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Parental Alienation.. it’s a term I see quite a lot in fathers rights and Step-Mum groups, although its certainly not just ‘Bio-Mums’ who are guilty
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For the first few years of my relationship with my partner and Monster, I (intentionally and willingly) made almost everything about them, they were pretty much the only people on my priority list. If I had plans and then we ended up having Monster.. it was an easy decision, my plans were cancelled. This does …
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Monsters birthday has always been a weird day in our family, especially for my other half. Previous arrangements have been unsuccessful and I spent a day watching his heart break last year as he waited on a call which never came.

This year, with more formal arrangements in place, we were SUPER excited that Monster would be spending the day (after school) at home with us for the first time. We have always celebrated his birthday at our house, but usually a week or so after the day itself which try as we might never quite feels the same.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, forecasts of “The Beast from the East” were hitting the news and weather forecasts, I adore snow (second only to a heat wave) but we felt no excitement, only a strange dread mixed with anxiety that for another year we would miss the little Monsters special day. We continued arrangements for a family party but really had resigned ourselves that Christmas would be our first “actual” holiday together as a family.

For once, we got ridiculously lucky. As predicted, the snow fell the day before his birthday, but before the school bell rang, which meant Monster came back home with us and by mid-afternoon conditions were such that we couldn’t even go to the corner shop, never mind the hour back to Monsters other home.

So within a two day period, we got to share Monsters first proper snow AND his fifth birthday! Although it was nothing close to the day we had planned, it was beautiful and magical and crazy amounts of fun – we got to use the sledge I bought at a sample sale years ago, build a snowman, throw snowballs, follow animal tracks and really just enjoy being together.

We had. a mini birthday buffet of Monsters favourite foods in the evening, sang happy birthday and blew out the candles and snuggled up on the sofa with a movie before bed. I’m starting to learn that everything I love to do is even more special and way more fun when we have Monster with us too!

Sharing in these experiences and “firsts” either for Monster or just for our family together is such a privilege, its something I try really hard never to take for granted or pass me by, and when I’ve prepared myself for the worst case – the best case is just indescribable!

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On monsters 4th birthday after spending hours on his Bumblebee, transformers cake, before he went to sleep he decided next year his cake would be the Hulk in a car… we were pretty hopeful that with a years passing he would have totally forgotten this idea and decided he loved squares… unfortunately that didn’t happen and 11 months later, he still wanted “The Hulk driving a fast car”.. 8 cakes baked and frozen later, we were ready to begin carving.

The week of Monsters birthday, we had a totally unseasonal, ridiculous amount of snow, the most we have seen for several years. This meant we had to cancel our planned family  party, which gave us quite a dilemma about the cake, which if made would not be lasting a week fully built!

So Monster decided he would have two cakes, one for just the three of us and his big cake to be saved for his rescheduled party…

The cake for his actual birthday was to be Spiderman, knocked up in 2 hours while Monster was sleeping, I was pretty pleased with the results!

Then we had the following week to complete the Hulk spectacular… having planned to make a sugar Hulk, we quickly gave up and went for positioning a Hulk doll in the cake car….

And the final results…

Including baking, it probably took about 30 hours of work, so almost another working week, but again it was totally worth it to make Monsters day…

We haven’t asked what he would like next year, by the time he’s 10 I’m a bit worried his cake will be something he can get into and walk around the rate we’re going!

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It’s a difficult and loaded question – when you do you stop being Dads girlfriend (or Mums boyfriend) and start being a step parent?

There are many definitions of “step mother”, most of these are specifically related to marriage; many are very longstanding and therefore traditional in their perspective.

A couple gets married, buy a house, have children and stay together until parted by death or rarely *hushed whisper* divorce… the widower (or divorcee) then finds a new partner, introduces the kids, gets married, moves in and all of a sudden a wife and stepmother are born, stepmother is generally hated by the kids but they all put up with each other until dad dies. (Thanks Disney!)

In modern relationships, the order can become very jumbled indeed and some steps may never happen at all. The birth parents may or may not have been married, the new relationship also may not follow the traditional steps.

Take my partner and I – we have been together for over 4 years, Monster was only 9 months old when we became an item, more than 6 months after his parents had separated. We will, one day, get married but first we moved in together. We got our house more than 3 years ago and have lived together happily since. We’re in a serious, committed relationship – we plan to spend the rest of our lives together as we are today.

Despite the seriousness of our relationship, some people have told me I am not a Step-Mum.. because we are not married or bizarrely because his Birth-Mum is not dead??

I didn’t cocoon myself in a blanket and stop myself from forming a relationship with Monster because his father and I aren’t married – I wipe his tears, make him giggle hysterically, help teach him to read and write and how to deal with his emotions… I love him, support him and burst with pride on a waaaay too frequent basis.

Will any of that feel different if we shared the same name or I wore a ring on a different finger? I hope not, if absolutely nothing changes in the next 30 years, I think we have a pretty perfect little family.

So for me, when I started to feel those strange bursts of pride and found myself with a goofy smile because a 2 year old told me he loved me.. I became a stepmum and more important to me.. Monster became my stepson.   There’s no way he’s just my boyfriends kid, he’s a little bit mine too.

It’s not about the label or the status, if there is any in being a StepMum.. for me, it’s the feeling of belonging and the invisible line drawn between Monster and me, its a small and to some an insignificant gesture but it’s our connection and married or not, I wear the StepMum label with pride.

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When I first became an “unmarried step-mum” Monster didn’t have a huge time impact on my life, my partners access was minimal and we had a lot of “free time” to be a couple in our own right. As you will know from my previous posts, this changed – in different ways both gradually and suddenly and over the past 4 years our access has fluctuated greatly from a day a month to every weekend and some weeknights to our current arrangement of every other weekend and one weeknight. The point is, it has changed… and it may change again.

At times, our lives have had no structure, preplanning has been impossible and trying to have our own life has been almost completely unmanageable. That wasn’t really what I thought I was signing up to at the beginning. Though, to be honest I can’t remember what I thought I was signing up to!

Even though now we have a good structure and routine to the time we spend with Monster, as always the potential is there to change again, and I have no way of predicting in which way this may happen. Based on my own and other Step-Mums experience, I might expect:

1. Our access to reduce
2. Our access to increase
3. To gain full time custody
4. To lose almost all access

The potential is all there, anything could happen… and I have to be emotionally (at least) prepared to deal with and support my family through any of those potential outcomes.

I’ve read several stories of Step-Mums who have started with part-time, sometimes very intermittent custody and care of a child, and then found an unexpected situation meaning that overnight, they have full-time care of their step-child. These stories, sometimes positive, sometimes not, have all made me realise that by making a commitment to my two Monsters – that commitment needs to remain no matter what. In being a step-Mum, there is always the potential to be full time, though in my experience being a step-Mum is always a full time commitment, no matter where the little Monster is.

I have considered how happy or satisfied I would be if our arrangement were full time and fortunately – yes I think I would be very happy. Actually, while there could be some ‘drawbacks’ and less time for alone time, there would also be a lot of positives which could make our lives much easier. I’m actually not an advocate of either parent having 100% custody, so I won’t wish for it but if it happens, we will certainly be ok.

Through good times and bad is an expression just made for the blended family and given the history that most blended families come with, the stability and security that sentiment provides is all the more important.

When nobody has full control over a situation, I come to one of my most used step-Mum mantras… just go with it! Love your family and make the most of every moment you spend together, I don’t waste any time trying to make future predictions – as and when circumstances change, we will deal with it and hopefully continue to thrive no matter what happens.

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As it’s St. Valentines day – a celebration of love and affection, I decided to dedicate this post to all the men who make being a Step-Mother seem like a wonderful idea! More specifically to my man, who washes out all the negativity and makes our life amazing through the most trying of circumstances.

I spend so much talking about my role as an Unmarried Step-Mum and not nearly enough talking about WHY I decided to take on this role, and why every day I choose to continue, even when the diary is full of court dates, the bank statements are full of solicitors fees and our home is full of paperwork and stress.

I could have a very simple and easy life, a straightforward relationship, no children to worry about, no custody schedule to arrange my life around, lie ins whenever I want, holidays and weekends away at the drop of a hat.

My partner does not have a choice in these things, he has had a child… I, on the other hand, have not.

I chose to be in this position, to limit myself in so many ways I couldn’t possibly list them all. And also, equally important, to deprive myself of many future experiences.. not many of my firsts will be my partners…  they will still be my first of course, but by not being his they will irrevocably be different. His family have already been through it all, inevitably for some, that will make our firsts and major steps much less exciting.

I have chosen this for myself… Because I love my partner… a LOT!

Its about to get smushy… but honestly, I love him more than I ever really thought I would or could love another person, we have combined our lives together seamlessly over the past few years and I really can’t imagine my life without him now. Even though we don’t wear matching rings, or have a piece of paper to prove it, our lives and destiny are completely entwined, so when I complain about X,Y and Z which are becoming increasingly frustrating, annoying, debilitating or whatever… I forget sometimes that it is a choice for me, because being with my partner is not a choice – it’s part of who I am. His situation is my situation, not just in the physical sense of having his child in the house and financing child support etc etc but all the emotions (good and bad) that come with it too.

Looking at things, as we all do, from my perspective, it sometimes exits my brain that my partner did not foresee or choose this path either, he did not expect to be co-parenting his first child with two different women – lets face it I didn’t even enter his brain until much later when he was coming to terms with being a single Dad. He has ended up with a long list of stakeholders to try and appease (lets not go as far as please here), with many shifting and conflicting priorities and personalities who all impact on his life in different ways. Only he feels this specific pressure of being pushed and pulled in countless directions that is often part of being the Dad in a blended family.

I have to confess, I can be one of those pushing personalities with expectations to meet and opinions to be put at the top of the list. I try to stop myself and play the part of supportive girlfriend but sometimes, I just can’t help it. Somehow, without a safe haven to escape to, my partner holds it all together, himself, his son and us – as a couple and as a family. Sure, there will always be little things that wind me up and cause us to bicker, just as there about me but he is amazing. He copes with and thrives throughout everything life throws at him. His marriage broke down in terrible fashion, and still he opened himself up to love me and completely gave himself to me, allowing and encouraging me to be part of his family – that really is something special I should never let myself forget.

I really think I am amazingly lucky to have found the kind of love that overshadows all the hatefulness, heartache and stress which has intermittently been part of our life since we came together. If these are tests, then we have proven ourselves time and time again and I can’t wait to continue for the rest of our forever.

Happy Valentines Day everyone!!!

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Ah – the never-ended and never-answered question for a lot of people with Step-parent roles. How do you know when to stop “stepping-up” and step back instead?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the great thing about meeting Monster when he was so small is that I really am part of the furniture, there was no awkward introduction (for him, anyway), there was no finding my role in a very established family or figuring out what I can and can’t say or do. We grew together as a three, and Monster sees me as his family at Daddy’s house – it was automatic, no drama.

So my role at home is very much involved, there are no real boundaries for the day-to-day stuff. I was there for the first overnight, potty training, learning to talk and walk and not forgetting tantrums, tears and pushing boundaries. All of those boundaries and stages of development have been managed in our house by my partner and I together – in fact, its very easy to say I am definitely the disciplinarian in our house, if Daddy says Monster can do something, he often comes to me to double check – much to my OHs annoyance and my amusement!

So, because I’ve always been super involved in everything happening at our house, it can be very hard to step back and say “thats not my decision” or “its nothing to do with me”… and this does sometimes impact things at our house as well as the big life decisions parents should make for their children. Take a later meal out, while I can check the diary and know that we’re available – we have always been very disciplined about Monsters bedtime, so I need to check with my partner if he can be half an hour late to bed. Ultimately, if he says no or yes – that’s what will happen, sure we’ll always have a conversation if we don’t initially agree, but really the decision will be his.

Thats obviously small fry when compared to decisions about education, medical care, hobbies and activities, but here I am very lucky. My partner and I almost always agree on what is best for Monster, based on his personality, apparent interests and a very good dose of research. We will beaver away in the background and he presents his opinion. Unfortunately in the non-custodial household, (thanks instagram Bonus Mums for this term!) none of the adults are actually the decision-makers but knowing we are on the same page is of comfort none the less.

Deciding where that line sits is very tricky, whats a decision I CAN make (screen time, food choices, daily activities etc) and what do I need to ‘escalate’? Neither my partner nor I have worked this out at the moment.. if you ask him I am and should be involved in everything, but in practice he is the majority shareholder in our house – thats the best metaphor I can come up with in the blended family. I’m very happy and proud to have any shares at all to be honest, but a rule book of rights and responsibilities for each stake would be greatly appreciated… until such a thing is published, for us the key is communication and  keeping Monster first in the priority list, that way if we don’t agree, we both have the security of knowing Monster’s interests are the priority.

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One of the challenges of a (part-time) blended family dynamic is the many stakeholders and family members who want to be involved.  My partner and I are both very lucky to have nearby families who want to be a regular part of not only our lives, but monsters too. In many respects, we are extremely fortunate to be in this situation – it means we both have good support networks we can rely on and we’re never short of a helping hand.

However, because our time with monster has always been limited, trying to fit everything and everybody in can be a nightmare! His grandparents have always wanted to spend time with him as often as they can – at least every fortnight, which is great, except that we only have him to stay every fortnight. For the first few years of our relationship, the vast majority of our time with monster was spent with other people too. In some ways, this was really good – our “Monster-time” was always very active, social and family-oriented, but it didn’t really give us (three) any time to develop ourselves as a family unit independent of everyone else.

If there is an “average” frequency for grand-parents, great-grand-parents or any other relative to see the kids, I’d love to know it, but everyone seems to be different in this way. When I was very young, my family moved across the country to a new area where we had no family – so I was quite used to seeing our extended family 3-4 times a year on average… that was normal for me. On the other hand, virtually all my partners family live in the same village he was born in, so growing up he saw his grandparents every week, although had a different relationship with his wider family, so normal to him is very regular visits. But in both these scenarios, we both lived with both of our parents full-time with unrestricted access, so even my other half spent a relativity low percentage of his time at home with the extended family.

With monster, if we spend a day with family – that’s potentially 50% of our parenting time with him that fortnight, which especially on a very regular basis feels a little high?! But then, to the grandparents, seeing the Monster once a month sounds nowhere near enough… its such a fine balancing act and a very difficult one to know where the priority should and does sit and who will be enforcing it.

Just to make things a little harder, we add the “step-family” into the mix, who of course I want Monster to have a good relationship with – we have children of a similar age on my side of the family which also makes this a little easier and a bit of a bigger motivation, especially from monsters point of view. But if we spend 50% of our parenting time with OHs family, and an afternoon (25%) with my family – then we are only on our own a quarter of the time we have with him – and a lot of that will probably be spent sleeping and washing etc!

We’ve had some pretty upsetting moments (for the grown-ups) which have brought to light that monster has not seen enough of his extended families – “Which one is great-nana?”, “What was that girls name?”, “Who is that?”. These innocent questions have, to me, been an alarm bell ringing out that we have the balance wrong somehow. The trouble is that to extend Monsters time to further family members, we have to take away from somebody else. We are certainly more protective of “our family” time… but it still doesn’t feel like we have it quite right.

I’m hoping that now we have structure to our time with monster, we will able to structure our time with family too and make sure that he gets the best of all worlds and all sides of his family. I’m not too optimistic and I know it will take some work and definitely a bit of trial and error and sometimes sacrifice of our time and the things we want to do with it…. but the most important thing we want is what’s best for Monster, so our only choice… keep trying!

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A fellow step-mum recently prompted me to look back on our first overnight with monster, its very easy now to forget that we haven’t always had overnight visits with him and take for granted that at that time.. it was a very big deal.

When we first moved into our new house (3 years ago now), the first delivery we took was a new bed for Monster, his was the first room to be fully furnished and together. It wasn’t really essential as we had never had him to stay overnight and he was spending 2 days a month with us on average, so he never really used it. Having said that, Monster did love his new room and we wanted to make sure that our house felt like a home to him.

It was another 6 or 7 seven months before we would have an overnight visit with him, at which point monster was just under 2.5 years old… sounds crazy for several reasons now. Firstly that Monster didn’t stay with his Daddy for over 2 years and secondly that we’ve been having overnight visits for less than 2.5 years as I write this.

There was quite a process in getting agreement for this to go ahead, but once it was set our preparations begun. We were worried about some quite bizarre things, from what we would have for dinner, whether we had the right toothpaste and toothbrush, what pyjamas he would want to wear, buying night-time nappies and many other erroneous things, most of which we had done what felt like hundreds of times before but suddenly felt a lot more important.

We didn’t know what his normal bed time routine was, and I swayed between thinking we should try to follow that or create a routine for him to know at our house, as it happened the first wasn’t an option as we didn’t really know what his current routine was to follow it.

We decided to keep it quiet and just have the three of us for a relaxed dinner, bath time and ready for bed. It was a weekday, so actually a short amount of time to spend together. I would say I was expecting the worst but honestly had no idea what to expect from him. Would he be a good sleeper? Would he be awake half the night? Would he feel at home and secure with us?

My OH and I were a bag of anxiety through a bath, warm milk and bedtime stories – I think it felt like a much bigger deal to us than to Monster – who was perfectly chilled out and seemed without a care in the world. After the bedtime story, we turned out the lights and left the little one to sleep with a massive sigh of relief – although leaving him on his own somehow felt like the scariest part of all.

Temporary insomnia followed, both of us were petrified that we wouldn’t wake up if he cried out in the night and dozed with one eye open for a few hours, sitting bolt upright at the slightest creak in the house and listening intently to make sure monster was ok.

Eventually the night was over and Monster arose ready for a busy day at nursery. I was not ready for a day of any kind, the fear, worry and anticipation had me outright exhausted.

Thankfully, it did get easier – we got a lot less worried and our own night time routine and boundaries were established. It gives me a real sense of hope and confidence that something, once so scary, is now a part of everyday life without a moments hesitation. I hope in a few years today’s challenges feel exactly the same.

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