When I think back to my twenties and my pre-marriage or even my pre-‘he’s the one’ boyfriend days I imagined life to be somewhat different once I was settled down. I dreamt of the classic fairy tale with 2.4 children and a beautiful house in the countryside with my handsome husband and our smiley, happy life. What my reality is is slightly different (except I think my husband is handsome) from that dream but would I change it? No way.
I’ll start off by letting you know that my husband is 13 years my senior and with that comes a few challenges and a few ‘life already lived’ experiences before me.
When I met my husband over five years ago he had just turned 40 and I was 26. He had an eight-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. By different mothers. I know what you’re thinking as I thought exactly the same – is this guy a safe bet?? Anyway, I threw caution to the wind and love took us both over and I realised he was my one.
I remember so vividly the first time I met my now husband’s daughter. I had all the usual feelings that you would expect to feel. I was nervous, apprehensive. What if she didn’t like me? What if she hates me?
She was pint-sized and had the most amazing long, curly, wild dark brown hair (still does) and was the cutest little girl imaginable. Our first ‘date’ as she called it was to the local firework display and we, the three of us, were going together. This little girl was warm, gracious and kind and she still is today. She instantly put me at ease (the adult was put at ease! Surely it should have been the other way around??) and she welcomed me into the family. No drama. Ever.
She made me gifts for when she used to come and visit her Dad every other weekend. She asked me to take her clothes shopping and she treated me like a best friend. I instantly loved her and we’ve grown a tight and inseparable bond.
My husband’s two-year-old son was a little tougher but only because of his age and that he was a boy. I had no experience of boys until then. He was willful, cheeky and naughty, frequently. It was a tough time for his Dad and I and it tested the strength of our relationship but we pulled through it ok. Because he was a baby when I first met him I didn’t have the apprehension about meeting him for the first time like I did with my husband’s daughter but I was still nervous about being around a baby and helping to raise a baby. Was I up to the challenge?
I am the first to admit that I found the first few years extremely difficult. Not only was I dealing with two small people for the first time in my life but I was also going through the normal phase at then, 27 of wanting a baby of my own. This feeling did temporarily disappear for a good few years when I realised how tough it is to raise babies and small children and this was on a part-time basis! I saw the reality for what it was and it wasn’t as rosy as they make out in the films. Coupled with the fact that my husband also struggled with it all too and didn’t praise the situation we found ourselves in all that often. I often felt frustrated with the situation I found myself in.
I would probably say that the hardest part has been helping to raise two children who have different mums and therefore different parenting styles. One is laid back and the other is more hands on and both styles seem to work for the respective child. I then add another parenting style to the mix, which seems to be a mixture of the two but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how I’ve needed to adapt my parenting style to each of my stepchildren to get the best out of them.
My stepchildren are also the complete opposites of each other as well and I feel I need to point this out to you. My stepdaughter is very mature for her age, can hold her own in adult conversation, is always polite and kind and is never any trouble. My stepson is quite different. He’s a typical cheeky chap (takes after his Dad), can be naughty a good 70% of the time, is hilariously funny, and he’s rebellious so the rough goes with the smooth.
There have been instances where it’s got a little tough at times. Dealing with my stepchildren’s mothers’ diary schedules, discipline techniques and routines has been wearing at times. Dealing with my stepdaughters’ lack of interest in her homework at nine led to tears and wailing sessions on several occasions where we would have to shut the bedroom door on her away from TV screens and other distractions so she could get it done. It makes you feel so guilty. There have been times when my stepson has been so naughty out in public especially when he was a toddler that my husband and I would regularly fall out and it’s genuinely the only time we’ve ever argued – over the children. We stopped going to restaurants for a good five years because my stepson couldn’t be trusted to behave.
The children also wind each other up when together which is normal but it often ends with one of them in tears after one of them has taken it too far and whacked the other one.
I can’t say that there haven’t been times when I haven’t shouted at them or got seriously annoyed with them and my stepson sadly has had the brunt of it. Like when he was a tot and had this strange desire to do the opposite of everything you asked of him including trying, purposely, to walk in front of a bus because I’d asked him to stay on the pavement whilst a massive double decker was coming towards us. Yeah, that. Moments like that where you heart is in your mouth will make you shout so they understand the importance of what might have happened. And the phase he went through for a few years of thinking that throwing iPads, remote controls etc at TV screens was funny or just when he’s being cheeky but has the worst back-chat you’ve ever seen on a kid so yes, there are trying times when even as a step mum I’ve had to shout at them. And I still suffer from mum guilt for doing those things but it’s step mum guilt instead.
The good times definitely outweigh the tough times however and my memories of my stepchildren are of smiles, giggles and generally good times and a good dose of naughtiness thrown in for good measure.
How have I made it work I hear you ask. Well I think I’ve managed to make it work because I haven’t tried to be their mum. I have my own set of rules when they’re with me, mainly to protect our house, but I don’t try to be too authoritarian with them instead I opt to guide them. It’s taught me so much and I think made me a better person. Does that sound cliché?
I don’t have to be the tough parent either because they already have that sorted with their biological mum (and Dad) but I get to be the other mum in their lives that is there to guide them when they need me. I am the mum that they feel they can confide in openly and honestly without getting told off or judged. I am the mum who can be a friend and ally when they require it. To be honest my role is pretty awesome.
My step mum survival tips:
- Don’t try to be mum, they have one already so you can be their friend/ally instead.
- It’s good to have rules or at least house rules to save your sofa and carpets.
- Being firm but fair is still required because small people know how to get their own way.
- Just because they aren’t biologically yours doesn’t mean you can’t love them as if they were.
Overall I’ve been so lucky. I love my step-children as if they were my own and I’ve been fortunate to not have been put through ‘You’re not my mum’ tantrums with them – yet – and I know other step-parents who haven’t had it so easy and I feel for you. It’s tough.
Maybe it is down to their ages and the age at which I entered their lives but my stepchildren are great people and I love watching them grow and develop at each stage of their lives. It’s fascinating. They’ve shown me love, compassion, understanding and so much more and I hope I have shown them the same and more in return.
Step mum, always x
A Guest Blog from Sarah Moorhouse
Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband Tim, their two Chihuahuas – Pip and William and the infamous ginger tomcat, Austin. Otherwise known as Bratcat. Sarah is Stepmum to Sophie 13 and James 7.
Sarah was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in 2015 and is about to launch her first business, Posey Bows, selling hair accessories online for girls.