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September 9, 2020

Stepmothers aren’t Always Wicked: Confessions from an Instant Mum.

We are a blended family, and I am proudly known as “SMum.”

Not just a Mum, and not just a stepmum.

My partner’s eight-year-old twin girls chose the name because in the excitement of telling a story or to quickly get my attention they sometimes call me SMum. And ever since I became pregnant with their baby brother, they didn’t want him to get confused by calling me by my real name, Amy.

We all think it’s an awesome nickname and love explaining it to others.

Explaining you’re a stepparent to other young people in your life can sometimes be difficult. My nephew was the first one with whom I felt confused in how to explain my new instant family. His mother, my sister-in-law, explained to the bright, little man that the girls live with me and I’m an extra person to love them. Wow, what a woman—she nailed it. I love them like they are my own, and I am blessed that the girls share how great it is that they get an extra adult to love them unconditionally.

I recently had to explain our family dynamics to the twins’ new friend, our neighbour’s five-year-old little girl. We had organised a sleep over, and whilst setting up their beds that night, she asked me, “If you’re not their real Mum, who are you?”

I explained that I loved the girls father, and I was their stepmum.

She quickly responded with, “But why are you so nice?” I was taken aback. I actually think I responded by thanking her in a confused tone, then asking, “Why? Am I not supposed to be nice?”

It wasn’t until I relayed this funny situation to our neighbours that it came to my attention how much a stepparent is constantly depicted as the bad guy or girl. Every Disney movie the kids watch depicts the stepparent as the nemesis. In the movie, the kids play tricks on the stepparent and try to break the newly partnered parents up because they can’t understand why Mummy and Daddy are no longer under one roof and in absolute love with one another.

Luckily for me, the girls have embraced me from day one. And I truly believe this is because of the way we openly communicate with them about every thing happening in both households. We care about their Mum, and what happens there, and we love that they want to share what happens in our home with their Mum too.

Over two years ago, I decided to make my dream come true—the Australian Dream—to own my own home. My newly built home was not planned or originally designed for a family of two adults, two kids, a bird, and a dog, but this is what we made it—our family home.

During the year of waiting for my land to exist and construction to commence, a lot happened with my now partner; we became the best of friends and then realised quickly we would become much more.

“We try new things in this home,” was a saying I established when we moved into our brand new home together. I had prepared different foods than the girls were used to, and they were unsure of them at first. But they have embraced this saying so much, they suggest it to their cousins or friends when they state that they don’t like something: “Well, in this home we try new things! Hey, Amy.” Proud moment right there.

It sounds simple, and like something I am sure many households would use to get their little ones to try something new, but this simple statement has me beaming with pride—it’s a little saying we created together.

Supportive chatter can be challenging. Difficult conversations with the girls get me in the feels—hard! It can be rewarding in the fact they want to talk to me about every thing, but also scary that I could say the wrong thing or contradict the parenting style of the other parents, even their Dad. I am slowly learning to trust in myself, and becoming more open to sharing the conversation with either parent if needed.

I’ve learned that actions speak louder than words. I love this saying, and try to show this to the girls at every opportunity. I have told the girls I care about their Mum, and they know that we knew each other a long time ago, even before they were in her belly. So when they tell me that their Mum is going through a trying time, we go together and get her something small. Or I encourage the girls to make something crafty, like a card, while at our home. We always want to let her know we are thinking of her, care about her, and we are all here for each other.

Kids are resilient and they can handle more than we realise. For our girls, each week they shift from one household to another. They have different rules in each home, and their belongings are in different places.

At first, I remember not understanding why our eight-year-old girls never knew what day of the week it was when asked; it genuinely frustrated and concerned me. How could they be in year three, but not have learnt the days of the week? How could they not be able to tell me what day today was?

Then I thought about it: last night they were at Mum’s house, and this morning she dropped them off early before school. This same day, I will pick them up after school. For the next two nights the girls will stay with their father and I. Then, they will swap. Next week, we will do the same midweek swap again.

Looking at it from their perspective—living amidst this crazy schedule—I understood their confusion. So, we added a magnetic calendar to our fridge that had one month drawn up at a time. A squiggly line was drawn in between each of the days that the girls were to sleep at our home. The girls saw this every morning while we had breakfast. We chatted about the days to come or plans for our weekend with them. This helped, and once again, I felt a little chuffed with myself, learning to embrace their uncertainty, and watching as the girls got excited with the knowledge of the day of the week.

I get excited about the look on their faces when they say, “It’s Thursday today, right Amy?”

Imagine having four adults that love you to pieces, but split over two households. Two different styles of parenting and different atmospheres at home. Honestly, think about their little brains processing this.

Many a night, I have confided in their father about a conversation I’ve had with the girls, be it something trivial or mundane. I get frustrated on occasions where he has nodded or offered a vague response—this conversation with the girls was powerful to me. I realized I was seeking his acceptance and validation that it was the right way to approach the subject and answer their questions.

Why wasn’t he hanging off my every word? It hit me one night: trust.

He trusted me with the girls. He appreciates my relationship with the girls and he trusts that I will say the right things. He has let me know that he loves the way the girls are comfortable talking to me about every thing, but hates that I question if I have said the right thing or not. Lesson learned: stop second guessing myself.

There are still things that I question about the parenting style between the girls’ mother and father, but it’s taken me becoming a mother—and listening to the constant chatter and suggestions from others—that I now have more patience and respect for the way they decide to co-parent.

There is no right or wrong way to co-parent, just as there is no instruction manual for how to parent your own children.

But what I’ve learned is this:

>> Respect the other parent.

>> Listen when they tell you something, even the trivial things.

>> Trust their judgement.

>> Know that everyone wants what is best for the kids (No one purposefully puts their children in unsafe situations.)

>> Ask questions—don’t be afraid to ask them.

>> Keep an open dialogue between both households and try to address situations the same in each.

>> Remember, you still care about the other parent—they helped create these beautiful little humans.

>> The common goal is to benefit the children.

We have many more challenges ahead, as you can image—twin teenage girls, oh my god!

I have jokingly threatened to move out of the family home, with my son, for a year or two when this stage rears its crazy head, only because I remember I was such a handful at that stage.

They have so much support in their parents, and us extra adults (stepparents). I can’t imagine they won’t be able to turn to any of us if things get a little overwhelming during those crazy years of their lives.

We will learn and grow through the craziness together.

Being “SMum” has changed my life—only for the better.

~

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