Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Keeping step-mum

It's hard being a parent.  And it's hard being a step-parent.  But what happens when the two collide?

A few years ago I became a step-mum to a (then) little girl, J, and even littler boy, H.  When I first met them J was 6 and H was 3.  At this point I wasn't yet a mummy, and being the youngest in my family, I had had no experience of how to be, or what to do, around small children.  

To be fair to J and H, they had had no experience of how to be or what to do around a step-parent either.  And so we muddled through together.

Some of the things that stand out in my mind from those early days are:
  • I very quickly had to come up with some 'favourite things'.  During my first few meetings with J and H, I faced a barrage of getting-to-know-you type questions, centring around 'What's your favourite colour/food/pop group/TV show etc etc'.  This, I found, was surprisingly difficult, given that no-one really asks you those questions when you're grown up.  
  • Children have excellent memories: I was put on the spot early on about my favourite animal, and under pressure said the first thing that came to mind.  Fortunately it was dog.  Some months later, when visiting a Sea Life centre, looking at turtles, (and now in full 'favourite-swing') I rather proudly said "oo, look, turtle, they're my favourite animal".  While basking in my own 'favourite-based glory', I was met with quizzical stares and a rather stern look from J.  She proceeded to tell me how wrong I was, "dogs are your favourite animal" she said accusingly.  I had been caught out.  My shoulders dropped, and the glory dissipated as I opted for the "I'm a bit silly and forgot my own favourite animal" approach, rather than appear an out-and-out liar.  
  • My boyfriend had this strange new name.  I hadn't heard it before.  Daddy.  
  • Suddenly I had an excuse to eat children's food again.  I no longer had to hide my clandestine, monthly, packet of Monster Munch, bought from the corner shop and hastily hidden away in my bag until in the privacy of my own home.  I could now brazen it out, claiming I was 'finishing off their opened packet from the weekend', or - as I got strange looks from colleagues at work as they smelled the pickled onion in the air - explain 'oh we got the wrong type, turns out J likes hula hoops, so I've got to use them up. Such a nuisance.'
  • Small children, it turned out, really did wake up early.  Very early.  Every other weekend I kissed goodbye to my lazy lie-ins, and marvelled (through gritted teeth) at their insatiable energy.  
  • These very same, small, lie-in-annihilators, willingly and openly fell in love with me and in their own unique ways welcomed me into their lives, arms open, heart open, full of trust, and it was like nothing I had ever experienced.  
And so our relationship began.  It was beautiful and clumsy and exciting, trying at times, and never a dull moment.  As with so many step-parents, I never set out to be a surrogate mum to them; I never tried to temporarily take the place of their mum whilst with us, we just found, through trial and error mainly, our own 'groove'.

But the road wasn't always easy.  More recently, as teenage years have fast approached, the dynamics shifted, and for a couple of heart-breaking years we hadn't seen J and H.

Then, on Saturday, H came back to us.  And something really quite monumental struck me.

Ever since I became a mummy to Oh and Roh, doubts, worries, fears about being a step-mum had started to creep in:

What if I felt differently about them when my own baby arrived?
What if it became obvious to them that I felt differently about them, than I did about Oh & Roh?
What if I treated them, albeit unintentionally, differently to Oh & Roh?
What if they treated me differently now that their other brother and sister were on the scene?

And then more recently, after we hadn't seen them for a while;
What if they didn't love me any more?
What if - and this was perhaps my *most* painful worry - I didn't love them like I used to?

So what happened on Saturday when H came back?  He walked into the kitchen, and hugged me.  That was all.  A hug.  And some tears - on both our parts.

That was when I realised something really incredible.

For so very long I had been focusing on the 'what if's' of feeling different between being a mum and a step-mum.  What I should have been doing was focusing on what stays beautifully, wonderfully, the same.

When Oh & Roh arrived;
  • I felt the same about J and H. My love for them didn't change. I didn't love them any less. (If anything I loved them more.)
  • I was still the person they turned to when they fell over and needed a graze washing or a plaster
  • I was still the person who cleaned their hands, their teeth, wiped the tears from their eyes
  • I was still the person who hugged them goodnight 
  • I was still the person they cuddled when they felt fragile
  • I was still the person who they chatted to about X Factor
  • I was still the person who baked their 'favourite cakes' for when we had them 
When H hugged me this Saturday, despite him now being nearly as tall me, he was the same boy I had loved so dearly those years ago, and who I still (I realised immediately) love so very much.

All those years spent worrying about differences and juggling being a mum and a step-mum, when all along I should have been embracing and celebrating what stays the same.

Some say that the only 'unconditional love' is that a parent has for their child. What I now know, is that the love a step-mum has for her step-children is strong and amazing and constant and consistent, and that, for me, is right up there with unconditional.


  1. That is so beautiful. How lovely that you have such a good relationship with your step-children and I'm so happy they came back to you! x

  2. That was so lovely - and a real eye opener for me. You have obviously been so mindful in your relationship with your step children over the years and are now reaping all the rewards.

  3. A really touching, heart-felt post. You sound like a wonderful step-mum and have harmonised the role of it with being a 'mum' so well. x

  4. It must be so difficult and also scary to find your place in their lives. It sounds like you really did a fantastic job of it though!y hat off to you. xx

  5. This made me all emotional. What a lovely post :)

  6. Such a beautiful post. My Dad sadly married a woman who was a horrible step mum to me and my brothers and it ruined our relationship with our dad who I havent seen now for years. However, before he married her, he had a lovely girlfriend, Wendy who was our stepmum for two years and we totally adored her. She was the one who taught me to crochet, which is a skill I cherish and I always think of her whenever I finish a project. I have many loving & happy memories of her. Sounds like your stepchildren will always adore you too. Such a positive post, made me shed a little happy tear x

  7. When you so often hear horror stories about step relationships this post is like a breath of fresh air. I'm so pleased that it has all worked out so well for you. x

  8. Wow, I had tears in my eyes reading this - your honesty is just beautiful. It's so rare to hear/read of people who have a good and positive relationship with step children, I do hope this continues and that you get to see both children eventually coming back to you. So important for them to see their Dad. I'm sure it must have been far from easy at times. Thanks for linking up x x