I have been a stepmom for almost seven years. I have legally been a stepmom for just over three years.
When I met my husband he had a son who had just turned two. I was almost twenty two. I grew up in a broken home and knew that his sons mother had several relationships and moved men in and out of the home so the last thing I wanted to do was cause any upset or confusion. I was either going to be involved 100% from the get go or not at all and have a more supporting role for my partner as opposed to for the child. My husband decided he wanted me involved and when it was just the three of us we had no problems, when family were around it became obvious that my input was not welcomed but for the sake of the child and the fact that 95% of the time it was just us, we persevered.
I was there for potty training and sleep training. I was there when there were threats that visitation would be stopped for no reason. I was there when visitation was refused thirty minutes before it was due to happen. I stuck around when I was called names and rumours about me were started by the ex. I stuck around when at three years old the child told me it was my fault his mum and dad weren’t together. I stuck around when at five years old, the child screamed at me that he hated me because I wasn’t his mum. I stuck around when I was disregarded. I was there when his mother called me for help. I was there when he spiralled out of control at four, five, six and seven. My husband and I kept the boundaries tight, driven by love and the desire to keep him as supported as we could. We tirelessly worked with the school. We continuously tried to work with his mother, sometimes it worked and we ALL co-parented effectively and sometimes it broke down and everything went to shit.
Being a stepparent…
I didn’t just stick around I was proactive. I helped my husband understand his rights. I encouraged him to stand up for himself and establish his paternity. I supported him through court for structure. I found mediators when it was needed. I booked days out for them to have time together. I planned holidays for us and for just the two of them. I bought and wrapped all of his birthday and Christmas presents. I took him out when my husband was working. When we moved into our first house I bought bunk beds for the his room and built them. I organised his 7th birthday party. I took him to South Africa for a three week holiday. I did his homework with him. I found extra curricular activities for him to try out to help him express himself. I started his savings account. I encouraged him to respect his mother (regardless of what she said about us). I kept on top of school things and made sure my husband had the time off and could show up. I bought all his clothes. I bought his school shoes. I integrated him into my family. I cared for him. I taught him pleases and thank yous. I encouraged him to not interrupt adults and how to say excuse me. I got him to eat all kinds of things. I helped him with his reading and invigorated his imagination with different books. I held him when he was scared. I built him up when he felt down. I created a safe space where he could express himself.
There was never any thanks. I was constantly told that I was too strict. When he was good there was no acknowledgement of my input but when he later played on heart strings it was all my fault. There was no winning and yet I kept on and kept on and kept on. The child would play his mum against us and he would play his grandparents against me. He went through a stage where he lied so extensively that there were welfare concerns about what he said. When his mother moved him to Wales and my husband had a medical ban on his licence there was months between visitation and it broke his heart. Our parenting was and is completely different from his mother who let him make the decisions and didn’t implement any boundaries.
We got married in 2016 and hubby’s son couldn’t be there because his mum refused to give permission for us to take him to South Africa. We had now found out I had PCOS and started the long journey of testing and treatment to try and conceive. In February 2018 we found out I was pregnant but high risk and in March 2018 my nearly 8 year old step son kicked me in the stomach to “get it out” – his words.
Throughout the rest of my pregnancy I kept my distance as much as possible but still had him on my own to help my husband. One night my husband’s parents were over and my step son put on a show for them – he screamed, kicked and cried. It worked a treat and as soon as they left he told me matter of fact – that he had made them upset on purpose because he wants to be their most important grandchild and he wanted them to feel sorry for him and my God had he known how to do that.
He told me later that night that the baby I was carrying would never mean as much as he does because he was here first and his dad and whole family will always love him more. I knew that this was a power play and sat with him for hours working out where this anger was coming from, it turns out he believed I would stop doing for him what I always have and he just wanted to have the control which sadly he got.
What’s it like being a stepmother? For me it has gone through phases. It has always been challenging and thankless but it has also been rewarding, genuine and full of laughter when it’s good.
I think the toughest thing has been that even though my husband and to a certain extent the mother see me as a co-parent, no one else does which means that my opinion, discipline, boundaries, decisions and input are of no significance in their minds.
Regardless of the ups and downs we have had with my step son’s mother, for the last three or four years she has considered my input and even thanked me for being firm but fair with him, she has gone as far as to contact me a number of times to ask me to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to her and yet outsiders see me as a spare part.
Nothing is truer than this:
“For better or worse, step-parenting is self-conscious parenting. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”