Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Starting as a Step Mum Part 2

The first time I met my boyfriend’s kids I wasn’t his girlfriend. He was stuck for a lift for them all at the end of a very long and arduous journey and being a friend, I offered. Everyone was tired and weary and the girls were totally friendly, quiet and polite. 20 minutes later I left them all in my rear view mirror and thought nothing more than what a happy bunch they all seemed.

When I met them as his girlfriend I was nervous as hell, because I wanted them to like me, I wanted us all to get along and I didn’t want anything to spoil the dreamy ride of this beautiful developing relationship. Also I feared rejection from them, knowing how cruel kids can be to parents partners. The reason I know that? I was an absolute bitch to my step dad when I first met him and spent a lot of time making fun of him and putting him through the mill. (We eventually became friends and shared a lot of love and laughter.) I was utterly concerned my step dad karma was due.

But the girls could not have been nicer, funnier, accommodating, interesting and caring. We had a wonderful ‘honeymoon period’, all getting to know one another and enjoying many days out, lazy days in and soon all became close. At times it was weird for my BF, as he learnt to accept me in my motherly role and stand aside as I put his kids first on occasions while I tried to share my time equally with him and them. The exact same can be said for me. At times I found I wanted him all to myself. In a way this remains evident in our relationship to this day. We are both still very much in love and often feel overwhelmed by our commitment to our responsibilities. But it never stops us being parents and doing the right things by the kids. Even when we, as lovers, as adults and as friends would rather be doing something else.

Perhaps that’s helped keep our relationship young and fresh, the fact that we haven’t always had loads of time to immerse ourselves in just us.
At first we had separate houses. We all visited each other and stayed over together at both houses. When he had the kids I stayed at theirs as his place was bigger, only just. Then when I sold my recently finished home renovation project my BF was also looking for a bigger apartment so he could look after the girls more often and give them a room each. A luxury they desperately needed as they were soon to be teens and were already bitching and fighting over personal space.

The obvious, practical thing to do was all move in together. BF and I discussed it thoroughly as it seemed like a bold move. We had only been dating 4 months and it was important not to mess about with kids involved. But we were also aware we were spending every day together, doing a lot of travelling in between houses and essentially paying for two places. The financial reward played a part in our decision, along with being able to offer support to my BF who desperately wanted to look after his children and I wanted to settle down with him as a happy family. So we took the plunge.

We moved into a house in the main town. Near to the girl’s school and our places of work. We got somewhere big enough for the girls to have their own top floor with a bedroom each. It also had enough room for us to set up our own office and we had a huge family room and a kitchen diner. Everybody had space of their own and we started to settle into a new routine.

We had the girls every other week. At first it was great to have some time to ourselves and a weekend every other week to be lovers and shake off the parenting roles and act spontaneously. Don’t get me wrong, we both love being parents and we both utterly love the girls. We also love each other, noisy sex, walking about naked, being spontaneous, dressing up, going out for beers, coming home late and getting up early. Many of these things you just can’t do when you also want to maintain a stable routine for your kids to feel safe and secure in. So at first the week about suited us perfectly.

But soon we noticed it wasn’t working for the girls. The regular upheaval from one home to another, the inconsistencies between houses, the changes in structure and even simple things like sleep patterns, nutrition and opportunity. Unfortunately their mum didn’t have the same parenting ethic as us and had recently moved to the countryside. Not being a driver this made it increasingly difficult for the girls to have control over their own lives. Eventually we made the difficult decision to challenge the current set up and take the girls full time.

Logically it was the obvious thing to do. The girls mum preferred not to plan or organise. She is a fun woman with plenty of love and individuality to share with the girls. But she is incredibly skint, disorganised and disinterested in many aspect of parenting that the girls desperately needed. It seemed perfect that we would care for the girls through the week when they needed organising for school, structure, rules and regular sleep patterns, square meals and financial support for hobbies and interests. At the weekends they could go to mums, draw on each other’s faces, stay up late, eat crap and run riot. It seemed to harness the different parenting approaches and provide a stable environment for the girls.

And it worked. The girls settled down. They became more organised, more responsible, self reliant and many of the quibbles we had previously experienced; things like homework and helping with the washing up reduced radically and we even found (on occasion)them doing it themselves without being asked! They were happy, a little spoilt at times but wonderful girls to live with.

Of course we all had our moments. I found it hard to accept the disruption the girls continually caused to the way I liked to live my life. Organised, clean and honest. Because like typical teens, they grew lazy, messy and inconsiderate. They ‘borrowed’ things without asking. They lied. I would find crisps and chocolate wrappers under cushions on our fluffy couch. Dirty cups and plates hidden in furniture. My IPod sneaked to school one day. My DVD’s went missing. But I grew to accept all that, because that’s what kids do.

They found it hard as my BF and I were strict and consistent. We expected everyone to work together and help around the house. We tried to install in the girls a good work ethic, taking responsibility for yourself and the things you use, the things you do. We worked with rewards, acceptance of consequences and discipline. Which wasn’t easy. Especially as we had another parent to be compared against. Another parent who didn’t embrace this structure. Who didn’t believe in ‘rules’. And so we soon became in the teens eyes, ‘harsh and strict.’ We received the frustrated outbursts from the girls, the tantrums, the moods. But we still kept going.

Because despite all that. They are good girls. Beautiful girls.

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