Tag Archives: Step-brother

Kids Can Be Cruel

J.J. Barnes, Siren Stories, The Lilly Prospero Series, Rose And Mum And More, Mummy Blogger, Parenting Blog

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

One of the benefits of growing up with siblings is that you have someone to torture, who abuses you right back, in a safe space where you know you are loved.  You learn how to hurt and why you shouldn’t, and you learn how to survive hurt caused by another.

Growing up my baby brother and I were a textbook example.  He was infuriating.  He would mess up my carefully laid out games, clout me with toys, and pretend I’d smacked him just to get me in trouble.  In turn I was a venomous little cow to him.  I would tease him mercilessly about everything from his weight to his stammer, throw his toys out of the window, and kick him as he walked past.  Looking back I’m thoroughly ashamed of the bad behaviour but I also remember how close we were.  How we would play together for hours, have secret sleepovers in each other’s beds, and defend one another passionately against any outsider.

J.J.Barnes, Rose And Mum And More, The Lilly Prospero Series, Siren Stories, Lilly Prospero, Mummy Blogger, Parenting Blog

Photo credit ROakley1

Now, despite living in different countries with completely different lives (he’s a genius scientist working at CERN and living a childfree life of financial security by a vineyard in France, and I’m a mother of three living on an estate attempting to forge a career in the arts) we remain close to this day.

Miss Rose is now growing up with a baby brother, and they have a similar relationship to my brother and I.  Even though Z is just five months younger, they are both the best of friends and the worst of enemies.  Z will kick over her tower of blocks, Rose will snatch toys from his hands.  Rose will shove him away from her Rainbow Dash, Z will throw his Batman at her head.  They regularly declare they aren’t friends and never want to play with the other EVER AGAIN.

They are also best of friends.  Between disputes they will play with one another for hours.  There are currently dinosaurs and My Little Ponies scattered far and wide over the floor whilst they engage in a series of imaginative games that primarily seem to involve tripping up myself and their father, and occasionally screeching ear splitting screams.

They are learning about kids being mean.  They are learning that it isn’t nice, and they are learning how to handle it, and all the time knowing they are loved and they are safe.

Learning about the cruel potential of both yourself and other children is really positive, and it will do them well as they embark on their school careers from September.  But it doesn’t fully arm them against the cruelty of other children, even if it gives them a fairly solid ground to start from.

Miss Rose came out of school this week with blood on her nose.  A little boy had hit her and pushed her down, laughing at her for looking like a boy.  Miss Rose has short hair, sometimes very short though currently it’s at the longest it’s been in years (not quite shoulder length) and doesn’t play with dollies.  She crashes around with footballs and trains, she wears her Spider-Man boots, and she hates clips and ribbons in her hair.  But she also loves tutus, My Little Ponies and nail varnish.  Her lack of restriction to the gendered stereotypes I believe are so damaging is something I have celebrated, and something nobody has given her a negative response to.  Until now.

When she eventually went into details about what happened, her teacher had given me the basics, she seemed embarrassed.  Ashamed.  No matter how much she and Z fight and squabble it hasn’t prepared her for a personal attack about who she is.

The little mermaid next door has Jolene style flaming locks of auburn hair, she is also a sister.  Her mother told me about a little boy’s efforts to taunt her for being “a ginger”.  The little mermaid has a fierce sense of self and, without any hesitation, informed him her hair is red and fabulous.  She was having none of it.  A combination of the sibling dynamic, her mother’s dedication to making her feel good about her uniqueness, and her own personality has made her too tough to crack.  At least when it comes to her looks.  This is something I desperately want to emulate for Miss Rose.

Of course, I can’t protect her from everything.  I can’t stop other children being bullies, I can’t step in the way of every child’s desire to push her (even though if I was able to stalk her around school and throw my body in front of her every time you can guarantee I would be there).  I can’t protect her from life.  Kids can be cruel and she is already being exposed to that, and she has years of enduring school children ahead of her.

J.J. Barnes, Siren Stories, Rose And Mum And More, The Lilly Prospero Series, Mummy Blogger, Parenting Blog

Photo Credit Ventus

What I can do is make sure she learns from her sibling dynamic with Z.  Make sure I teach her to celebrate the things about her that make her unique.  And hope that her home life full of security and love, where she is told she is absolutely perfect the way she is, both inside and out, gives her a solid enough foundation to get through what’s ahead.

Watching Rose and Z playing together can be both incredibly stressful and absolutely endearing.  They are learning so much about both themselves and how to interact with others, and I am certain it will stand them both in good stead.  We just have to fill in the gaps.  Kids can be cruel, but I hope the way we are raising them will give them the inner strength to handle it.  And if not I’ll throw my body in her way, because I never want to see my little girl with a bloody nose again.

You can check out all my contact info an links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.

Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!

The Complexity Of Patchwork Family Roles

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

We live in the middle of an incredibly patchwork family, and against the odds we make it work.  Not just make it work, we make it work really successfully.

The Boy and I are both divorced with a child from each marriage, and together we have a daughter.  That leaves ex-partners, former families and extended family tethers on either side, as well as giving our children and ourselves a huge number of different roles within one family.

It can make it confusing, and it can make it complicated.  But, as I say, we make it work.

Jonathan McKinney is father, step father, boyfriend and ex-husband.  He’s a biological father to Z and Baby B, and the only father actively involved in Miss Rose’s life and she refers to him as Daddy.  His relationship is different with all 3.  He was there for Z’s birth but Z isn’t here every night and is less emotionally needy than Miss Rose, who he only came into her life at the age of 2 but who is a very emotionally vulnerable person.  Then there’s Baby B who is biologically his AND with us every night.

Photo credit Public Domain Pictures

Photo credit Public Domain Pictures

The roles he plays for each child are both similar and completely different.  For Z and Baby B he loves them on a biological level, whereas with Miss Rose it’s a love that’s grown from somewhere new.  He is needed by the big two on very different, though equally real, levels, but by Baby B less so as she’s still so dependent on breast milk.

Then there’s the roles as ex-husband and boyfriend.  He’s still close with his ex-wife and is a supportive friend and co-parent, whilst managing not to incite jealously from me or alienate her.  Somehow he’s found a balance where she is not just Z’s mummy she’s Miss Rose and Baby B’s Aunty Katie, and a family friend to us all, myself included.

Then I’m step-mum, mum, ex-wife and girlfriend.  But it’s all slightly different to the similar roles played by Jon.

As step-mum to Z I’m not the only mother figure in his life like Jon is for Miss Rose.  He has mother he loves and spends time with, so I’m a less vital role though still needed.  I’m the mother in this house but not the primary mother in his life.  I provide for him, love him, feed him, but don’t decide rules over him and take a respectful step back from many major decisions.  It’s a difficult job, and one I take seriously.

With Miss Rose and Baby B I’m their biological mother, but with Miss Rose I was a single mum for a long time and it forged a certain co-dependency between us.  With Baby B she is one of three in a family setting, and even though it hasn’t stopped us bonding, it’s a different bond again.

Photo credit Unsplash

Photo credit Unsplash

Baby B has the most simple role of all the kids.  She’s half sister to both children, and full child to both parents.  That’s it.  She lives with Miss Rose full time and they’re already forging a very close sisterly bond, and Z half the time.  Her life is the least complex to figure out.

Miss Rose is the second least complex.  She’s half sister to Baby B, step sister to Z, and also half sister to at least one other child from her biological father, though that doesn’t impact her because she’s unaware.  She’s daughter to me, but step-daughter to Jon.  Even though she doesn’t really understand the concept of being a step-child she does know on a base level because she backs off from him when Z’s around and this leaves her with a certain number of daddy issues that rear their heads in the form of dramatics and strops, but for the most part she’s alright.

For Z it’s the most complex of all.  He’s son, step, son, only child, middle child, half brother, step brother, and step son.

He’s the son of Jon, the middle child in our house, the son of his mother and the only child in hers.  He’s step brother to Miss Rose, half brother to Baby B, and step-son to me.

Only children traditionally have issues with entitlement, never having to share toys or compete for attention.  Middle children have issues with feeling ignored, neither being the first to accomplish things nor the baby.  However, he’s also the first born child to Jon so he’s still got that, though it’s in the setting of a sister who’s barged in and taken the oldest child role despite not being biologically entitled to it.  He’s also not based always in one house, moving in equal parts between our house, his grandmother’s house and his mother’s house.

It’s complicated and as adults leads us to endless conversations about how best to manage this patchwork situation and make sure no child feels unwanted or unjustly treated, whilst compensating for our own biological links and histories.  For children who both can’t fully understand it or properly articulate what they do understand it must be a complete woolly mess.

Despite what a mess this could be, despite the potential for resentment and anger, bitterness and sadness, we have somehow ended up with a situation where all five of us pile onto our one small sofa to watch TV and cuddle.  We all five of us manage to cram into our standard double bed to sleep, albeit badly.  We all five of us go on family trips both with and without the extentions.  We have dinners with Z’s mother, we have parties with all the families on both sides.  I pick both children up from school and walk them hand in hand to the car, with the baby strapped to my chest, and chat to them about their day.

Life has presented us with so much complication and somehow we’ve battled through it and reached the point we’re at.  If a family built around uniting two divorced units together is going to work then this is how it’ll work.

Photo credit One_Life

Photo credit One_Life

It’s not perfect.  There’s emotions and complications around all corners and these kids seem to throw new issues at us the moment we feel we’ve resolved one.  But at the end of the day we all go to bed in the same house and know we’re with family and we’re loved.

How, is the question

And I believe the answer is respect.  I respect Z’s mother, so don’t try and take over the mother job.  Jon respects her so ensures she’s included.  She respects us and the job we are doing and trusts us with her child.  I respect him and his commitment not just to Baby B but to Rose, and he respects me and the care I provide Z.

We are two years in and with honesty and mutual respect on both sides, this is the place we’ve reached.  And I know it’s rare.  I know it’s not easy.  And I know I’d struggle to be as magnanimous about any partner Rose’s biological father decided to bring into Rose’s life if he ever decided to come back.  But again, that’s probably the respect part of the relationship… and the lack there of.

If you can make a patchwork family work it’s amazing.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  And as more and more families stop being confined to the 2.5 of old and couples with the baggage of exes and families unite, there’s definitely something to be said for trying to normalise it, trying to ensure the children and the family unit is prioritised over any awkwardness that might come from trying to make it happen.

And when it comes to the confusion over all the different roles you play, my advice is to talk about it.  Talk about what you want, what you’re worrying about, what you’re trying to do, and where you feel you’re failing.  Work on it all together because that’s where the respect that’s needed comes from.

You can check out all my contact info an links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.

Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!

How Quickly They Adjust

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Children all reach milestones at their own rates, they all achieve things in their own time, and they all adjust to changes in their own way.  Some are slow learners, others are late to walk, whilst others do everything fast and early.

Both bring about advantages and disadvantages, and in our house we manage to have extremes of both examples in both of the bigger children.  Miss Rose takes time, slowly transitioning between one state to the next. Never can this be seen more clearly than in comparison to her step brother who adapts to things at lightning speed.  With only five months between them in some ways it’s like having strikingly different twins.

Photo credit Pexels

Photo credit Pexels

When we toilet trained Rose we started in the spring.  She saw her big cousin Jay using the toilet and wanted to copy.  She started asking to sit on the toilet, usually after a wee but still.  We put her in pull ups.  Gradually she became more reliable, would use the potty slowly more and more, sometimes not for days at a time but then other times a couple of times a day.  We then moved her into knickers.  She had days of constant wetting herself.  Then weeks of occasionally wetting herself.  Then months of rarely wetting herself.  It took about a year in total from starting to show interest to being reliably dry.  And she’s still in pull ups over night.

When we toilet trained Z he wore pull ups for a few days.  Then we put him in pants.  He was resistant but accepted that it was time.  For one day he wet himself a few times.  And then he was dry.  Day and night.

Going further back in their lives, their adaptation to change can be seen clearly in how they handled the breakdown of their parent’s marriages.

Rose’s father left and she fell apart.  She had panic attacks in the night, and had tantrums in the day.  After his visits she would break down and lash out, hysterical.  It took months before she adjusted, and still it impacts her now.  She has daddy issues, fear of abandonment and insecurities.  She’s never fully recovered.

When Jon and his wife broke up, Z noticed.  He saw his daddy somewhere else rather than at home, but he was fine.  He adjusted to the new situation by just accepting the change and carrying on with life.

Even in their day to day lives the difference is apparent.

When Rose wakes up in the morning she shifts about a bit, has a mumble and a groan, snuggles her face into the pillow and turns over a few times before eventually announcing she’s hungry.  Then she rolls slowly out of bed and stretches.

When Z wakes up the morning he goes from snoring to sitting bolt up right and announcing in an perky and loud voice that it is morning!

When Rose goes to bed at night she needs wind down time.  We go upstairs and look at books together on her bed, then we get her into her pyjamas and brush her teeth, then she lies down in the dark whilst I sing to her or read her stories whilst she snuggles up.  She chatters and needs reminding to close her eyes and listen quietly.  Eventually, after a bit of patience, she falls asleep.

When Z goes to bed at night he needs no wind down.  He charges around singing songs and watching TV until the last minute.  He goes up stairs, gets into his pyjamas and brushes his teeth, excitedly chatters away and leaps around for a bit, then lies down in bed, closes his eyes, and starts to snore.  In approximately seven seconds flat.

They handle transitions completely differently.  Rose is by no means stupid but she needs time to adjust.  Z simply adjusts.

Photo credit ROakley1

Photo credit ROakley1

The only time they’re in reverse is eating.  Rose scoffs a huge plate of dinner then asks for more.  Z takes two hours to eat two nuggets.

What does it mean for their development?  I don’t know.  I know both children are very smart and in many ways very advanced for their ages.  Rose adapts to change slowly but has a fast brain, so will she speed up in her transitioning or always need time to adjust to things?

Having two children so extremely different is fascinating.  We get to watch their development, the similarities and striking differences, and see where they end up.

What is your experience with adjusting?  Has speed either way been a help or a hindrance?

You can check out all my contact info an links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.

Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!

When Are You Marrying Daddy?

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

You’d be forgiven for assuming my little girl doesn’t realise she’s not biologically related to her daddy.  Indeed, for a long time I believe that was the case, and it’s certainly come as a shock to me to realise that not only is she aware of it, but it’s something she’s quite sensitive and insecure about.

Miss Rose has my surname, my ex-husband’s surname, and that is written on all her school paperwork, all the labels inside her school uniform, and all her homework.  It’s on any post she receives and any forms we fill in.  And it starts with an R, which she knows really well, so completely understands.  However, if you ask her what her name is she will say without a moment’s pause that her name is Rose Mck.  The Boy is a McK, her step brother Z is a McK, and as far as she is concerned she too is a McK.  But she knows I am not a McK.  She also knows that she is not technically a McK.

She has a wonderful relationship with The Boy.  She adores him.  If Liverpool are playing football she will whole heartedly throw herself into supporting them.  She has developed an infatuation with Jurgen Klopp and very early on learned to cheer with manic excitement when goals are scored (even if it’s the wrong team, which when she realises quickly changes her cheers to emphatic boos), and will leap around with the enthusiasm of, well, a toddler if Liverpoool win.  She will beg The Boy to play guitar for her and then dance energetically to the music.  She declares herself to have a true and devoted love of Batman, even though her heart belongs truly to Wonder Woman, because Batman is whom The Boy loves.

He is her daddy.

However, it’s not always so simple.  When Z is here she automatically takes a step back from him.  The Boy is Z’s biological parent, I am Miss Rose’s biological parent, and from the beginning, unless we are alone with both, we tend to take a child each to split the load, and automatically take our own.  That doesn’t mean by any stretch that we refuse to do anything for the other, but if Miss Rose bumps her head it’s usually me who gives the cuddles, and if Z needs to use the potty it’s usually The Boy who takes him.

And Miss Rose is becoming more and more aware of it.

Recently I found Miss Rose crying on the stairs.  Just breaking her little heart and I sat with her and gave her cuddles, begging her to tell me what was wrong.  After a few minutes of snot and tears, she eventually choked out that she wanted a daddy cuddle.  I told her she could get one, he’s right in the living room.  But she said no, she can’t, Z’s here.

At this time Z was indeed sitting next to The Boy and having a cuddle whilst they watched TV together, but at no time as The Boy ever refused to cuddle one child because the other is there.  Indeed, should Rose go for a cuddle she’d be welcomed with open arms by him.

However, I know exactly how it goes down.  She climbs up for a cuddle and Z starts to kick her away, so she leans in to elbow him away, until ultimately it comes down to who has the power and not the desire for a cuddle at all.  Then they both get shouted at and distributed across the room because they’re not allowed to fight and so neither gets a cuddle.

The thing is, Z’s time is split between his mother and father.  He very rarely goes a day without seeing his dad, but it’s still not the constant it is for Miss Rose who goes to bed and wakes up in the same house as The Boy almost every night, unless one or the other is away for any reason.   Z loves his father very much and cherishes the time he gets with him, and is aware that Rose gets more than he does, so doesn’t want her invading the time he does get.  Understandably.  For Miss Rose, however, she sees Z therefore as getting the priority because when Z’s there, she feels pushed out.  She doesn’t see that Z goes days at a time without seeing his mother, that she gets her own mother’s full attention daily, and that just because Z’s there it doesn’t mean she doesn’t get attention from The Boy.  All she sees it that when Z’s not there, she gets daddy cuddles without interruption, snakes and ladders without anyone getting in the way, and his attention without anyone stealing it.  When Z’s there she becomes lower priority because I pick up the slack to give Z the time with his dad that he needs.

This awareness, this sense of being an outsider in her own family, has left her feeling insecure.  When she had a falling out with a friend of hers recently, she was given the insult of “McK’s not your real name anyway, your family isn’t even your real family.”

She cries when she wants her daddy and Z’s here but refuses to go to him, often refuses to make eye contact with him when Z’s here, and ascertains most passionately at all times that she is a McK.

She has also started asking me why I am not a McK.

Now, I won’t start a ramble on how I’m actually quite opposed to marriage in so many ways, the traditions and the patriarchal set up of weddings in general.  Partly because it’s boring and partly because as a divorced woman who changed her name I obviously conformed to various aspects of this thing I object to.  But when she asks why I’m not a McK I explain that for me to have the same surname as daddy, I’d need to marry daddy.

Now I get daily questions about why I’ve not married daddy yet.  She asks daddy when he’s going to marry mummy.  She says she wants me to be a McK like she is, like Z is, and like daddy is.  “When are you marrying Daddy?” she says whilst I’m sat on the toilet, or plucking my eyebrows or buttering toast.  “When will you be a McK like me?”

When I tell her it’s not up to just me, that daddy needs to marry me for me to have the same name as him, and that I don’t know if or when that will happen, she gets quite concerned.  She wants to be a McK.  She wants me to be a McK.  And I think it’s because she feels that if we’re both McK’s like daddy we’ll be officially formally family, and she won’t be a lower priority.  And I think this will only get more prevalent in her brain after Baby B McK is born.

Step families are beautiful things in so many ways but I’ve now had first hand experience of a child raised entirely within one, as Miss Rose never sees her biological father, and a child raised partly in one and partly out, as Z goes to his mother’s home.  And there are issues caused by both scenarios, insecurities, worries, and stresses.  In so many ways, for the adults as well as the kids.

Balancing it is so complicated and it’s something The Boy and I discuss at length all the time, agonise over how to make sure both feel loved and wanted and part of the family, despite any comings or goings, or lack of biological connection.

Are we doing it well?  I guess time will tell.  I don’t believe there is a right way and I don’t believe any way is entirely free from upset for anybody involved.  But hopefully, whether she or I ever formally become a McK as she so desires us to be, she’ll grow up knowing that mummy and daddy love her, love each other, and love the fact we’re a family together in our own special way.

The Life Of Mum: Instagram V Reality

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

I love social media.  As I don’t go out to work, raising children and writing all day, I get very little social interaction other than via the internet.  I am able to keep in touch with friends and family from around the world without having to buy travel tickets or even get out of my pyjamas, and it means I get to share my beautiful family and the development of my children with ease.

I have many friends without children, and some of them either plan to in the future some time or are actively looking to try soon, and to those friends I would like to apologise.  I would also like to beg them not to base their decision on whether or not to breed based on my photographs…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fake and I don’t ever “create” photographs, they’re all genuine… but reality isn’t always what it seems.

PLAYING TOGETHER NICELY

Playing Legos

INSTAGRAM: Look how cute these kids are.  A lovely moment between a brother and sister playing Lego bricks and building a house.  How nice it must be to have two, they can entertain each other meaning you get time to relax with your feet up and a hot cup of tea!  And doing something creative like Lego bricks!  Bliss.

REALITY: “ZEKE TOOK MY BRICK!” “ROSE TOOK MY DOOR!” “AAAAARGH!” Sitting quietly watching your kids play together nicely?!  Are you insane?!  No, just no.  Yes they will play for a few minutes, and it’s lovely, but you don’t dare relax because your Spidey senses are constantly tingling waiting for one or the other, or both, to erupt.

And creative Lego bricks?  Yes… they’re great… my kids love Legos.  I used to love Legos.  Little bastard bricks get EVERYWHERE.  Especially when the girl child is prone to strops and chucking a built thing down so it explodes, and the boy child’s favourite game is shoving them as fast as he can under the TV unit so his very pregnant and achey step mother has to scramble around on her side like a beetle that can’t right itself trying to fish the stupid things out.

 

PLAYING FAMILY GAMES

Snakes And Ladders

INSTAGRAM: What a happy little girl playing a traditional family board game.  What innocent and perfect fun to have together.

REALITY: I hate Snake and Ladders.  I hate it.  We play it over and over and over and over and over and over.  And over.  And over and over.  Stupid damn game.  The girl child cries when she loses, the boy child strops when he wins.  Arguments over who has what colour counter happen, then we suggest swapping the counters for miniature My Little Pony and Batman figures, and then war breaks out because Rainbow Dash touched Batman’s cape.

 

EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Gymnast Of The Week

INSTAGRAM: My little girl won Gymnast Of The Week at her gymnastics lesson, what a talented and clever little girl to be awarded a trophy for her accomplishments!

REALITY: How did she win!?!?  I don’t know…  as the door opened to release the class her father and I were mid conversation about how she will never, ever win.  Why?  It’s not because she’s not talented or clever or genuinely lovely, it’s because she’s a cheeky little monster who queue jumps, sneaks extra turns, and generally makes a nuisance of herself.  Yes, she loves her lessons, but yes she winds everyone up in the process.

ARTS AND CRAFTS

Decorating Sonograms

INSTAGRAM: A beautiful arty activity where both kids got to decorate copies of the new baby’s sonogram.  A lovely family bonding activity getting to be creative and celebrate the growing family!

REALITY: WAR.  As in… war.  Z is not particularly into arts and crafts but agreed to do it, Miss Rose is very into arts and crafts and went nuclear about Z stealing her thunder.  Nuclear.  I’ve never seen her tantrum to that extent before or since.  I thought her head was going to fall off.  She was banished so I could focus on Z and attempt to get him involved, hard baring in mind Miss Rose was very distracting and he’s not that bothered anyway, and then I was left attempting to deal with the ridiculous performance my daughter was putting on.

BEDTIME CALM

Sleeping Beauty

INSTAGRAM: A six thirty bedtime leaving you the whole night of calm and peace and adult time.

REALITY: Yes she is often asleep at 630, that’s no lie, but it’s not all sunshine and flowers.

a) I’ve worked my ASS OFF to get her into a good bedtime routine.  From when she was tiny and it took literally hours and both of us crying at various points, I worked on establishing a routine and recognizing sleep cues.  It wasn’t easy and often I doubted myself.  I made mistakes, I tried things that didn’t work, and it was really hard damn work.

b) It doesn’t always work.  She has nights still, at three years old, where she will fight and scream and act like a total madam  to get out of going to sleep.  Nights where I will have to leave the room just to avoid screaming in her face because I’m so tired and frustrated.

c) She has only JUST started sleeping through the night.  And it’s not every night still.  She is three years old and now, finally, we can almost depend on a solid night’s sleep from her.  Then you get nights like last Saturday where she’s getting up constantly resulting in all of us being so tired and miserable on Sunday that we just lie around being grumpy.

d) We’ve had huge rows over sleep.  What we should do, what we shouldn’t do.  What she does and doesn’t need.  What’s the right response to waking in the night.  Sometimes I think he’s too hard, sometimes he thinks I am.  Sometimes we both agree there’s a problem but how to address it causes big disagreements.

e) With Z it’s even harder because he has different homes to go to sleep in, so different routines and different expectations.  I had an established bedtime routine in place for Miss Rose long before I met The Boy and Z, and clung to it because it worked and I had relied on it as a single mum desperate for a chance to have time to myself.  It’s still hard balancing two different children with different expectations raised for a long time in different ways.

HELPFUL GIRL

Steam Mopping

INSTAGRAM: I often share photos of my little girl helping with chores… and often it’s vacuuming or steam cleaning my living room carpet!  She’s so enthusiastic about cleaning and helping out and LOVES being involved in household jobs.

REALITY: She does love being involved and will vacuum and steam clean every day if I let her… but it involves a lot of me scurrying around after her making sure doesn’t swing the damn thing into the TV, doesn’t touch the hot bit, and doesn’t tangle herself in the cord so she falls down and cracks her skull open on the hearth.

Also… ask yourself this.  I carpet shampoo and steam clean my carpet A LOT.  Why do  you think that is?  Do you think it’s for fun?  It isn’t.  It’s because children are disgusting.   It’s because my carpet gets regularly sprayed in assorted bodily fluids, foot stuffs, drinks and paints.  It’s because kids don’t see the mud all over their shoes and will race across my beige carpet before I can wrestle them to the ground and get the shoes off their feet.  It’s because if I didn’t clean it all the time it would stink and look like as gross at it is.  And because my daughter, bless her heart, will eat anything off this carpet.

CUDDLES

Brother Sister Cuddles

INSTAGRAM: Two tired kids having lovely cuddles on the sofa.  Bless, they’re so adorable.

REALITY: No, they are not adorable.  They’re terrors.  This was taken at half past nine in the morning, why do you think they’re so tired?  Because they’re well rested after a good night’s sleep?  No.  No that’s not it.  They’re this tired because the little blighters were up all night, got us up for the day before 6AM, and proceeded to fight one another like Gladiators.

Also, this was a moment where they were remarkably still and quiet.  Before and after this shot there was elbows ramming into one another, wriggling, fussing, crying, and complaining.  There was blanket ownership competition, sofa space moaning, and arguments about what we watch on Netflix.  They were both overruled, him and his demands for Batman and her CONSTANT need for Peter Rabbit, and I made them watch The Big Bang Theory.  That was great until I realised it was an episode I hadn’t seen and I couldn’t hear what was happening because the menaces were arguing with one another so loudly.

So yes, I am sorry.  If you ever look at my photos and think “ah, being a mum looks easy!” then I am lying to you.  If you’re a fellow mum who looks at my photos and wonders where the hell you’re going wrong, I am lying to you.

It is not easy, it’s hard.  It’s hard every day.  And you’re not going wrong at all, you’re in the same boat as me battling every day to raise children you don’t hate and who have a chance at not being arrested before they’re 12 for crimes against humanity.

I can also assure you I love my children.  I love them so much.  I love that Miss Rose loves to play Snakes and Ladders with me so much and delights in her daddy being at home on the weekends to join in.  I love that they will play together, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, because growing up with a sibling is something I found invaluable.  My brother and I regularly attempted to end one another’s lives, but as adults I adore him.

My children are my world.  But there are no words for how exhausting the world is for having them in it.

Kids Can Be Cruel

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

I admit that I experience of children is pretty limited.  I remember my own childhood with varying degrees of cringe and displeasure, I have been around a few people’s children growing up, but always been happy to avoid it, and I’ve raised Miss Rose from birth and been involved in Z’s life since he was 1.  However, I can say that is my firm belief, limited experience though it may be, that kids can be cruel.  Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that all children have a degree of “bully” in them, and it’s our job as the adults to get them to recognise it and reign it in before it becomes a dominant part of their personalities.

Miss Rose and Z bully one another.  Usually they’re both equally involved in winding one another up and being little horrors, but every so often one is a clear bully of the other.  And they both have their own unique ways of doing it.

Miss Rose is a sneaky bully.  She’s a wind up.  She’ll say things that deliberately upset Z, mock him when he can’t do things, and take things she knows he wants just to piss him off.  For instance, the other night Z was playing Batman by jumping off a chair.  Miss Rose wanted to play so climbed onto the chair after he’d jumped off.  He was not impressed about this so protested but we said they have to take turns.  All fine except he was very upset and Miss Rose crowed about it, relished it.  When she jumped down and he climbed up he refused to jump again, and we pointed out to Miss Rose that he doesn’t have to so to leave him alone, but then noticed his favourite cushion was across the room and he wouldn’t be able to get it without again vacating the chair and leaving it open to Miss Rose.  So she took his cushion and proceeded to parade up and down in front of him with it, cackling away like a monster whilst he howled in desolate despair like he’d just had one of his limbs ripped off by a badger (or some other woodland creature.)

Miss Rose favours sneaky psychological bullying.  She’s not particularly invested, and as soon as we pointed out that what she was doing wasn’t funny and laughing at someone who is sad, even if you think the reasons they are sad are ridiculous, it’s still mean to laugh at their pain.  I asked if she wanted to be a bully and she said no, bullies are mean, then returned the cushion.  But the fact is, in the moment, she loved the fact he was in pain and that she was the cause of it.

Z, on the other hand, is a more physical bully.  He’ll work with intimidation and aggression, and Miss Rose reacts exactly how he wants by freaking out about it.  For instance, yesterday morning they were playing a game with the balls, rolling the football and beach ball across the room back and forth to each other.  After a while Miss Rose decided she didn’t want to play anymore and picked the football up leaving Z with the beach ball.  I said that’s fine, nobody has to play if they don’t want to.  Z shouted at her to throw it to him but she said no, he stamped and shouted, still no, so he ran across the room at her, jumped on her, and held her by the neck whilst she screamed like this time it was her leg having been ripped off by a badger (or again, any woodland creature of your choice.  I do not mean to vilify badgers… I think I watch too much Peter Rabbit.)

I pulled him off her and once he’d calmed down he apologised and acknowledged that hurting someone who doesn’t want to do what we want them to do isn’t okay.  He doesn’t set out to hurt, but lashes out angrily because that’s his own weapon.

Miss Rose will trip him or steal his toys, Z will kick over her building blocks or smack her.  Miss Rose will laugh at him for still being in nappies like a baby, Z will throw things at her face.

Are they doomed to always be little sods who make The Boy and I stress out brains out?  No.  Will they for a while?  Probably, yes.

My baby brother is someone I admire, respect and adore.  He’s lovely.  He’s funny, smart, kind and a huge geek, very successful, and wonderful with the children.  When we were little I hated him.  I was Miss Rose and I was sneaky and I’d laugh at his pain.  I threw all his teddies out of the window onto the road and told him they’d get run over just to upset him whilst he cried.  Evil.  Yet I know, and I knew then, that if they HAD actually been run over I’d have been devastated because I didn’t want him in any real pain.  Miss Rose didn’t want Z to suffer for real when she was taunting him with the pillow, and when we told her it was real pain she stopped.  I was bullying my brother like Rose bullies Z.

And I am pretty awesome as a sister, my brother and I have a great relationship now and bond over everything from sci-fi to the insanity of our family.  Yet he would physically lash out like Z to bully me.  I cannot tell you how often I took a toy to the head or a kick to the leg because he was angry with me.  Indeed, my mum regularly recounts the tale of the plastic golf clubs he walloped me with, was told if he did it again they’d be broken and put in the bin, and promptly he smacked me with them again and they were indeed binned.

Are me and my brother bullies in adulthood?  No.  Did we have that potential bubbling away inside us as children?  Most certainly yes.

So what do we do?  Making them acknowledge the pain they’re causing seems to be the best thing.  Make them understand that hurting people isn’t okay, and be grateful they have one another to work this stuff out on.  Siblings are great this way.  I never sneaky bullied anyone in school, and my brother never beat anyone up in school.  We figured that stuff out on each other in a safe environment surrounded by the people who love us, and on our siblings who we loved and hated in equal measure.  At the end of the day I knew that no matter what he and I did to each other during the day, he was my baby brother and I loved him, and he loved me.  We worked out what was okay young and quickly, and grew into kind and respectful adults.

I know that Miss Rose and Z can get there as long as we address their evil doing with the right attitude.  I know that in time they will have figured all this stuff out and learn to deal with one another’s annoyances in a way that doesn’t result in abuse by badgers.  Getting them to that point is exhausting.  It’s stressful and it’s hard and it leaves us collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day, leaning on one another, and exasperated to the point of disbelief.  We have both aged a decade in the last year and a half, and with number three joining the gang in July it’s only going to get harder!

If Miss Rose and Z grow into adults who love one another as much as me and my brother do then I’ll take this phase with glee, because it’s worth it.

Okay, glee is an exaggeration… But I’ll take it… and I’ll see the upside… eventually.

Being Mummy-Jude

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

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.