When I became a step mother, back then to a little two year old boy, I scoured the internet for support and help. There are so many books an blogs on how to be a ‘great mother’, but nothing on being step parent. Nothing on how to help raise a child when you skipped the first training sessions. Nada. Zilch. Anything I found raised issues of parents fighting and custody problems. Nothing on how I could help raise this sweet child, and how to overcome the battles and obstacles I faced.
Every journey and every family will be different, so, here is a tiny piece of my story and my advice to you. Countless conversations with professionals, experience and tears has given me these insights…
1. You are not his mother.
Yes, I hear you say. You know that. Well, the first growing pains I faced were the people and family who assumed I would want this role (I still am judged by others who assume I am trying to ‘take him away from his mum’, as if he is some sort of pet who can be bought with treats and kind words). You may automatically be the ‘wicked step mum’ before you can say so much as a hello to anyone. I had no children of my own when first meeting him, and I had no intention of being called mummy. But, I found myself sucked in. I would have an opinion on the little things, then the bigger things. I helped with potty training. I did the homework as he got older. And if that works for you guys, fine. BUT. You are not the mother. Perhaps you think your way would be better, and maybe it would. Your role is to guide your partner and help him raise this child, but not to do it yourself. You have to be clear in your role in the home, for yourself and the child.
2. You will get to be the bad guy a lot.
Think about it from a kids point of view. He doesn’t get to do something he wants, so who does he choose to be cross with? His dad, who he loves, or you who is conveniently right there and then he doesn’t have to fall out with Dad. Yup. You. Don’t take it personally. Take the hit for the team every now and then, but ensure you’re not on the end of the firing line all the time. That gets pretty stressful. And as for family, try to build up relationships all around you , including the other parent. Because there will be a lot of ‘Mummy lets me do this’ when they want to eat ice cream for breakfast.
3. You will get to do all the crap and none of the credit.
I’m not selling this, am I? But simply you will probably get to do the laundry, the homework and the dinners while everyone else but you gets the credit when they do well in school. You get to tidy up the mess, but you may not get the loving cuddles and whispered “Love yous”. It sucks. This is where your partner steps up and ensures you feel valued and loved. I will be honest and say this is a big deal for me, and I have found communication with my partner is key.
4. It’s ok not to love them.
Before you start jumping up and down, I feel strongly about this one. I do love my step son. But it has been a long hard journey. And yes, its a different love from my own children. And thats ok. He doesn’t love me in the same way he loves his Mum. The main thing is we hold a piece in our hearts for each other. If you are told that you have to treat them like your own, thats wrong. It’s very hard to love a child that doesn’t always show you love back. You treat them as equally as children– with love and respect.
5. If you have other children, you’re in for a treat.
So here is the good bit. The bit that makes me cry and smile and fall in love with my little family all over again. If you have other children, they will love them so very much. The politics and the drama goes unnoticed by baby eyes. They are young and innocent and oh so in love with this other little human that is their sibling. Watching my step son make his sister laugh, his brother chase him round the room and play cars makes every single moment of hard work worth it.
6. You get to be something very different and very special.
So who does my step son laugh the most with? Probably me. I don’t have to be serious. I can tell rude silly jokes, and relive my old school TV programmes and eat a stupid amount of chocolate before dinner. In our home it’s not my job to set the boundaries for my step son. It’s my job to help and support my husband in the ones he put in place. I don’t always have to be the responsible one with him. I find common ground with him and make sure we get time together the same as my own children.
When I started this journey with my husband, I spent so much time worrying and being judged by others. I come to these conclusions through years of learning and professional advice. I was once told that any feeling I had was ok. That I should accept the way I felt about my tribe, share it with my husband and then work on it. This empowered me to accept my family for what it was, and grow it peacefully and in its own time.
So what is it like to be a step parent? It’s exhausting. It’s rewarding. It sometimes harder than having your own children. After the years of hard work, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if I am sometimes the wicked step mother…