You’re not my mum
… these are the words I dread the most!
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a mum. Six years ago, I learnt this was likely never going to happen for me. The emotions that came with the news were very real!
I started to look into alternative methods – adoption, IVF, etc. I knew in my heart, I couldn’t put my body through IVF after the trauma it had already experienced as a result of 17 months of chemotherapy from when I survived childhood cancer.
I researched adoption, only to be confronted with the news thnk I did not qualify to adopt from nine countries due to my body mass index. Yes, you heard correctly- I was rejected due to my BMI. The fact that I was financially stable, mentally stable and had a strong, supportive environment meant nothing. As a result, my research ended as abruptly as my chances did.
And so it begins…
Fast forward a couple of years, and I met my wonderful partner. I had such anxiety about dating. How, at 32 years old, do you explain to someone that you will not be able to provide them with a family? Well… it just so happens, on our first date, my (now) partner told me he had a 3 year old son.
I was always open to meeting someone who already had kids, even before I found out about my own infertility, but I never quite thought out what that would mean for the relationship and me personally.
It took a couple of months before meeting ‘the little guy’. My partner had never introduced him to another woman and he had zero plans to do so unless he was serious about the relationship.
The first time we met was a little accidental. I’d been out the night before with my partner and left my drivers licence in his wallet – so needed to pick it up from him. It just so happens he’d decided to take the little guy to the Eltham Little Trains and I was in Doncaster for the day – so I popped by after the gig I was working at.
I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. How would my partner interact with me in front of his son? Do I kiss my partner hello? How would his son respond to me? What if he didn’t like me? What if he questioned my partner and I was labelled the ‘friend’?
As I walked up to them both, I saw the little guy first. I immediately recognised him from some of the photos my partner had shared with me. I walked over to my partner, said, “hello” (no kiss) and was then introduced to the little guy.
“This is daddy’s friend, Carla” (there was that word… friend). I said hello and didn’t get much more than an inquisitive look and that was okay.
I sat around and watched them play, every now and then making a comment or two to the little guy. He kept looking at me, wondering more and more why I was there.
Eventually my partner asked if I would like to join them on a little walk around the park. As we went along the walk, I got a little more reaction from the little guy. With his limited speaking (at this time he was still not such a great chatter), I quickly learnt of some of the things that excited him. Trees, jumping, bugs – all the usual kid stuff! I think I was okay in his books!
Over the next couple of months, I got to see the little guy some more and we were definitely warming to each other.
I was asked to spend Christmas with my partner and his family. I remember it was a really hot December and my partner’s brother hosted. My partner and the little guy were meant to stay the night there but it was so hot, I offered they drive back to my house which was air conditioned and we could all return the next day for Boxing Day. My partner was quite apprehensive. The little guy had never been to my house and more importantly, my partner and I were always separate when the little guy was over for his stays.
We took the chance and drove back to my place.
I will never forget the feeling of seeing the little guy laying in the large queen size bed in my spare room. I had never had a child sleep over, let alone one that I felt a sense of responsibility for.
The next morning, when we were all awake, it seemed a lot easier than expected. There was only one question about ‘where are we?’ and when it was explained, there was nothing further asked.
We popped over the road for a quick play in the park before heading back for Boxing Day.
The next step
It was six weeks later that my partner and I decided to start living together in my place. That meant telling the little guy. At first, he cried. He didn’t want to move again. He had moved quite a bit and didn’t understand why again. But we reassured him he would have his own room and he would have all his toys with him.
We flipped the spare room into his bedroom. Creating a kids haven was delightful and the first day he arrived, he was just so happy!
One other moment I will never forget is the night he told me he loved me. We were driving home from my partner’s brothers house and from the backseat of the car, through tired eyes, I hear “Carwa” (he couldn’t pronounce his ‘l’s), ”yes mate”, “I love you”, “I love you too mate” (*insert tears*).
Now, so far it seems like my experience as a step mum has been smooth sailing, so why the title of this piece? Well… what you are never made aware of, when becoming a step mum is the emotional rollercoaster you will experience!
It’s not an easy gig. The uncertainties you experience are far from what you plan for. Am I good enough? Should I have said that? What do they think of me? What does their mum think of me? Does my partner trust them with me? The list goes on! But then there are the emotions you feel toward your relationship. Why am I not a priority when the little guy is here? Why should I need to share my time? Why do you always need to speak to your ex? Am I just here to support you? Am I a means-to-an-end? This constant merry-go-round of doubt and anxiety wreaks havoc on you. It causes you to feel anxious ahead of the little guy’s fortnightly visit. It causes you to have conflicting dialogue in your head during the time about whether what you think is happening around you actually is or is it just your fears projecting? And worst of all, it causes you to feel resentment at times to both your partner and the little guy- and that’s the worst feeling of all. Your insecurities, doubts, anxieties… these are YOURS, not theirs… yet often, they suffer the consequences of them. I often find myself being passive and making comments such as ‘don’t worry – I’ll do it. I do EVERYTHING else around here’ or ‘I’m just here – no need to acknowledge me’! I hear myself doing it and I can’t stop myself. I have definitely improved, but I am still a long way from being where I want to be.
One other question I always ask myself is ‘how far is too far?’ when it comes to disciplining the little guy. When they are with you, they live under your rules, but, they have a second household too, where the rules may differ slightly. Trying to align both households is tricky. Fortunately for us, we have a fairly good ‘business like’ relationship with the ex and tend to align fairly well. If the little guy is punished for misbehaviour at his mum’s, we carry the punishment through to our home.
Me, myself and my choice
At the end of the day, I am his mother figure when he is with us and if he misbehaves, there needs to be discipline. This is where the ‘you’re not my mum’ fear comes in. At some point in time, as he gets older, will I hear these dreaded words at a time I am attempting to discipline him? This is where my partner and his ex trump me. It’s true – I’m not his mum but I will always love and adore him as if he were my own. At the end of the day, he is the only version of a child I will ever have.
I will never be called ‘mum’, but the bond I share with the little guy is special in its own way and different to that of the bond he shares with his mum, dad and step dad. That is where my focus needs to remain.
Each time he is with us, he tells me he has missed me. He often says he wishes he was with us more or longer and I guess that’s a great indication of the home we provide for him.
Step parenting is not for the faint-hearted! It requires a balance that no one is ever prepared for and requires you to be open to change, uncertainty, instability and emotional ups-and-downs. But on the flip-side, it can be one of the most rewarding roles you will ever play in your life. Choosing to give your love to a partner and their family only makes your heart fuller, even with the constant merry-go-round of emotions. As much as the last couple of years have presented their challenges, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. I have my beautiful little family and I truly believe I am as happy as I would be if I had brought the little guy into this world myself.
Written by Carla