The pitfalls of step-mothering are well-documented, from Cinderella to the Julia Roberts film ‘Stepmom’. Popular culture tells us that step-mums are universally reviled and that they either resent or are resented by their stepchildren. Research tells us that children in blended families experience a range of problems and tend to do less well in school. Whole schools of counselling are dedicated to the particular problems experienced by step-families. All in all, the outlook is not optimistic.
I am not going to lie – adjusting to living in a step-family was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and working out my relationship with my step-son was a difficult part of that. Becoming a step-mother is not easy – but neither was becoming a mother. Some of the joys of motherhood are missing from the experience of being step-mum, but then so is a lot of the pain.
So, in Julie Andrews mode, here are a Few of my Favourite Things about Being Step-Mum
1) I am not Mum. This may sound obvious, but I struggled with this at first. I tried to relate to my step-son as a parent, and the more that I did this, the more he resented me. He already had a Mum, and I think he found it creepy when I tried to stand in for her. Once I realised that I wasn’t supposed to be ‘Mum’, I saw the advantages of this kind of relationship. I thought about what grandparents often say when they see their grandchildren: they have ‘all the pleasure but none of the responsibility’. This, to a certain extent, is how a part-time step-parent relationship can be.
2) I don’t make the rules. It’s not my fault if my step-son has watched programmes that I wouldn’t let him watch, or eats with his fingers at times, or has a lazy attitude to homework. I have enough responsibility for these kinds of things already, with my daughter. With him, I can just relax and enjoy his company, and let him be. Sometimes, maybe this even percolates into my relationship with her, making me less anxious about the small things.
3) My step-son has not heard every single one of my ‘funny’ stories. He is a new, captive audience. And he laughs.
4) My step-son has not been brought up by me, so he has not been taught to healthily express his feelings, as my daughter has (and does, at top volume). Sometimes this is quite a relief.
5) As already mentioned, I am Not Mum.
This was brought home to me when his Mum came to pick him up one day, and standing on the doorstep said brightly
‘Go and get a warm coat, we’re going for a walk now,’
‘Ugh. I’ve already BEEN for a walk, and I DON’T NEED A COAT,’ he groaned irritably, and actually slammed the door in her face while fetching his coat. I was shocked. This is how my daughter behaves with me. I have never seen this behaviour in him before.
‘My Mum is so ANNOYING,’ he confided in me. I suddenly realised that being annoying is the province of Mums. My stepson is 12 years old, on the cusp of puberty, and his Mum worrying about whether he will be warm enough makes him feel, suddenly, 5 years old again. It makes him feel SMALL when he is trying to be BIG and the result is that he slams the door in her face.
I smiled at her as I re-opened it. We did that face, that sympathetic Mum-face that conveys ‘I know, my child does that too,’ and I thought, yes, my child does do that. But not my step-child. Step-parenting is parenting as you imagine it would be, before you actually have kids. Before you realise that you – yes, you – have become as annoying as your own Mum once was.
6) My step-son has taught me so much, about myself, about life, about relationships. He has enriched my life and I love being his Step-Mum.
( I know I said 5, but there is always a hidden extra…)