Fiona Wyllie is a radio broadcaster. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than being a step-mum. Being thrown into a parenting role with children already formed and functioning takes an enormous level of love and commitment. I have long admired Fiona’s relationship with her step-children, especially her willingness to put them first in her life. Fiona happily embraced a whole new world of confusing school uniforms and noisy car trips and time has proven the special role she has played in helping these children grow into happy, successful young adults.
When my husband asked me to marry him I said “give me a week to think about it”. The reason I needed to consider my decision, was the equation was bigger than just the two of us, he had three redheaded children aged between 7 and 11 who lived with him alternate weeks.
I love children and always thought I’d have my own but didn’t want to bring them into a family which wasn’t happy. My parents were divorced and my previous partner of 10 years and I were a long way from being a perfect couple. So in turn, I was very nervous about becoming a stepmother in my new relationship.
After I accepted the proposal and before I moved in with the family, everyone seemed to have opinions on successful step-parenting and was eager to share them with me. The advice ranged from just let their father discipline them, to avoid having anything to do with their mother. For me this was wrong advice on both counts, as circumstances meant sometimes I was the only adult around when someone overstepped the boundaries, but instead of believing I was a wicked stepmother as I tried to deal with the problem, I thought of myself as just one of the many people with a little more life experience helping the children sort themselves out. I am a big believer that it takes a whole village to raise a child, so I was just someone who cooked meals and tried to figure out whose school uniform was whose when folding the washing. This was a huge mystery for a new step-mum because when I first joined the family they were all at the same school, with identical shirts and shorts that came in various sizes.
Unfortunately every step-family can’t have the successful formula we have, two parents who love their children and respect each other, even though they are no longer together. Deb, the children’s mother, is the reason I have had such an amazing experience as a stepmother. She loves her children so much she allows someone else to also love her kids and even more generously, lets them love me back, without any guilt.
My own mother spent 30 years as a pre-school teacher and parenting educator and when I asked her what book I should be reading to learn how to be a step-parent, she advised me to wait for any problems before I started reading how to solve them, and perhaps finding ones that weren’t there.
It would be wrong of me to say there have been no issues, challenges or dramas, and like all families there have been plenty of tears, sometimes even happy ones. Who could have imagined those early long family car trips could be so difficult, so loud, so tiring and so upsetting? I still give a silent prayer of thanks to the developers of the car DVD players – eye-spy or number plates for 10 hours just can’t compete.
Over the past seven years I have watched and felt the joys and struggles of three children become adults, and I burst with pride over all of them. The oldest Sarah started a new job today, Zac is living in France on a 12 month Rotary exchange student program, and Molly is coming to spend the next school holidays with us and none of us can wait to be together again.
We threw a spanner in the shared parenting mix by following my husband and my dream and moving overseas for two years. Molly spent a term with us last year, going to school here in Vanuatu. She had to ask me to stop being such a bore, as previously working fulltime, I had never had the chance to go to so many parents and friends meetings, fete committee meetings, or run a face painting stall at the school fete. I was going completely overboard in the pursuit and joy of trying to be a super step-mum.
Certain days of the year highlight where you come in the hierarchy of the extended family, my tip to other step-parents is to not strive for the impossible. It is alright to come second, and don’t try and struggle for the same love or respect as the birth parent, spend those big days in other ways than the media tends to paint them, all perfect like a margarine commercial. Make your own special days, spend Christmas eve or Boxing Day instead of Christmas day with the kids or this year give yourself a Mother’s Day treat just for you at the day spa, you know you deserve it!
Are you a step-mum? What’s been your experience?