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The reluctant step-mother

The reluctant step-mother Caroline Campbell

19th August 2015

I never thought it would happen to me, I’m usually such a sensible and cautious young woman, yet somehow, I’ve become a step-mother.

Let’s face it, no–one grows up dreaming of becoming a step-parent. But what do you do when the man you have fallen for tells you that he has a young child?

When I first met my partner, I considered myself to be an intelligent, well-travelled, kind and compassionate young woman. I now realise that, at that time, I was very immature.

He had told me about his son on our first date, which was fine, as I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a serious relationship with him at that stage. Having never dated a man with children before, I had no idea of the complexities of blended families. I think my partner had decided quite early on that I was the one for him, and that he was going to do whatever was necessary to make sure we ended up together. It felt like a whirlwind romance, and I was introduced to his son after only a month dating. At first, only as one of daddy’s friends, but we began to bond nevertheless.

My partner and I had a lot of fun together over the summer, both with and without his son. So I tried to forget about the bigger picture and where this relationship was heading in the long term.

In hindsight, we should have taken things a lot slower. After only eight months together, my partner proposed. Accepting his marriage proposal was a bitter-sweet moment. While I love him wholeheartedly, I was forced into the realisation that my life was not going to turn out the way I had hoped – I was overcome by a sense of loss for the ‘perfect’ family life I had envisaged for myself, which certainly didn’t involve children from a past relationship.

Looking back, this now seems silly, as the life I had imagined was never a reality, and we all know that life is far from perfect at times. Revaluating my expectations in respect of family life was unnerving, but necessary if I was to accept a lifestyle I had never anticipated.

Having made the commitment, I then found I became stressed and anxious about our relationship. However, it wasn’t the child that was the source of this anxiety. Learning to accept that my partner has a life-long bond with his ex-girlfriend has been a challenging and painful process. Without wishing to sound cliché, I learnt a lot about myself along the way.

Feelings of jealousy and resentment developed, which were difficult to deal with, as I had never experienced these negative emotions with such intensity before. I was jealous of the fact that my partner had such a serious and permanent bond to his ex-girlfriend, when they obviously weren’t that committed to one another, having broken up only a year after their son was born. I felt that they had been irresponsible in their actions, and that they should have tried to work harder at their relationship for their sake of their son. I began to take this frustration out on my partner and it has driven a wedge between us at times, as he doesn’t understand why I would feel this way.

For some women, becoming a step-mother isn’t an issue. They accept the role graciously and get on with their lives. When I asked a friend how she dealt with being a step-mother, her response was “I just don’t think about it”. I was surprised, as, at the time, I thought about nothing else.

The solution to overcoming my negative thoughts and opinions has come through being able to view my situation in a different way. Rather than focusing on what went wrong in the past, or what I was going to be missing out on, I now try to focus on the positive aspects of being a step-mother, as there are many.

At a time when most couples are working on building a relationship with one another, for potential step-mothers, a relationship also has to be developed with the child. From the outset, my partner’s child and I got on very well and I have grown to love him. However, I wouldn’t say that it has been easy cultivating our relationship. Every time he comes to visit, I make a concerted effort to be friendly and compassionate towards him, and I have never once shouted at him. If he misbehaves, I let my partner be the disciplinarian, as my step-son probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

Over all, the rewards far out-weigh the negatives. The fun we share together is one of the benefits of step-parenting. His presence in my life has made me a happier person and he has taught me to live in, and to enjoy, each moment as it comes, rather than worrying about the past or future. It has also improved my relationship with my partner, as we spend quality time as a family. While it may not be the original, nuclear family unit, I now understand that it is more important for my step-son to see his father in a happy and healthy relationship, and for him to receive love from all of his parents, whether they be biological or step.

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