Gary and I have been together for just over four years and I’ve been part of his son’s life for a little over two of those.
Learning to step parent has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done but I have picked up a few things along the way that thought I’d share here…
Make sure you’re ready.
Every couple and every family is different, so I would never say ‘make sure you’ve been together at least (insert amount of time) before you meet the kid’ but I would say that you need to be sure that this is what you want before you dive in.
Gary and I were in a relationship for almost two years before I met Charlie and, whilst that might sound like a long time, I am glad that we waited because by the time I met Charlie, I was secure in my relationship with Gary and I was pretty sure that we would last.
Step parenting is hard and weird and it can put strain on a relationship (more on that later) and I think it would have been ten times harder if we hadn’t been solid before we added Charlie to the mix.
Like I said, everyone is different and you’ll know when you’re ready but just don’t rush it. You only get one chance at getting the beginning right and sometimes that means waiting.
It’s a really weird position to be in.
You aren’t a full parent. If you’re in the same position as me in that the child lives full time with the other parent and only comes for weekend and holiday visits, it means that you don’t even see them all that much. But you have the responsiblity of caring for someone and setting them a good example.
It’s an odd line to tread and I take the view that I am a bonus adult for Charlie (I hope he sees me that way as he grows!). I’m an extra pair of arms to hold him when he needs it, an extra ear to listen and an extra person to cheer him on.
He will only ever have two parents – and I’m not one of those – but he also has a group of extra people who care about him and I am proud to be in that squad.
You don’t have to love them.
I am a perfectionist.
I want to be good at everything straight away and I want everything to be ‘just so’ at all times.
This meant that when I finally met Charlie, I wanted everything to be perfect straight away.
And obviously, it wasn’t.
And you know why not? Because we were two total strangers who needed time to get to know each other.
Take it slow, don’t put pressure on yourself or the child(ren) and just let things develop in their own time.
I was very lucky in that I like Charlie. He’s funny and clever and generous and interesting and nice to be around and I genuinely like him. But not everyone is that fortunate.
As long as you show up, take care of them and get along, that is all that is required.
If you’re lucky – like me – you will come to love them. But if it doesn’t happen then that doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human.
You will need your partner.
As I mentioned earlier, Gary and I were careful to build a strong foundation before I became a part of Charlie’s life.
Children change everything and I don’t think I would have been able to cope if we had introduced me to Charlie earlier in our relationship.
Becoming a step parent is highly emotional and you’ll need to lean on your partner. Talk it out, find ways round things and make sure they know how you’re feeling. Otherwise it just won’t work.
Jealousy is normal.
One of the things that I was most ashamed of when I started spending time with Charlie was the jealousy that occasionally reared it’s ugly head.
It would really bother me that Gary’s attention would be completely on Charlie during his visits and that our whole lives seemed to revolve around this small human.
There were times when I felt completely claustrophobic and trapped by the whole thing.
I’ve since spoken to other step parents and now know that this completely normal.
Jealously is one our most base emotions and at a basic level, it can feel like your territory is being invaded.
I talked to Gary about this at length and soon realised that I was actually feeling rejected by both him and Charlie. They had been a team of two for a long time and that is difficult to break into. It was also hard for Gary to let someone else in. It took some time and some trial and error, but we eventually found a way to include me without Gary feeling like he was losing out with Charlie.
It’s a tough balance to find but once we did, the jealousy went away and we found our groove as a family.
It’s not personal…
…but unless you win the step parenting jackpot, the other parent will probably hate you.
I’ve been wrongly accused of being a homewrecker and I’ve been followed on at least one occasion, probably more.
But the thing to remember is that it’s not about you. Charlie’s mother doesn’t know me at all, the person that she hates is entirely fictional.
It’s not fun but it’s also not personal and, unfortunetly, it generally comes with the terriory.
You are allowed to take up space.
We only have Charlie four days a month. Which is nothing.
Because of that, I am very careful of making sure that the boys have one on one time each time that Charlie comes to visit.
And that’s important, but I’m allowed to take up space to.
Join in, be in the same space as them, come up with new ideas of things to do.
This is your family too, so get stuck in.
Your friends won’t get it.
Even your friends who have kids of their own won’t get how you’re feeling.
Being a step parent is entirely unique and only another step parent will understand the frustrations and the joys that come with it.
I don’t have any ‘real life’ friends who are step parents – apart from my own stepmother, who I have had a renewed respect for over the last couple of years – and so I found some online.
Join chatrooms, find blogs, do whatever you need to because they are the only ones who will know how you’re feeling. I have three online stepmama friends and without them, I would have really struggled.
It’s a constant learning curve.
Kids change and evolve as they grow and that means that the challenges of caring for them also change.
Last year we had to navigate playground politics when Charlie moved up a year at school (something that I’m sure will come up again and again) and we’re currently trying to work out how many of the Harry Potter films are suitable for him to watch.
There is always something, but hey, it’s never dull!
Oh, and one last thing…
This isn’t step parent specific but it’s worth knowing; children’s birthday parties are one of the circles of hell.