For a start, 12 isn’t a nice perfectly round 10, however the step-parenting journey isn’t perfect either… so it’s kind of fitting really!
When you become a stepmum
Of all the reasons I have written this piece, the main one is because looking back at the last three years I realise that I blindly ran into becoming a stepmum. I mean how involved will I really need to be right?! Sometimes I think it was a good job I did, otherwise, I may have run for the hills!
But when I really think about it and look back on a lot of my experiences, I wish I had had a fairy godmother there to let me know I was ok to feel my feelings. That everything I felt and continue to feel is actually ok – it doesn’t make me a bad or irrational person it just makes me human.
I have been a stepmum for nearly 3 years, previously I didn’t really have children in my life and had always been in “normal” relationships. Suddenly things changed: where I lived was chosen by whether we could afford it along with paying a mortgage, I was changing my working hours to fit around school runs and having to navigate my way around a new relationship where an ex would always be in the picture.
I have heard all manner of horror stories from other women in this situation – emotional and financial. We are very fortunate in that financially we have had issues very infrequently and access is never a problem. So, this piece is written very much about how I have felt as a stepmum; it’s been and continues to be a tough gig. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I have learned some hard lessons along the way.
1. It’s ok not to feel love towards your stepchildren immediately… It will come when it comes.
As I said I have been a stepmum for three years now, and I always have and will always do everything in my power to ensure my stepdaughter feels at home, included and happy. To the point where I am still putting vegetables in a food processor for her, at 10 years old, and making two lots of dinner just so she eats something remotely healthy.
But I don’t feel love, and, in all honesty, I don’t know if I ever will.
I don’t know if it’s different if you have stepchildren from a very young age who are more dependent on you. But I knew as I started to follow more and more stepparents on social media, telling tales of missing their stepchildren, how they fell in love with them immediately or even calling them their “bonus” children (which I think is wonderful by the way) that this would be my first point. Simply because the doubt I had about my character for not really feeling much love was awful. It made me question whether if I was lucky enough to have a child, I would even make a very good Mum and if I was even cut out to continue to be a stepmum.
2. It’s ok not to miss them when they aren’t there.
I don’t, not even a little bit. I am perfectly happy with the fact that most of the time it’s just us two. As with the love thing, you can’t force it. This leads me into my next lesson…
3. It’s ok to not look forward to the weekends you have them, and sometimes feel it’s more like a chore.
It’s not a feeling of dread, but it is sometimes a feeling of being put out. Sometimes It’s like having a guest where your home doesn’t feel like your home.
I have another stepmum friend who told me she dreads it and feels anxious for the entire week… and that’s ok too.
If I find it’s too much, I take a break, go for a walk, go out for the day, go out for the night, or go away with the girls for the weekend – put your emotional health first. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, you have “signed up” to be a stepmum but that doesn’t mean you can’t say ‘I am just not in it this weekend, I need a break’ even if you literally have them for 4 days out of 4 weeks!
4. It’s ok not to really be up for them living with you.
Lockdown made me realise how much dread and anxiety I felt about this. I am more than happy with every other weekend. Honestly, I feel so much relief that my stepdaughter is happy living with her mum, not even because I am happy and she is happy, but also because I am just pleased I don’t have to face the prospect of her living with us yet.
I am still wrestling in my own head, how I would deal with it if it was to happen – I don’t have any advice here. All I can say is that my partner is amazing, and we have talked about it at length and how it couldn’t be “all in” straight away.
I warn you now, you are going to read how amazing my partner is A LOT through this, because he is truly the most patient, understanding, and fair man. Honestly a great partner is the absolute key to this working.
5. Yet on the other hand it’s also ok to want them to need you like a mum.
I still chuckle to myself as I write this, because with everything I have said about not loving them or missing them – this is a complete contradiction.
Whenever my stepdaughter is with us, it makes my heart sad whenever she phones her mum – whether it’s home school help, she’s upset, or just wants to talk – my heart screams why am I not good enough!
I guess what I am saying is it’s ok to have opposite feelings on different days – this a huge emotional roller coaster.
6. It’s ok to mourn the nuclear family you could have had.
This point comes after a very frank conversation I had with my very best friend who herself is a stepchild and a mum of three – she looked me deadpan in the eye with a glass of prosecco and told me welcome to the untold world of parenting.
It upsets me that if we have a baby, it won’t be a first for him and we won’t be learning together.
I have a really hard time accepting that if we had a baby in our current house, we wouldn’t have the “perfect” nursery that many women dream of having. It’s worse because our current housing situation is a financial consequence of the ex.
What’s more, my brother and his girlfriend are currently expecting and every time I hear my partner offer advice “well when she was born, WE”, I want to burst into tears or sometimes say something sharp – this is never said with the intention of hurting by the way.
Turns out none of this is irrational or selfish. It’s ok to want to be like any other new mum and have all the firsts together, the beautifully decorated nursery, the furniture you may never use and for everything to be perfect. And what’s more, you should be able to have it.
7. It’s ok to admit the only reason you are doing it, is because you love your partner.
I love him with everything I have and he is without question the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. For me, without that, I couldn’t do the stepparenting thing. I have changed my life completely because he is my one and that’s the only reason.
8. It’s also ok to question your decisions.
Recently we took my stepdaughter away for a few days in a campervan, it was the first time I had ever been away with a child, and I hated every minute of it – just to give you context it was 3 nights – I am fully aware this is slightly unreasonable.
I seriously questioned whether this new family life was for me, more than ever before. For no reason other than that I became very aware and started to mourn in a way that if I was in this, I was going to have to have these family holidays, and this was my life now.
9. It’s ok not to spend time with them alone.
I have seen lots of advice around spending time with your stepchildren to build that bond and I think that’s great. But you know what, if it’s not for you, don’t force it.
10. It’s ok to sometimes be irrational about your partner’s relationship with his ex.
This is such a big one for me. Everything within a stepparenting situation goes against every relationship norm that there ever was. In what other situation would you put up with an ex still being in the picture!?
At the beginning of this journey, he wanted to keep things “normal” for my stepdaughter for the first few months. He was going round for tea, stayed away with them for her birthday and they took her to see Santa Claus together – I guess what some people might call more of a co-parenting situation? At this point, I didn’t feel like I could have much of an opinion and should agree for my stepdaughter’s sake.
It took my partner’s Mum who has also been a stepmum to sit me down and say “WTF” before I admitted to myself that putting myself on the back burner that much was just not ok, and it also caused huge confusion for my stepdaughter.
This type of start, coupled with the fact that there were some things that just completely and utterly crossed a line, still makes me sometimes want to grab his phone and read all of his messages – I carry an inherent fear that I am being made a fool of.
This was the hardest lesson to be honest, and as hard as it is to admit how insecure you feel, sometimes you just have to say it. Rip it off like a plaster as the saying goes and I promise it will feel so much better, even if you still sometimes forget.
11. It’s ok to set clear boundaries, even though you were not there first.
This point is yet another effect of a stepparenting situation going against every relationship norm there is. We were recently in two situations where I had to be very clear that having his ex’s family within our new setup was just not something I was up for – I wouldn’t be going to family BBQs or weddings.
I was raging, to say the least, that this would even be a consideration – from my point of view he made the decision to be with me, and there was no having your cake and eating it pal! From his perspective he was committed to our relationship so why would socialising with friends that happen to be an ex’s family be an issue.
What’s important here is you need to be true to yourself, if one big happy family will work for you then that’s amazing, but if not don’t compromise and agree because it will eat you up.
12. It’s ok to give yourself a point where you step away from decision-making and ‘Mum’ duties for your own sanity.
This has been recent learning for me after a good talking to by my best friend (the one mentioned earlier). Once I realised this, it was like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I am by nature controlling and over organised, trying to do everything myself, so this is very much a work in progress.
My best friend who is also a stepchild said to me at a recent dinner, no matter how late her dad used to be picking her up it would always be him and not her stepmum, and it meant the world because it showed he was trying to make the effort. I am actively trying this, I have learned I can’t take it all on, and nor should I because it doesn’t make me happy.
When you become a stepmum… My main message for all you other stepmums out there…
So, there you have it. My main message to all you amazing stepmums is whatever you feel or don’t feel it’s all ok and your feelings are valid. Never dismiss anything you feel because I can guarantee there will be another stepmum who feels the same and, in some instances, worse.
My best piece of advice is, to be honest with your partner, keep the communication open and talk about everything no matter how small the niggle is. Talk openly about the pace of things, your involvement, styles of parenting, boundaries, school-run arrangements, and the financial setup. I could go on, but you get what I mean. However, talking is useless unless you are both on the same page and come at it as a team.
There will be bumps but have patience and remember this journey is new to your partner too. They won’t get it right all the time, and neither will you. Just know this, be kind to yourself because you truly are doing an amazing job!
About our guest blogger:
Hi, I’m Kirsty, a 34-year-old who has been step-mumming for 3 years. Me and my partner have a 10-year-old little girl who we have every other weekend. We live in a teeny village called Little Cressingham in Norfolk…where we haven’t even got street lighting! As a trio we have navigated a new family set up, two house moves, lockdown, home-schooling, new step-siblings, and growing up – it’s a mystery tour, to say the least – just without the magic!
Some online support groups and charities that will open the door to the world of step-parenting and provide a safe place to share your stories and concerns.
- https://www.instagram.com/thestepmumcollective/ The Stepmum Collective Instagram page was founded by Jordan and Billie and has been a huge support to me (Lynne, the swan effect mum) and I know many other stepmums too.
- The Family Lives website has a great section dedicated to the world of step-parenting and offers lots of practical advice for any new step-parents.
- We all know how frustrating it can be to being the third wheel when it comes to the parenting of your step-child and we also all know how hard it is to keep these intrusive thoughts to ourselves too (yes, the ones where you know you are being slightly irrational and if you said out loud to your partner they would think badly of you) so the Mumsnet Step-Parenting Forum is an awesome place to offload your rants, concerns and frustrations and ask fellow step-parents advice on how to approach particular situations etc. Give this page a follow: https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/stepparenting
Interested in writing a guest post for this blog?
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