Recently I spent some time on the phone listening to a friend I met through stepfamily group unload about her incredibly complex family – nine kids between her and her partner.
(The collective gasp when they first introduced themselves and described their situation in the group was mostly politely stifled. K, if you’re reading this, I salute you!)
K described having nobody at all to talk to who could understand. No close family members, no friends in a similar situation, no knowledge (until I set her straight!) of the online stepmum community. Just her and her partner against the world.
It got me thinking, though, about how incredibly fortunate I am in having a family that these days is basically made of step.
Within two years my brother and sister and I all went from non-step to most definitely step.
In early 2008, I got together with my Lovely Man, we moved in together, and bought a house this year. He has three boy childers, alternatively the lights of my life and the bane of my existence.
In 2009 my wonderful sister married her own lovely man. He has a six-year-old daughter from his first marriage. She has a seven-year-old son, my sweet nephew, from her previous relationship. Their “ours” baby, another boy, is due in February.
In 2008 my younger brother got together with his beautiful partner, who has the two kids from her ended marriage about sixty percent of the time. After a brief and decisive adventure in Family Court, he also sees the two-year-old son he had with his ex every weekend and is going to be starting overnight visits in March.
The funny thing is that of all the exes, my sister’s former partner, who on paper would seem like the scariest worst possible prospect for harmonious co-parenting, has turned out best of all.
He has a nice girlfriend, both of them drop by my sister’s house quite happily to see my nephew and collect him for visits, the communication is reasonably unstrained and everyone respects him for the positive contribution he makes.
The other exes range from patchy to appalling in their attitudes and behaviour.
Our parents, still together after thirty-five years of marriage, have taken to stepgrandhood gracefully, welcoming the various broods and managing to remember everyone’s names and birthdays. I think they are occasionally a bit bemused by it all, but remain wonderfully supportive.
For myself, without my brother and especially my sister to talk to about step stuff, knowing they understand the unique pressures, the dramas and the constant, grinding conflict, I suspect I would have descended into insanity.
Nobody can calm me and get me thinking creatively about the situation with the Stepboys and their Mum and the Lovely Man better than my beautiful sister. Her mantra is:
Well, what can we do about that?
(As, incidentally, is my mantra with her when the situation is reversed and she can’t find her poise with two hands and a magnifying glass.)
Nobody encourages firm boundaries better than my brother:
That is Totally Not Acceptable behaviour. You gotta crack down on that!
Nobody listens to my awfulising more patiently than my parents until I’m ready to get back on deck.
Support is such a chancy concept for stepmums. Friends sometimes don’t get it. In-laws, as Nine Kind of Crazy notes, are not automatically behind the new family. Stereotypes abound and can make us reluctant to identify ourselves as being part of a stepfamily.
So I’m very, very lucky to have such a sensational support network.
But I wonder, in the absence of such a steppish family, who do other stepmums rely on for their support?