You hear stories of wicked stepmothers all the time – and admittedly, I was probably one of them, sometimes. But, somehow, my stepkids still loved me – so much, in fact, for a while, when they were young enough to still think I was kinda cool, they called me the cutest nickname.
But before I get to that, here’s the background for context: the whole step-parenting gig began for me when I was just 19 (officially, via marriage, at 25), and ended at 33.
Being a step-parent was so hard, that when I divorced my husband – a man who had two kids from two previous marriages – I swore I’d never re-partner with another parent; once was enough, thanks very much. My experience of being a stepmum is that you get a lot of the responsibility, and none of the authority. But the reality is that these kids come into your home – but it’s their home, too. Just by your presence in their dad’s life, you become family.
And I joined that family at a very young age, when my stepson was four and my stepdaughter was nine. The thing is, I was probably too young to get married, and definitely too young to be a stepmum; but as these things always go, it didn’t feel like it at the time. Looking back now, at age 42 and also as a mum to an 11-year-old myself, I made so many mistakes.
But one thing was always the case, and remains true even today: I loved those kids and just wanted to make them happy.
And the kids, they knew that. They knew I loved them. It wasn’t easy with their mums (man, those women hated me), and that made for some challenging times with the kids – but they always respected and appreciated how hard I tried.
I read to them, supervised homework, tucked them in, made dinner, washed their clothes, packed their gear up to send them back to mum's, and drove them everywhere.
Yes, I also cracked it about bedtimes and lunch boxes that were returned untouched. I got annoyed if a third school jumper went missing that term. But I went to parents drinks, parent-teacher interviews, and more Auskick (kid footy) matches and interminable ballet concerts than a woman in her twenties rightfully should.
But you know what? Even though it was so hard, to the point that I wouldn't voluntarily do it with another person now (because: been there, done that), I know for sure my experience with those kids changed my life - and I changed theirs.
I made a difference to those kids who were handling their parents not being together, shared custody, and all the drama that involved. I know I helped to make them feel safe and loved in a second, stable home. Giving them that mattered to me so much.
And what I know, as a mother now, is nothing is more important than that love and stability.
How the heck do you raise five kids with another on the way? Constance Hall sits down with Mia Freedman. Post continues after.
It obviously meant enough to them that my efforts were occasionally recognised on Mother's Days, which was lovely. But there was one, definitive moment when I knew I meant as much to those kids as they meant to me.
One Mother's Day, when the kids were about 12 and seven, I got a card that said, "Have a great day, Nummy."
Yep, they'd taken my name - Nama (which is pronounced Nuhma) - and made a nickname out of it to recognise my role in their lives.
It was brilliant; I mean, a lot have stepmums have been called worse - a lot worse. Being a wordy person, I love a play on words, and this was perfect. I was stunned by how sweet the gesture was.
The name was an honour, really.
Over the years, I've been given a lot of nicknames by friends and family (most of which are NSFW), but not one of them has ever been as meaningful as 'Nummy'. It made all the sacrifices (and bickering with their mums) worth it.