Family life isn’t always the picture perfect scenario played out in adverts across the land. Long gone are the days where a family is simply a mum and a dad and 2.4 children and more and more people each year are finding themselves in a mixture of less traditional family set ups. Today we welcome Dory who shares her experience of becoming a step-mum. The second part of ‘Playing Mum’ will follow in the new year. Names have been changed to protect the innocent
I thought it might be nice to give people a little bit of insight into being a step-parent. Very few people actually know what it’s like to share your life with your partner’s children and therefore have ideas that stem purely from Disney films. Before I launch into the highs and lows of Step-mother-dom, maybe I should give you a little background on my marriage.
When I met my now husband, I was almost 21, just started a new job as secretary for a bunch of engineers and was in a pretty stale relationship with the boyfriend I had been with since I was 18. H was living with his girlfriend and children, his step-son B and his daughter F. H has a wicked sense of humour and never seemed to be as lecherous as some of the other men I worked with. We used to have a laugh together and always got on well as colleagues, in fact I never saw him as anything other than a work colleague.
Fast forward a year, I had been promoted and moved to another office, still working for the same company and I had split with my boring boyfriend – finally! Unknown to me, H had been living in a very unhappy relationship for years and around the same time, he ended it. It was a huge decision for him to leave the home he had shared with his children. On the night they split up (it was a straw that broke the camel’s back kind of moment) he spent the night in his 4 year old daughters bed and in the morning she crept out of bed to let him sleep. He then woke up, packed a bag and left. It was a really bleak time for him, but ultimately, the best thing he could have done.
At that point in my life I was young, free and VERY single! I LOVED it. I was out all the time, I lost 2 stone and loved feeling more confident. I went out a lot with the girls from work and one evening we went out for a colleague’s birthday and H was there too. We had a quick catch up, spoke about how we were now single etc and within about 10 minutes I realised that I actually rather fancied him (He later told me that he had fancied me from day one!) The rest is history, we ended up snogging each others’ faces off at the Christmas Party and within a month we were ‘official’.
During this time, we had nightmares from his ex. She got it into her head that I was the reason they had split and made me life hell. She stopped H seeing his kids for 6 months once she found out about me and it tore him apart. As such, I didn’t have any contact with the kids at all. To me, H was my boyfriend and that was that. We’d been together about 3 months when his ex said he could come and see his daughter on her birthday. He was so excited. I helped him chose her presents and I even went and bought her a dress from me. I waved him off and saw how excited and happy he was. Suddenly I realised. He wasn’t just my boyfriend. He was someone’s dad. I wasn’t his only girl. He loved someone else. In fact, 2 someone else’s! It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I will never forget sitting with him a few days later and saying ‘Wow, I never thought of it until now, but, you’re a DAD!’ His answer? ‘Well if you’ve got a problem with it you need to tell me now before we waste any more time.’ As a girl who’s ‘real’ dad left when I was 2 and never came back, this made me love him more. He wouldn’t ever let anyone stop him seeing his kids. He wouldn’t be one of those dads who ran off and had a ‘new’ life. His kids ARE his life, I have so much respect for that. So I pushed my feelings aside and ran with it!
We moved in together after 6 months and I still hadn’t met the kids. H had started seeing them a bit more, even being allowed to have them overnight every now and then, which meant I needed to move out for a night or two, this put a bit of strain on things but we carried on for an easy life. Eventually the kids started asking questions about me, wanting to know what I looked like, if I cooked, if I did Daddy’s washing (why this is relevant I will never know!). I’m sure they must have heard some terrible things about me and been told some stories (one of the ex’s favourite lines to me was ‘my kids think you’re a c***’ – yeah, nice girl.) but whatever they were told, H was convinced that they would make their own mind up about me. I wasn’t sure, but I trusted him.
One day in August 2008, when we had been together 8 months, I came home from work looking forward to an evening on my own. H was taking the kids to the cinema, he’d picked them up and taken them for dinner and wouldn’t be back until about 9.30pm after dropping them home. I got in and ran myself a bath. 20 minutes later I got out and strolled into the living room to pour some more wine and relax. Casually picked up my mobile phone and noticed I had 8 missed calls from H. At first, I thought ‘Oh here we go again’ thinking he must have had another row with ‘her’ and would be home early having not seen his children yet again. How wrong I was. I called him back and he told me to make sure there was no washing on the kids’ beds. (They have their own room at ours and we used to keep the washing on their beds waiting to be ironed, as they hadn’t actually stayed in their news beds before) because he was on his way home with them. Their mum had finally relented, they wanted to meet me. He was 2 minutes away.
WHAT?!! Talk about unprepared. I rushed about clearing things away, trying to make their room look presentable and putting some clothes on! I heard the key in the door and stood in the kitchen, leaning on the counter trying to steady my breathing. I was about to meet the children I had heard so much about from H and his family. I was about to meet the people I was most scared about meeting. I was about to meet the children who could, potentially become my family. I was, for want of a better phrase, shitting myself.
So, in they walked. H came in and said ‘D, I want you to meet some people – this is B and this is F.’ B strolled in without a care in the world, said hello and plonked himself on the sofa, he was 8 at the time. F came in a lot more timidly and sort of hid behind her dad’s leg. She was only 5. I smiled, said hello and asked if they wanted a drink. Several times! I was so nervous. I can only imagine how they were feeling, finally meeting the big bad wolf!
After asking about 5 times if they wanted a drink B said yes and I did him a coke – it made me feel better to be actually doing something. I then sat on the chair, while the three of them sat on the sofa and watched TV. F kept looking at me. As if she couldn’t believe I was real. I kept looking at them too. I had seen picture of course, but I couldn’t get over how much F looked like her dad and how big B had got since I’d seen a photo of him.
B was fairly normal, talking about the TV programme we were watching and just being himself! F was very quiet. She sat, next to but not on her dad, as if she wanted to be seen but also wanted to be able to hide if she needed to.
I tried to make them feel comfortable, asked what they thought of their room (they hadn’t seen it all finished until this day) and what they had been doing at school. About 15 minutes passed. It felt like a lifetime. Suddenly, F stood up, walked over to me, leaned on the arm of my chair and declared ‘My birthday is April twenty-fiffed’ (25th!!)– these were the first words she ever spoke to me and I will never forget that moment. I melted.
The evening went brilliantly. We took them to McDonalds and F wanted to me to sit in the back of the car with her. We crossed the road and she held my hand. She wanted to wear my sunglasses and we took photos of ourselves making silly faces. I can still feel the relief that flooded through me when I realised that they actually seemed to like me. And I actually liked them! H was over the moon.
We were far from a happy family, but at that moment I just knew, it was all going to be ok…little did I know how much my life would change from that point.
To be continued…