4 Stepmums on Jumping into Parenthood

4 Stepmums on Jumping into Parenthood

By Alexandra Whiting   |  

"I have been careful to never assume a role of mum, because he has one, and she’s a great one."

The ways we become parents are varied, unique journeys, and often, not how we expect. Something particularly true of step-parents. Perhaps it’s a product of our time, but when most of us are picturing our perfect match, we aren’t imagining them with a child. However, it’s increasingly a possibility with stepfamilies accounting for 10 percent of Australia’s 600,000 families. The reality of suddenly being a parent is a lot for most people. The role of a stepmum is undefined and different for each family, sometimes the kids are small, sometimes older, sometimes they are a big presence, sometimes less.. For some, you’re the solo mother figure stepping into fulltime life as a parent, for others you’re joining a co-parenting team and gaining a whole new set of family members. Here, four stepmums share their experience of parenthood, the tough bits (a lot being out of your control) and the great bits (watching them grow) and how they make it work (schedules and positivity).

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Melissa, 29

Who made you a stepmum?

I have been a stepmum to Heath (10) for 10 years now. I met my fiancé, Ben, at Pyramid Rock Music Festival back on NYE 2011. I was camping with a bunch of friends, and he happen to be camping two sites over. The first time I saw him, before even speaking a single word to him, I turned to my friend and said "I'm going to marry that man over there".

Other than a few conversations, I failed to make an impression on Ben, so went home and turned into a detective, seeking him out on Facebook, Instagram and any other social media platform I could find. There wasn't a trace of him anywhere, so I resorted to the Yellow Pages (yes, I know). Eventually, my stalking skills came through. I discovered his was a friend of a friend’s, friend. I proceeded to head out every weekend with that group of people, hoping he would show up and I'd be able to try again to convince him I was his future wife. Little did I know, behind the scenes of this whole situation, Ben’s ex-partner Sharmiah, was pregnant with our Heath at the time. They were not together during the pregnancy, but she was almost full-term at the festival, so safe to say the last thing on his mind was meeting someone new. After six weeks of going out and not bumping into him, I was working at the door of a charity event and he walked in. As soon as I’d finished my formal eventing duties, I had planned to find him and ask him out, but when I did, he was gone. Heath was born that night.

From all my attempts of forging a meet-cute, Ben had gotten wind that there was a brunette girl on the town desperate to meet with him. He showed up the following week to a group drinks, and finally asked me out. The night before our first date, he added me on Facebook, and I discovered he had a baby... like a brand new, fresh human, breathing baby. Heath was only a few weeks old.

I thought about cancelling the date, making up some excuse to get out of it, but my gut kept telling me it was right. So I went. Ben told me his whole story, everything that had bought him up until this exact moment over spring rolls at a Chinese restaurant eventually saying, "If you want to run, run, I don't blame you". I went home and thought long and hard about everything we spoke about. I remember thinking I had two choices, I could either run, like he said, or stay. I knew staying meant spending the next few days rearranging what my future had always looked like in my head, and that I had to find room in my heart to love both him and his baby equally. Everyone I know but two (I still remember who they are) told me he was a bad idea, but deep down inside I knew he was the person I was meant to be with, and that I could do it. So I did.

In our beautiful patchwork quilt of a family there are currently eight of us spread across two homes. At our house, there’s myself and Ben, and our 10-month-old son Bobby. Heath's mum, Sharmiah’s house. She also has a new partner, Heath's stepdad, Justin, and they have two little boys, Harvey, 3, and Wyatt, who is almost 1, and then, of course, there is Heath who floats between the two.

What has your journey of parenthood been like?

In the beginning it was challenging. Heath was so little and everything so new. Emotions ran high and it was, at times, extremely hard finding our feet and some kind of routine, but I would say by the time Heath was two, things ran smooth and it was nothing but joy. I remember manifesting in my head that by the time Heath was old enough to remember anything, he would only ever look back and see love and friendship between his two families.

I think what has made the entire thing so easy is Heath's mum being so willing and secure to share him with me in such a big way, and both of us respecting our roles in his life between the two homes. She’s someone I speak to daily, we call and text and banter back and forth all week, making sure someone has signed this, or organised this present, got the new footy boots or organised the new school hat – it's like having another person in your corner. It's co-parenting with your girlfriend, so it's highly efficient and entertaining.

I have been careful to never assume a role as Heath's mum, he has one, and she’s a great one. I know I am a big part of his life, and my role is to love, support, guide and help him when he’s at our house or whenever he needs me.

What is the hardest thing about being a stepparent?

The beginning is always the hardest part, I think stepping into a new situation and finding your feet, your pattern and your groove is always the most challenging part of anything. I was 19 when I became a stepmum, so overnight I took on the challenge of raising a newborn alongside his parents. I don’t think I knew what a big decision or role that really was at the time, I think I just knew I really loved my partner. I can look back now and appreciate the journey and what a massive undertaking we’ve all been through to get to the place we are at now.

What is the best thing about being a stepparent?

Watching them grow. I have been so lucky to have been there right from the very start of Heath's life, so I have been able to see him transition through every stage and age. Kids are an absolute joy, they bring a lot of laughter and fun to your life.

Lauren, 35

Who made you a stepmum?

I met my now husband, George, 45, in Sydney when I was visiting from Melbourne for work. He was a bit older than me and before our first date he had to change the plan at the last minute. It seemed genuine and it made me suspect he had a kid. I quickly learned my instinct was right, he had a 5-year-old son. I'd never dated anyone with a child before and wasn't sure it was something I wanted in my future, but here I am 4 years later, married, with a 9-year-old stepson, plus our own 4-month-old baby girl.

What has your journey together been like?

We are very much still on the journey. One week it's great and the next I want to tear my hair out! He is with his mum most of the time and on and off with us. I think if there was more structure around the time he was with us, bonding would have come much easier. I've had to learn to be patient and accepting of the situation. I know our relationship will grow in time.

What is the hardest thing about being a stepparent?

It's hard not to be judgemental and hold back your opinions when you would handle certain things differently or generally parent differently. I'm guilty of airing my grievances to my partner (and venting to girlfriends) which I don't think is always the best or healthiest approach. There's a lot out of your control when you’re a stepmum, and it can be hard to not feel frustrated about the situation, or towards your stepchild and partner. I have to remind myself to be accepting and keep an open mind and heart.

What is the best thing about being a stepparent?

Being witness to my stepson growing into the person he is becoming is very special, and a privilege that isn't lost on me. He has changed so much in the short amount of time I've known him and our bond is strengthening as we understand each other more and more. He is a very caring and kind big brother to our daughter and I really hope they have a special relationship as she gets older. We aren't the perfect nuclear family but I'm starting to realise that there's something pretty magical in what we do have.

Phoebe, 35

**Who made you a stepmum? **

I met my partner, a widow, two years ago, and my stepson Tyler a few weeks after that, when he was aged 3 and a half. It was COVID time, so we all moved in together after six-months. Tyler is now five and we’re expecting his little brother any day now.

What has your journey together been like?

It's definitely been a journey! I met my partner, Shaun, at the start of Covid, in April 2020, and we started spending a lot of time together as a family after that, so everything happened pretty quickly. Moving in together proved a big adjustment for all of us. For me, a change to my independence and city life. Suddenly I was party to kinder drop-offs, pick-ups, night routines, toddler negotiation… domestic life in the suburbs took some getting used to. Tyler also took some time to get used to me and to bring me into his orbit. Some days were joyful, others were hard and he used words that could sting, but I tried not to take them personally, it was just his little mind and heart responding to so much change. I guess that's the same with any parenting experience. Being pregnant, we are excited that this will bring the family closer together and Shaun and I are pleased that we can give Tyler a brother, but we are also conscious that this will change our family dynamic, including meaning there is less attention on the one child.

What is the hardest thing about being a stepparent?

Adjusting to them and their schedules, and growing into parental love.

What is the best thing about being a stepparent?

Being Shaun’s partner meant that I needed to step into the role of the fulltime maternal influence. We parent together, and don’t have to share responsibilities or perspectives with other parties. That allows me to approach the role with confidence, I can’t second guess myself because the buck stops with us. Being trusted to raise your partner's child like your own is a privilege. Every day is much more interesting when you're part of a family.

Verity, 25

Who made you a stepmum?

I met my fiance, Christopher,35, on an unintentional first date. We were at a work conference and he just wouldn't stop making me laugh and laugh. I tell everyone it was the best date I never meant to go on. I was in my early 20s, not looking to have a family at all. Kids and marriage wasn't even on my radar, but at the end of the night we'd both agreed we had an amazing time together and exchanged numbers. He turned to me after I went to leave and he goes "You know I have 87 right?!" (a joke referring to his 3 children) and it just never phased me. I very much leant into the parenting role from the very beginning, and Chris always made it clear that being a dad was both his number one priority and favourite job in the world. Once Christopher and I were comfortable that we'd be seeing each other for the long term I was introduced to his awesome kids, Kiara, Jack and Tom. Our family is current consists of my step kids Kiara (12), Jack (9) and Tom (8) and my new son George (5-months-old).

What has your journey together been like?

My journey with Christopher and the kids has always been family orientated. We moved in together during COVID, which meant we had the kids 50 percent of the time. To be honest, they adapted so well, they've always treated me with so much respect and kindness. I think the biggest reason for that is our big focus on co-parenting and alignment with their mum. I make it clear that I'm not their mum, and she's an amazing woman who can't ever be replaced. I'm just an awesome extra parent. Or at least that's how I phrased it when my stepson (at about 7) asked me, with great concern, if I was their new mum. Co-parenting positively means never speaking negatively about their time with their mum and all three (their mum, dad and me) of us being aligned has been the key to success in my opinion. I'm the child of divorced parents and they did it very differently so I really wanted to do my best to make sure the kids were put first. Kids are little mirrors, when you give them the respect and agency they need, they give it back and hence my life with them (so far) has been really beautiful and easy. I love my little family a lot and feel very blessed to have all of them. All of us go to soccer games, all of us help with homework, we all go out together as a family on birthdays. It wasn't easy at first, but it has made the kids feel incredibly supported - like it's still one family with different parts as opposed to two families with different interests, rules and requirements.

What is the hardest thing about being a stepparent?

Remembering that I'm not their mum. They have a mum and a dad and sometimes decisions that are made by them may not align with what I think or believe, but in order to stay consistent, it's important I tow the line. I might have particular values that I'll raise George with that haven’t been instilled in Kiara, Jack and Tom, and that's OK, but it is an adjustment.

What is the best thing about being a stepparent?

My beautiful baby boy George has three awesome siblings! That I have a household full of fun and laughter half the time, and that without the kids there I can also really enjoy the quiet time. I love celebrating their wins and being another person in their support network for their losses. After a while you find your place. Also, when things get too hard, it’s their Dad’s responsibility not mine. The most special thing is watching them grow and flourish. It’s such a big privilege.

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