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Being the evil stepmother …

Am I the evil stepmotherMy stepson is 7.

At times, he is the most challenging relationship in my life and he is certainly one of the more complicated dynamics of my marriage. He determines where I’ve chosen to live my life and how much I have to do with my husband’s (admittedly, pretty cool about it all) ex-wife.

I’m at an age where it’s not as unusual to be a step-parent. Idealism and life plans of our 20s are replaced by 30s’ acceptance and knowing yourself. A more honest decade, really. And a far more settled one.

When I first embarked on a relationship with a man who had been (shock, horror) married and had a kid, there were mixed responses from friends and family. It was, after-all, a big call. A bigger call than I realised I was making at the time.

Aren’t they all?

Ours was not a Brady-Bunch blending of families. My stepson was 3 1/2 when I became involved with him. Anyone who knows kids knows this can be an ugly age – especially when a small person is forced to share his favourite man in the world with a strange woman who just won’t go away.

It was complicated and often still is. Though not a more complicated twist than, say, my friend who clashes with her mother in-law or being in a relationship with someone who has a less-than-stable schizophrenic brother. Challenges of real life, not deal breakers.

Christmas 2011 168“Where’s Dad?” is the usual response when I pick up my stepson on Thursdays. Hard to respond to and hard not to take personally which I guess is how he feels about the situation, too. After four years, I offer little in the way of that base parental comfort. I chalk it up to not smelling quite right, not having the right accent and generally being of different genetic make-up.

Since having my own daughter I know that being a stepmother and being a mother are two very separate, very different jobs. And I’m glad I’m both. Being someone’s mother and their go-to basic parental comfort for everything from scrapped knees to being told “no” is exhausting. Wonderful and fulfilling, yes, but exhausting. (And I don’t know about you but my daughter has the capacity to be the worst version of herself with me and only me because of it all. I seem to create her comfort but, at times, also the emotional vulnerability that requires the comfort).

Christmas 2011 175The cool thing about me and my stepson is that I’m not tied up in those most complicated emotional inner workings. If Mum and Daddy are platinum, I’m a gold member. I’m safe and I’m supportive but I don’t offer enough to trump whatever opportunities the world has to offer. As a shy kid, he’ll try things with me he can’t with his biological parents. I was the perfect candidate for school visits, handing over the coins himself at sausage sizzle for the first time and taking him roller skating.

My stepson is my daughter’s first questions every morning: “Where is my brother?” He is her biggest role model and sometimes her great sympathizer. Often if she cries, he cries. Even if he causes it. (Though for the record, she’s made him cry out of maliciousness more often than he has her.)

little buddiesWho knows how any of it will play out in the long run? It might be great not to be a mother to one of the teenagers living in my house in 10 years! And on the days when he has been my biggest challenges, I remind myself that he might, one day, be my greatest ally.

And if not mine, then certainly my daughter’s.

Have your say:
Are you a step-parent? What's your experience?
What do YOU think? Let us know.

Adrienne Buckingham

About Adrienne Buckingham

Adrienne is an optimistic traveller who, while seeking a life less ordinary, settled herself in the suburbs of New Zealand. She is a mother to three girls, a stepmother to one ...

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3 comments so far -

  1. Wow…so much of what you said is true. I have been a step mother since joining up with my partner 5 years ago. His daughter was an ‘only’ and pretty spoiled, and often demonstrated the kind of behaviour which as they say “only a mother/father could love”… I went in with my eyes wide open thinking I would be able to cope but it has been so hard at times. At the time I had 3 kids myself. Since then I have had two more. LIfe is pretty full on and I have never quite got past the feeling that she is a bit of a wedge between my partner and I. Actually one of the most difficult things is that she behaves quite nicely most of the time when her father is not around and it’s just me, but when he is, she is not only manipulative of him but quite dismissive of me. And he tends to act like she needs protecting from me. She’s a clever child, strong willed and very full on which I believe stems from her early upbringing where both mummy and daddy were working full time and allowed her to run the roost when they were home. Since then, over the 5 years she has gone backwards and forwards between us week on week off, which definitely seems to suit her mother because she is quite happy to give her up after ‘her’ week. Her dad sometimes jokes that she is that kind of child…someone you can only handle for a few days at a time. I think it is a parental issue, and that with stronger guidance and less indulgence she would be a nice person to have around. I want to feel closer to her but I do struggle. Somehow I need to feel more empowered and less resistant. Oh well…just have to keep working on it.
    I enjoyed reading your blog. Made me feel a little more normal-thanks.

  2. Sounds like you’ve got the best view on each role and empathy for both. I admire you. What would be your suggestion for how to behave towards an 8 year old boy who could soon move in with his father and stepmother? He’s known the stepmother for a while and has a reasonable relationship with her. Should she change her behaviour in any way?

    • Living with a kid is a big change. You’ll get the full spectrum of emotions. Keep being yourself and warm and positive but be firm. I think it’s really important to know your boundaries before hand, especially in how he is allowed to talk to you when he is angry/tired/sick. Be clear and make sure your partner backs you up: “I understand you are angry and you’re allowed to be upset but I don’t like it when you are rude to me.” If his Mum is still in the picture, you need to try to have a really positive working relationship with her (or at least appear to). Good luck!

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