Mum-of-four, Kate Hollobon, says raising someone else’s kids can be very, very challenging, but being a step-mum before having her own kids prepared her for the task ahead in ways nothing else possibly could.
As told to Babyology by Kate Hollobon.
Stepping into the mum role
I was 28 when I became a step-mum. At the time my now husband’s son and daughter from a previous relationship were only three and one, so still very little and at an age which requires a lot of emotional support and help with daily tasks. As far as responsibility goes I didn’t actually have to do anything, but I wanted to. I chose to put my hand up to get very involved and become the mum in our house because it felt like the right thing to do. This meant I picked them up from childcare when I could, cooked meals and bathed them. Pretty much anything their father did, I did too.
Finding my way
Luckily I was naturally very good at caring for children before my marriage, so on a basic level I didn’t find it that hard initially. Subconsciously though I think I wanted to be part of the “family” and knew the only way to do that was to get fully involved. At first the children really liked me as I was an exciting new person in the house, but it wasn’t long before my stepson realised that I was there for the long-term. He then started questioning his dad about me and his mother which was a little confronting and difficult to deal with, but I also understood that it was quite normal and tried not to let it affect me.
The family gets bigger
After a couple of years together, my husband Mike and I had two of our own children together – another girl and boy who are now seven and almost three. Although every child is different and parenting can still be challenging no matter how experienced you are, unlike other new mums I wasn’t going in completely blind. I’d already been a step-mum for a few years and therefore had a good idea of what to expect, and looking back now I think it was fantastic preparation.
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The step-mum advantage
Here are some of the ways that being a step-mum helped me be a better mum for my own kids:
1. I was used to the lifestyle
Becoming a parent is a massive life change but it wasn’t as dramatic for me as I didn’t have to adjust to a different lifestyle. We already had kids in the house and I was used to having toys everywhere, no adult alone time and eating our dinner after the children had been put to bed. Although I had never experienced pregnancy or a newborn before, at least I wasn’t dealing with a total culture shock as well.
2. I had a reference point
Lots of new mums freak out when it comes to their child’s development and reaching milestones, but I could always refer to my step-kids if I was ever concerned about stuff like whether it was time to crawl, walk or talk. I already had an idea of when these stages would happen and as a result was pretty chilled about all of this.
3. I had experience
There are so many things about caring for a baby that no one tells you and you only learn when you’re on the job, for example if you don’t change a soiled nappy quickly it can cause a painful, burning nappy rash. Without my hands-on experience prior to my own kids I never would have known this.
4. I had confidence
Many mums have all kinds of irrational fears and worry about the smallest things like whether they’re holding their baby the right way or if it’s okay to let them to cry, but I already knew that most of the time they would be fine and to just relax.
But … it’s not easy
While I definitely learned a lot from having step-kids before becoming a mother, my advice to others in the same position is to remember that it’s not an easy gig. It’s bloody hard to bring up someone else’s kids, especially if the mother is still in the picture and the children have two houses and two sets of rules. They might not accept you or might not even like you at first, and before you have your own kids you’ll most likely feel like an outsider sitting at the family dinner table. I definitely only felt like we were truly a family once my own children came along, as they helped us bond and connect.
My advice to other step-mums
Regardless of whether you have your own children or not, communication and working together with your partner as a team is incredibly important, especially as the kids get older and issues around discipline, manners and expectations arise. A perfect relationship with your step-kids is not guaranteed, but whether it’s good or bad it’s best to teach them to have respect for everyone in the family. Be sure to read lots of advice books or get counselling help if needed too – don’t be shy about that, because even though I love being a step-mum and it’s really helped pave the way for me being a great mum to my own kids, it can be a very difficult family arrangement for everyone involved and you need all the help you can get.
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