Suffolk stepmum on 'crushing taboos' with her podcast and support forum
- Credit: Big Fish Photography
Motherhood is perhaps one of the most challenging roles a person can take on, there’s no doubt about that.
But often, the struggles that come along with step-motherhood are overlooked, overshadowed and pushed down.
That’s why one Suffolk mum is determined to change that, attempting to not only rewrite the narrative about being a stepmum – but to also help others in the same boat.
Katie Harrison, of Felixstowe, has recently set up Stepmum Space – a support group, podcast, and forum that offers advice and guidance for women co-parenting children from previous relationships.
Explaining the inspiration behind it, she says: “I’m a 41-year-old mother of three biological children, and I met my partner around seven years ago. He has two daughters from a relationship, I have a son, and we’ve since gone on to have two children together. We’re a really modern family,” she says.
While incredibly commonplace, stepfamilies certainly don’t come without their challenges, as Katie explains.
“I think I found being a biological mother a relative breeze in comparison to becoming a stepmum, and I was pretty naïve when I met someone with children what that would mean. People have said ‘you knew what you were getting into when you met someone with children’, which is ridiculous because when you’re a biological mother and you suffer from postnatal depression or have a problem with your children, no one ever says ‘you knew what you were getting into when you got pregnant’.”
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Katie admits that a lot of the struggles many stepmums face come from the emotional turmoil surrounding role ambiguity, and finding their place in their stepchildren’s lives.
“At times, I’ve felt guilty, isolated and alone – and it’s one of the hardest things to deal with. There have been some amazing highs, but also some painful lows. Most stepfamilies are formed out of separation rather than death, so you’re constantly thinking ‘well I don’t want to tread on the mum’s toes, but equally I want to do the right thing’. There’s no road map for stepmums as there are for other family members, and I found having all of that responsibility but none of the authority really difficult.”
After needing someone to turn to, and realising others would be going through the same, Katie decided to establish her own support system off the back of the success of her initial podcast.
“Last year, I won a BBC competition to make a podcast series, and that’s where I came up with ‘You’re Not My Mum’. I had amazing feedback from people, and when it wrapped up, I got loads of messages from people asking for more. I think they were pleased I was speaking out on their behalf.
“In the last five to 10 years, it’s become more accepted and encouraged for biological mums to speak out about the challenges they face - but it’s still somewhat taboo for stepmums to do the same. And the best way to crush taboos is to bring them out into the open.
“The ‘wicked stepmother’ narrative is deeply rooted in our culture, and it’s problematic – but stepfamilies are in fact the fastest growing family type in the UK. There are over two million of them registered, but that figure only includes married stepfamilies, so the real figure is probably around twice that.”
As well as a podcast – which features weekly guests – Stepmum Space also consists of a forum where women can connect with others from across the world, alongside virtual workshops.
“The forums are fairly new, but anyone can join. And one of the best things about them is that because I’m getting so many messages, I’m able to connect mums together and they’re building friendships off the site,” she says.
The workshops are a series of virtual get-togethers, where up to 10 stepmums will gather and share their experiences in a safe and supportive arena.
“These bespoke stepmum workshops have been developed in collaboration with transformational coach Jennie Norrish. And essentially over the course of one day, stepmums can come together and take a step back to find themselves under all of the layers of step-life. Each stepmum can share as much of their story as their comfortable with, and they can all hear from others in the same boat.”
Katie says the workshops provide the mums both one-to-one and group coaching, allowing them to overcome some of their biggest challenges – ranging from silencing negative thoughts, to dealing with trickier relationships in their familial situation.
“We ask the mums to come prepared, with a view on how their stepmum role is making them feel, and how they would like it to make them feel, and we do this through coaching and psychology-based techniques to help get them on the right track.
“It’s hard to find therapists who understand stepfamilies, and what I’m trying to do is create something practical. We want women to walk away with a real sense of clarity, and the tools and techniques needed to help encourage positive change in their life through rewriting their story. It’s exactly what I needed myself seven years ago.”
Since establishing her support system, Katie says has been inundated with thanks from stepmums from across the country who have finally felt like their voice is being heard.
“The response has been brilliant. The overwhelmingly common response is ‘thank god I’m not the only one who feels like this’. I think there is a feeling, particularly with more complicated emotions, that people don’t share them because they’re scared of feeling judged. Stepmothers suffer twice the anxiety and depression of any other family member - biological mothers included - which is why this work is so important.
“It’s been inspiring to see how much work there is there I can do as one person, and how much of community we’ve been building by connecting so many women together.”
To find out more about Stepmum Space and the work Katie does, visit stepmumspace.com. The Stepmum Space podcast is also available on most podcast platforms.