Children dream of what they’ll do when they grow up and their dreams are generally big. One thing no one ever dreams of growing up and being is a stepparent. Children are likely to answer the question, what do you want it to be when you’re big? with: a dentist, a doctor, a fireman, a farmer, a superhero, a mum or a dad possibly, but never a stepparent.
Being a stepparent is a role filled with many different emotions like frustration, anger, joy, heartache, happiness, and sadness. This range of emotions, I can only assume, is much like that of a “real” parent.
I met my stepson when he was four. He doesn’t remember a time when I haven’t been around. Meeting him for the first time was nerve-racking even though we were best friends instantly. We laughed smiled and had fun. We hugged, kissed, and held hands. We played games and were a team. It was me and him against his Dad. Me and him playing tricks on Dad. Me and him baking and playing. He would come and stay every weekend and all of the school holidays. He adored being with his Dad but he also loved spending time with me, too. He loved his “weekend” family.
I was the next best thing to a mum. His dad invited me to be a part of his life and I was honored. I washed, cooked, cleaned, played, baked, and cared for him as a “real” mother would. It would be me he would wake in the night when he couldn’t sleep or had a bad dream or felt ill. I loved my new role.
His mother didn’t always make life easy for us. She was angry and was trying to protect her son and herself. Although we didn’t always like each other, we all very much loved him and only ever wanted what we thought was best for him.
When he was eight, four years after we met, his Dad and I made the difficult decision to move. Not just down the road, but to a new country in a new continent in a completely different time zone. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was a decision that we were confident would be the best for all of our futures. We both got new jobs and asked, begged, and pleaded that he come with us. Understandably, his mother said no. It was hard for everyone but hardest for him. However, after 18 months of heartache for everyone, my stepson came to live with us to start a new life thousands of miles from home.
After the excitement of its newness had worn off, it became clear that sacrifices had to made by everyone and we all had to make quite a few adjustments. On reflection, it was the toughest year we’ve had as a family. Not only had his life been completely turned upside-down but so had ours.
His first few months with us were hard. We were all adjusting but he’d had to adjust to being at a very different school, in a different country, and in a different house with different guidelines. He knew no one and we all had to get used to there being three of us. More importantly, we were no longer the “weekend” parents, we were the day-to-day “boring” parents: the parents who had full-time jobs and could not commit all of their time to fun things. Life had changed dramatically.
It’s hard to admit but becoming a full-time stepmum was a job I found very difficult. All of our relationships with each other suffered. I thought it would be easy but there was now a change to how my stepson viewed me. In his words, “I was no longer fun.” We always used to laugh but now I was always too busy. We always used to be on the same team but now all I did was tell him what to do and bossed him around. There were so many more rules than there used to be.
He was right. We rarely laughed and we were definitely not on the same team. We would fight and argue. We would cry and scream. We were battling. We had moved from “weekend” parenting to full time, day-to-day parenting. His loyalty to his mum also made him angry towards me.
Being a stepparent is frustrating. You get to make decisions but you don’t really get to make decisions. Mum and Dad make the big decisions. At times you can feel like a secretary who completes important documents and paperwork. Occasionally parenting viewpoints can differ and as a stepparent, you will be overruled.
For a long time, it felt like my stepson and I were continually fighting. We’d wake up and fight; we’d have breakfast and fight; we’d eat dinner and fight; bedtime came and we’d fight. It was beyond exhausting. There were many times when I’d question why I was doing this. I would dread waking up, not knowing what we’d find to argue about that day.
But through all the frustrations and resentment, I was also fully aware that being a stepmum was an amazing thing. You get to watch someone blossom, form relationships, make decisions, and grow in confidence. You get to watch someone learn how to tie their shoelaces, tell the time, and push boundaries. You get to watch someone grow in maturity; watch someone recognize he wasn’t always very nice or polite or kind to you. You get to watch someone apologize for these wrong choices but then make the same mistakes again.
I am very lucky that my partner respects and values my opinion (most of the time). He has let me parent his son, his pride and joy, in a way that isn’t my stepson’s mother’s way or even my partner’s way, but my own way. Although it’s hard to admit, I know it’s not always the right way. We do fall out over it. I’ve heard, “He’s my child, I’ll decide,” more than once (although I’m sure “real” parents who have a fifty-fifty share of their child have also been known to say that when they feel their viewpoint is correct).
Through all the changes and adjustments we’ve had to make, it has become clear that being a stepparent is as much of an honor as being any sort of parent is. All parenting is frustrating. It makes you angry, it brings you joy, and it makes you happy and sad, all in equal measures. It’s tough. It’s exhausting. It’s life changing.
After nearly two years of him living with us, our relationship is getting back on track. We’ve both recognized that our roles within the family team have evolved and changed. Being a full-time stepmum and a full-time stepson have altered the family’s team rules. We are working hard to learn the new responsibilities we each have to make this family a team that works together, learns together, and has fun together. We’re becoming a team that can work through the tough times, the disagreements, and the fights. We need to continue to work hard to keep our relationships healthy in order to make this the best team it can be.