Step-mum immediately has connotations of the wicked step mother in Cinderella. Witchy traits and evil intentions. Even the word step mum is loaded. The other mother, the one sitting one the other step, on the ledge. In French it's belle mere - belle being beautiful so more positive in every way though maybe implying that the birth mother isn't that lovely. Either way a step-mum, a second non-mum is an odd but frequent persona of society today.
When I met my chap the first thing he told me was he had three kids. It was like freeze framing Love Actually and the film morphing into Mrs Doubtfire. My fantasy life of romantic life a deux dissolved into a vision of washing up and general mess. Baggage had been a no go in my head up till then. A deal breaker. I had had two boyfriends with kids before and it had been bad from the start. One living in the equivalent of Toyrs R Us who spent all his time coo-ing over kiddie snaps instead of woo-ing me. The other claimed I could only meet his princess when he felt sure about me. Weeks became months and the vote of no confidence was clear.
The difference with my husband was and is I truly love him. Unconditionally. So kids no kids, past no past it is all immaterial. I also adore children. I have lots of godkids and the most darling nephews. I have a very active inner child that little ones seem to relate to. I am more of a kid than an adult most of them time. So I didn't see myself as a another type of mum, but more as a fairy godmother.
But the reality of walking into the lives of three kids and the aftermath of the divorce is something else. No matter how lovely the kids or how nice you are to them. It is one almighty upheaval, but it is not impossible.
If they are babies there is that fine line between becoming a mummy replacement and being the maternal provider when they are with you. That said one of my best friends has a two year old and her new partner is a wonderful stepdad. In fact the litte girl calls him doudou, the baby word for a security blanket in French.
If they are teens you are entering the danger zone, the oedipal phase. Adolescents are wrestling with their own growing pains and angst. Add to that seeing your dad with a new chick or chap cue all kinds of weird feelings on both sides. My parents stayed together until my dad left life. I don't know how I would have felt if he had chosen a new life and one that involved a woman in her prime. I'm sure I would have been jealous as hell. My dad was my hero, my protector and I wouldn't have wanted to share him with anyone.
For me, and in my humble experience the key is taking things very very slowly.
When you fall in love you want the perfect life together overnight. With kids its just not possible at the beginning. Patience is the greatest weapon.
At the beginning I moved into the former family house as we wanted to maintain the status quo as much as possible. It often meant feeling a stranger in my own home. Being told the salt doesn't go in that cupboard and that we don't do put the bread there. But all in all it meant that there was a healthy transition period. I have girlfriends who insisted on moving house and the immediate elimination of the old regime. Change is a good lesson for any child but it can becomes destablising if too drastic.
Holidays are often the crystalisation of transition tension. We chose to go to a familiar place the first year. There was enough shifting around already. I could sense it was hard, memories everywhere but we tried to honour the old haunts whilst creating new opportunities for fun. All in all it was pretty painless. Unlike a friend of mine whose teen kids refused to help out, lazed around and the jealous daughter in a fit of pique through a stone at this head smashing his glasses. That was the end of the holiday and the relationship.
Probably the best moment so far was our wedding. It was a day filled with joy with each of my husband's children playing a vital moment, especially when one read the passage from Captain Corelli in perfect English. My Dad had read that at my first wedding in his thick Greek accent. He died very shortly after I met my husband.
I have been in my beau's life for three years now and he in mine. I am writing this now as we move into our new home in a lovely French market town. Its the first time we have had our own home. I have had a tumultuous childhood living in different countries so having our own pad is so important to me. It means we all are turning the page. For me it is time to stop battling with the ghosts of the past. But for that reason it is also a final moment of mourning for my beau and his family. All kids want their mummy and daddy to stay together forever and there is a subconsious desire for divorced parents to reunite. Our new home is a family one but it is ours, not the former one. It is for my husband's kids and maybe our future ones. It will be a place full of light and love but there is no place in it for sombre energy or negativity. This is the greatest legacy for our children, not the bricks and mortar but the lightness of spirit that the house carries.
Being a stepmum is an incredibly difficult role to play. But if the intentions are loving and patience is on your side happiness will follow. The rewards are immense. Making a stepchild smile is one of the greatest feelings on earth.