I’ve been thinking today about what I wish I’d known before getting into this step business.
Dad’s Second Whatever started it with this post where she alluded to the question of whether to share or not share hard-won, hard-nosed step wisdom with a new stepmama.
It’s a bit like when someone’s pregnant, you know? Do you tell them birth horror stories so they’re prepared for what could go wrong, or gloss it all over with sticky icing to avoid inducing a panic attack before it’s necessary?
Are all, when you’re dating/bonking/besotted with/engaged to a guy with kids, reality does tend to catch up quickly enough!
So I thought and thought, and wished that, instead of just looking at me with the kind of appalled expressions that made me want to reflexively check my person for dog faeces, there had been some nice experienced step-type person who might have been able to tell me a few things.
Things I wish I’d known in the early days…
You’re not alone – lots of women routinely don’t describe themselves as stepmums because they too are afraid of being judged. Dig a little and you’ll be surprised.
On the other hand, first family parents, particularly mums, may find your very existence terrifying in a this-could-happen-to-me kind of way. Not your fault!
Unfortunately, I’m good with kids and children always love me doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy ride. Your stepkids are not ‘normal’ in the way they relate to you; being able to charm the most petulant primary schooler or colicky infant around in milliseconds does not mean these children will accept you easily.
Just because a child acts sweet or even courts you and says that you should marry their Daddy doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly. Many stepkids have a delightful honeymoon period until the reality that you are going to be around permanently sinks in; then the acting out can start.
Boy A was like this with me to begin with – during those first few visits he would help me with the chores, assemble ingredients for me to cook, tell me all about his friends and toys.
I honestly thought: Wow, this stepmum thing’s a lark. Nothing to it! Oh, woe, was I in for a shock(er).
Once he realised that I wasn’t a passing fad or an amusing but temporary visitor, his demeanour towards me became much darker – there’s been the hitting phase, the complaints to the Lovely Man about how annoying I am, the endless shrugging, the refusal to answer or acknowledge me, the requests that I not visit anymore, the story that Boys B and C are scared of me.
Not fun, but now that I’ve got a more realistic idea of how he feels at least the Lovely Man and I can work on it.
Boy B, on the other hand, started off very shy and withdrawn but now seems (mostly) to really enjoy my company.
And Boy C is, as ever, my saving grace, with his funny stories and giggling fits and the occasional spontaneous cuddles that warm my [wicked] heart.
Don’t overcompensate to prove to the world at large that you’re not wicked. Foolish people will assume you are wicked however nice you are, while smart people will see how hard your job is and forgive your mistakes.
Same deal: don’t overcompensate to prove to the kids that you’re not wicked. The kids’ attitudes to you may end up having very little to do with you and how you actually behave.
Stepfamilies are so different to first families and some of what happens is completely counter-intuitive. The more a stepkid likes you the more they may reject you? Whaaaattha?!
For non-US stepmums like me, Amazon is your friend. Most of the books I’ve found helpful aren’t readily available outside the US and UK.
However much or little you and your partner see the kids, things are never going to be the same. This will probably take over your life, more or less…
…and your non-step friends will struggle to understand why you seem so obsessed.
And finally, it’s hard, but it’s also sometimes really, really good fun.
This list actually ended up ENORMOUS, so I’ll post another installment tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’d love to know what other stepmums include on their If Only I Had Known list…