The role of a stepmum, I have found, doesn’t seem to compare to any other role I’ve experienced.
As a woman, a lot of the time, the motherly role is expected, and when you begin a relationship with someone who has a child or children, that role if often passed onto you in your home without a second thought.
It is only recently I have even thought of it, and admittedly when starting the relationship with Chris, I assumed it was the role I had to take, and was willing to do so.
From day 1 – and in fact before I had even met Lily, I felt protective of her, in a sense that I felt a responsibility for her, to make sure she was loved, and happy and safe.
When I fell in love with Chris, that love I had was there for Lily also, I have always been a family person, and I didn’t once second guess entering a relationship where a child was involved.
At the start of our relationship, Chris would make sure to ask me constantly if I was happy doing certain things, for example picking Lily up from nursery on days he had to work, or joining them in her bedtime routine – a story and three songs – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Incy Wincy Spider, and Soft Kitty (which if I am not mistaken is from the Big Bang Theory!).
I was happy to do those things, and still am, although at nearly 8-years-old our music taste is more Little Mix than Little Star!
My role over that last five years has been as a ‘mum’ role, both physically and financially, it is something I choose to do, if Lily flutters her eyelashes, I’m happy to buy her that magazine, and she knows if I say ‘no’, Daddy is happy to buy her a treat (within reason – he said no when she asked for a second dog!).
And I enjoy my many roles, the cook, cleaner (although admittedly, Chris cleans the house way more than I do!), the one who sits and does crafts, the ‘babysitter’, the shoulder to cry on and the one that Lily confides in – sometimes more than Chris.
What changed over time was that feeling that I was expected to do those things. Mine and Chris’s relationship had developed, and instead of asked if I minded, it was almost expected of me, and our communication when it came to Lily and my role had reduced.
For a long time, I liked that expectation of me, I liked that Chris didn’t need to ask as he knew he could rely on me. There was a point that I had completely lost myself, because I felt that expectation was my entire life, and that I couldn’t do things I’d maybe want to do because I had a responsibility to look after Lily or be with her while Chris worked.
None of this is or was Chris’s fault, there is absolutely no fault at all. We both got so comfortable in our relationship together, and became so used to that routine, that asking had gone out of the window and I had completely morphed into that ‘mum’ role.
And that in turn affected our relationship. I stopped doing things. Not because Chris or anyone else stopped me, but because I felt I had a job to do and I couldn’t, and didn’t want to step back from it. I put all my focus onto my work and my family that part of me wasn’t interested in anything else.
That, I think, is completely normal sometimes in relationships, especially early on in a relationship when you fall in love and you want to spend every moment surrounded by that new love, but I knew deep down something had to change.
And it was Chris, at first, that pushed me to go out there, to go try new things and have ‘me time’, not only for myself but for our relationship also.
And even then I struggled, I held on for a long time to that ‘mum’ role and had lead myself to believe that that was what I was and that I simply couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t want to feel that I wasn’t needed, I wanted to have a purpose, and thought that that purpose had to be as a stepmum and nothing else.
It was only when Chris and I went through issues in our relationship that something clicked. Something in me stopped, and took a breath, stepped back and realised the importance of balancing my role as a stepmum and my role as me.
I started going out, seeing friends more, rock climbing, yoga classes, and the initial guilt I felt for that began to drift away.
I realised something very VERY important.
My role as a stepmum is a choice.
I choose to love Lily as my own, I choose to look after her and treat her as I would a daughter, I choose to support Chris in his work and hobbies by having Lily when he needs me to.
But the moment that choice you make, becomes an expectation – not only from others but in my case, from yourself, that is when issues start. I lost myself slightly, and in doing so, Chris began to lose the person he fell in love with.
I am thankful that this is something we both noticed and addressed. We sat down and had that discussion, and I pointed out that he didn’t ask me to do things anymore, it become an expectation that if he had work that I would have Lily, and that was not okay.
Now, we joke if he forgets to ask me if it’s okay, because we have got through that initial breakdown in communication but majority of the time he will ask, and now continues to show appreciation for my role – the role I choose.
What I have realised most from all this, and speaking to other stepmums, is that the decision I made when I met Chris, to be that mother figure for Lily when she is here, was my choice, and as a partner Chris respects that choice. But, your choice may be different, and that is okay – what is most important is to make that choice clear to your partner, set the boundaries early on and know where you both stand.
Having that discussion and realising what I wanted my role to be saved us, and now, I can continue being the Sarah/Stepmum hybrid that Chris and Lily love and appreciate.