…be a stepmother. I’ve been giving this a bit of thought lately, since this will be one of my new titles when we get married in March. Really, I’ve been stepmothering Miss B for a while now. It’s happened so slowly that I’ve hardly noticed it. We’ve been living together for 18 months, which is probably a long time in the life of a 10-year-old, I’m thinking.
What makes a good stepmother? I had a stepmother when I was B’s age, and I can’t say it was a positive experience. So what I can learn from that?
Well, firstly that I’m not B’s mother. She already has one that she is very fond of. Making sure I stay out of the way of their relationship is really important. I see my job as supporting Stephen in his role as B’s father. When he needs help, I do what I can, otherwise I should butt out. Of course having already had a (very similar) 10-year-old girl myself, I do have a perspective to offer and I’m not backward about coming forward with it. But I do often stop and think, “it’s not my business”.
Secondly, I’m active in her life. I’m one more person that can add something to her life – take her places and give her experiences she might not get from anywhere else. We walk, bike, run, play tennis together. I take an interest in the things she’s doing and her worries and concerns. But it’s important not to be too ‘in her face’ with my involvement. Again, I have to leave space for her parents to do their parenting.
Third, I try and stay out of areas of discipline and punishment. It’s not much of a challenge since B is so far a pretty well-behaved kid. Stephen and I will talk about any issues that arise, but he is always the one to talk to her if there is a problem. That is his role.
Fourth, I am encouraging and supportive of B’s relationship with her mother, and her grandmother who is also very important to her. Mummy and Grandma are part of our lives when B is with us. We ask after them, include them in conversations about what she’s been doing, and her plans when she goes back to them. I want her to have as smooth a transition from home to home as possible.
And finally, as cheesy as it might sound, I try and pause at times and think, “what am I doing to help give B a good experience of this day?”. Because I’m not her parent, I am released from dealing with some of the mundane details of her life. I can focus on having a good time. In this way, step-parenting is a bit like grand-parenting.
And in fact, looking over the list, my approach to step-parenting is very much how I want to grand-parent. For me, it’s about knowing my role and my place and not overstepping the boundary into parenting. I’ll always be walking this line, but for me the most important thing is that we (me, Stephen, B, Megan, Antony, Grace, Wyatt and Arlia) take care of each other. Because, regardless of step-whatevers, this is what makes us a family.