that disconnect with their parent due to the creation of a stepfamily. Had my stepbrother felt more secure in his relationship with his dad, I think he would have been more accepting of my mother and her place in his father's life.
My mother has mentioned often that she wished that she had a support network and stepfamily tools that would have enabled to her to be a better stepparent when our stepfamily was in its infancy. In other words, "when you know better, you do better." Being able to speak about it now is cathartic for her, still, having the same experience thirty years ago would have made a difference in the life of our family in those early days.
I consider my stepfamily of origin to be successful. Things weren't, and aren't, perfect. Yet, I am beyond grateful for the connection I feel with my stepfather. My sister and I communicate well with him, acknowledge the vast part he played in our development and realize that our vision of parenting/stepparenting was shaped by his involvement in our lives. My stepbrother didn't necessarily experience that same early nurturing from my mother. But thirty years on, there are tools--books, websites, stepparent coaches, online forums-- to help transition to be the successful stepfamilies that we can be.