We are very fortunate that we have so much time with The Boy’s son, my step-son. Whilst many father’s are fighting for the right to see their children, or in the case of many (such as my Ex-Husband) opting out by choice, The Boy and I have fifty-fifty custody of Z. This means we see him every day, minus the occasional exception, have him half the nights, and have an active involvement in his life and upbringing. We get on extremely well with his mother, have an ongoing group text about him so we can all be aware of every development, and we all try to accommodate one another’s family needs. He refers to Miss Rose as his sister and myself as Mummy-Jude. All in all, we are as much his family as his mother is.
This is fantastic for him and wonderful for us, but I do get worried. I don’t want to tread on any toes by trying to be too much of a mother figure, but equally so I don’t want to remove myself from the equation when I’m the maternal figure he has when he is here and I have a say in what happens in his life.
The most recent example of this internal conflict is the project I did for him this morning. His nursery sent home instructions for a “family poster” to be made. It needed to feature photographs of all his family ready to be displayed on the nursery wall and to be discussed. His mother provided photographs from her side to be included, and I was given the task of creating this poster.
Who do I include?
It’s important to balance up. I have a massive stash of photographs of us on this side; him with The Boy, him with me, him with my parents, him with Miss Rose. Because the photos we were sent are small print offs from a computer, and all our photos are large and glossy, it’s easy to create an unbalanced look even when not including extra pictures. We selected a really nice photo of he and I together, but next to the photos of him with his mother is looked massive, so I pulled it out and left it as me being included in a family photograph of the four of us together.
The final arrangement I think is okay. It features the photos from his mother, ones I have here in my collection, and is all labelled nicely. But it’s a responsibility I am still anxious about. I don’t want his mother to feel I’ve made our photos more prominent, or his teachers to think I’m trying to make our photos look more important. Because I’m not and I wouldn’t. As his step-mum not his mother, I have a fine line to walk. Involvement, not pushyness. Caring, not treading on toes.
In a way it would be worse for me not to want an active involvement in his life. If I was a ghost parent, present but not interested, that would surely do him more harm. As an active step-mother I can comment on things I’m concerned about, make suggestions about things that might help with his eating or sleeping, and be the one to comfort him in the night when he has nightmares or in the day if he falls down. I can discipline him when he’s naughty and help teach him through educational games. I can, basically, be the mother figure when his real mother isn’t there. If I was there but avoided doing anything of significance or value with him he’d be left wondering why I care for Miss Rose not him, why I worry about Miss Rose not him, why I love Miss Rose not him.
But with a catch. I’m not his mother. The final say will never be mine. I have a voice that is heard and respected, but it’s not my decision. I can suggest things but it’s always with the knowledge that nobody is obligated to listen. It’s not my decision. I’m not his mother.
Being Mummy-Jude is a responsibility I take as seriously as I do being mummy. It’s a job I think about and worry about in equal measure to my own biological children. He’s a child I worry about, care about and spend a massive amount of time with. I take it seriously and I want to do the best I can. I want him to grow up knowing that whilst I’m not his mother that I was there for him. I want him to look back on his childhood and see me there, and know that I wanted to be there, I wasn’t just there by obligation but a ghost.
Ultimately I come down to the conclusion that the fact I think about it and worry about it will lead me to do it as well as I can. The fact I worry about how his mother will feel and the impact I have on his life means I won’t be too negative to either. If I didn’t worry I wouldn’t care, if I didn’t care I’d do damage without even noticing. So I try to cut myself some slack and say, hand on heart, I am doing the best I can.
Sometimes being a step-mum is hard, and sometimes it’s amazing. Just like being a birth-mum. Motherhood in general is exhausting in so many ways but yet the most rewarding thing you can do. Z being such an active part of the family definitely adds to the exhaustion in so many ways, but he adds to the benefits just as much. Miss Rose adores him and hates him in equal measure, just like I did with my own biological brother, and they learn so much about social interactions from one another because of this relationship. When they’re alone they fight, when they’re together they gang up on the other kids, just like me and my brother.
If you’re a step-mum you’ll understand. If your child has a step-mum try and understand she is doing her best, even if sometimes she does tread on your toes or is too far removed. She’s probably, like me, trying to strike a balance that is difficult and, like me, she’ll sometimes get it wrong. Being the second tier mother isn’t always easy but I promise we are trying to both love your child and parent your child, whilst respecting your superior position in his life and the fact you have final say in everything. It’s a challenge but one we take on with love.