Debbie Murphy writes an honest and open account of her life being a single parent, and also as a survivor of breast cancer. Follow Debbie’s journey over on her blog Adventures of a Single Parent.
The thought of another woman ‘mothering’ my little boy has always filled me with dread and fear. A woman I know absolutely nothing about, a woman playing ‘happy families’ with my son and his father, taking over from me. My son not wanting to come home because he has a ‘mother and a father’ at his dad’s house. I am my son’s mother. He doesn’t need another mother.
But what does it actually mean to be a step parent? Do we automatically think of step-parents in a negative light? Cinderella and the wicked stepmother immediately comes to my mind!
According to history, the word ‘step’ was to be used when orphaned children went to live with their relatives or guardians. They would become ‘stepchildren’ due to bereavement. Only many years later did ‘stepmother’ and ‘stepfather’ begin being used due to the large increase in marital divorce and family situations becoming more diverse. With blended families becoming more and more popular in today’s society, do we need to think of a more appropriate title, a more up to date title to describe different parenting roles in different families?
Which brings me back to my original question of ‘What is a step-parent’?
Some of the most brilliant people I know in my life are step parents themselves. What is it like to be a step-parent? From what I understand, it can be very difficult indeed. So from a fear perspective, parents and step-parents probably share a lot in common.
When you have had a traumatic parental relationship like mine and my son’s father, introducing new partners was always going to be difficult. In an ideal world, both parents would be involved, working together to make sure that adding another significant person into the family equation would be done with sensitivity and care, at a child appropriate pace. So when you are your child’s primary carer and your every waking hour is spent making sure his every need is met, being kept in the dark about a new family partnership that will have a direct impact on your entire world, is hurtful. Hearing the disappointment in his words when talking about his ‘Daddy days’. Daddy days that are no longer exclusive to son and father. If only we could all work together. But it is not as simple as that though.
For two years I was led to believe that my son’s father had a female ‘lodger’. A lodger who shared his dad’s bed. A lodger who went away with my son and his dad. A lodger who was always there, always with them. This lodger/woman/stepmother person enjoys being with my son. She made him a birthday cake. They do fun things together as a family. She cares about my son. Why would I resent that? I don’t resent it now but I used to. And it seems ridiculous to say out loud that I resented a person that cared for my little boy. How lucky are my son and I to have another person in his life that cares a great deal about him?
In two years, the step mum and I have corresponded twice, briefly. Instigated both times by myself. I bought her a Christmas present from my son to say thank you for her input into my son’s life. It has taken a long time for me to heal and to be able to get to this point. The point where I am grateful to this person for enriching my son’s life. My son said yesterday that he hated her.
For a long time, I didn’t want this person in my son’s life. But to hear him say those words shocked me. Hate is such a strong word and not a word we use at home. I don’t want my son to hate anyone, least of all a kind woman who wants to be part of his life. It turns out that my son just wants to be with his dad. Understandably so. But that is no reason to hate. I’m not really sure how to progress with this. Any advice gratefully received! I can only imagine how hurtful it would be to hear these words said about you.
Have any of you seen the film ‘Stepmom’ starring Meryl Streep (the mother) and Julia Roberts (the stepmom)? This film resonates with me so much as I was diagnosed with breast cancer when my son was two years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of what will happen to my son if my cancer comes back and I die. I want my son to be around people who love him. I want him to get comfort from both the men and women in his life. I must try harder at letting go of the past and the trauma my son’s father and I inflicted upon each other. Rory has two loving homes. Two loving families. We are all very lucky. The day will come when I am ready to introduce a new partner to my son. Will I speak to my son’s father about it first? Will I proceed as I wished my son’s father would have done with me? I would like to say yes but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that my son’s father will be heartbroken by another man being a ‘stepfather’ figure to his son. If I become a ‘stepmother’, will I do all of the things I hoped Rory’s stepmother would have done? Unlikely!
So to all of you step parents out there, I owe you an apology. Until I had a conversation with my wonderful Aunt recently, I never stopped to think about what step parenting a child meant. My son will only have one mother, but there is more than enough room in both of our lives for anyone else that loves my boy. To help with his upbringing. To soothe his upset. To enrich his life. To guide him on the right paths. But most of all, to be there for him when he needs it.
Everyone says you have to do what’s right for the children. I would do absolutely anything for my child. But when hurt and devastating pain is involved, judgements can become cloudy. It has taken me two years to get to this point! I have never spoken ill about Rory’s stepmother, but I have not spoken highly of her either. I am Rory’s ultimate role model. I will try harder.