I used to joke about being a child bride (I don’t anymore because that’s of course a very real issue in parts of the world). But really, looking back, I was very young when I got married.
I was 25 years old, and I married a man 21 years older than me. He had two children, a girl, nine, and a boy, four, from two previous marriages.
So at age 25, I became a third wife, and officially a step mum.
I thought I was doing a decent job at the time, but let’s face it – I was way in over my head. What I know now as a mother, and at age 42…well, suffice it to say, I could have really used that wisdom and life experience back then.
Without it, all I could do was the best I knew how.
I was recently asked for step-mum advice. I’m certainly no parenting expert – but I can at least share what I’ve learnt.
1. Other parents often won’t treat you as an equal.
I had an interesting experience. One of the kids’ mums was pragmatic and knew she needed me on her side. But she was also very insecure with me on the scene – which meant that she was nice to my face but disrespectful and deliberately undermined me behind my back.
The other mother was much more – well, let’s say ‘outspoken’. She was frustrated with my husband – and rightly so – and was concerned I wasn’t a sufficient parental substitute. That felt unfair at the time, but I could see her point: my husband should have been stepping up.
I also noticed when I joined my husband at school social events, I was treated as somewhat of an oddity. The women were suspicious. The men, curious.
Anyone who took the time to speak to me didn’t walk away with a clearer picture, because what they would find is a very young woman, who took the whole parenting gig very seriously. It’s not possible, they thought. She can’t possibly get it.
So even if my intentions were solid gold, I was in a bit of a no-win situation. I know that’s not the experience of every step parent – but it is, often enough, for me to say let that be their problem.
You do you.
How the heck do you raise five kids with another on the way? Constance Hall sits down with Mia Freedman. Post continues after.
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2. You’ll often have all of the responsibility, and none of the authority.
If you find yourself the only adult in the house for a few hours, or the night, you will be expected to be as responsible as a parent. But what you may find is that the child can be resistant to that.
I remember once being in charge of a group of teen girls who wanted to watch a very inappropriate movie. And whilst I was in my own home, the only adult present, and thus deserving of respect – the matter was deferred to the mother.
And I lost. It was ultimately seen as “this is my daughter and she needs only to listen to me”.
Hopefully you have a good spouse who will (eventually, if not always at first) back you up.
I know it’s difficult, and it sucks. But it’s a labour of love, right? You love their father. You (hopefully) love the kids. And that’s what will ultimately make the hard times worth it.
But don’t forget that you always have the right to stand up for yourself, and make the rules in your home.