Before I was married, I worked for a small company in a plush office overlooking Sydney Harbour.
One day while rushing to get a boardroom lunch together, the precocious 6-year-old grandson of one of the directors came into the kitchen. Now normally I love little children, but that day I was simply too busy to give him any warm and fuzzy attention, and distinctly recall giving him the ‘go away little person’ vibe.
He stood there watching me for a bit, and then as all little children do, said exactly what was on his mind:
‘You look like a stepmother!’
He had obviously got my message loud and clear! But, as fate would have it, they were prophetic words. Only a few short years later that’s exactly what I was ~ a stepmother. At the age of 27, I married a man with three teenage daughters, the oldest of whom was only ten years younger than me.
Now that would perhaps raise a few eyebrows or even ring alarm bells for some, but being young, inexperienced, optimistic, ever positive, and very much in love, it never occurred to me that there would be any hurdles.
For me, it was simply about being happy together. After all, I was going into it with an open, welcoming heart so how could it be anything but a happy bed of roses? But, of course, there’s no such thing as a bed of roses without a thorn or two is there, even if it is planted and nurtured with love, care, and goodwill.
Children and parents deserve the best relationship possible, but divorce messes with that in a big way, as does a new spouse for one of the parents.
They are a gatecrasher, an interloper ~ a person not of the children’s choosing who steps into their lives and gets a huge chunk of their parent’s attention and affection. Jealousy and even, resentment is often inevitable and has to be handled as sensitively as possible. As does, learning to be a part of each other’s lives. That takes quite a few years I can tell you!
I did it with as much welcoming warmth, support, and loving compassion as I could.
That isn’t to say I wasn’t upfront about issues when I really needed to be. I am very straightforward when there is no other way, but, to be honest, I don’t like upsetting the apple cart if I don’t have to.
In as much as there is a lot to be said when one is working towards creating a smooth path, there is also a lot that doesn’t need to be said. Honest heartfelt words are vital, but harsh ones are not. They are never forgotten and best left unspoken.
It is when we speak truthfully with an open heart, and listen with an open heart, that we forge the right path together.
But most important of all, my husband and I were united. We were united in valuing our relationship above all else, and we were united in the care, support, and love that we gave to the girls. If that had not been the case, our marriage would not have survived as well as it has.
And after our daughter was born, it got even livelier! Then we had four very lively girls!
Now, if you are a stepmother, or a stepchild, reading this, please know that a good stepmother is worth her weight in gold. She not only has Dad’s ear, she is someone you can reach out to, someone who will listen, and most importantly, someone who cares.
But as good as it gets, every stepmother will have those ‘left out’ moments ~ it’s unavoidable, particularly on special family occasions that belong to Mum and Dad. Those moments when out of politeness that you step back, and then don’t get invited back in.
That’s life. Let it go, and keep doing your best. In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. In your heart replace it with one of the many kind moments that have come your way. And remember, feeling left out goes both ways.
Now having said all of the above, I have never felt like a stepmother. Our times together were, and still are, very social ~ lunches, dinners, and overnight stays. I am more of a friend than a mother figure.
And that’s how it should be. They have a wonderfully loving mother, and I wouldn’t for one second want to emulate that relationship. And being the nice woman that she is, a lovely thing came to pass. Because I’ve always had the girls’ best interests at heart, we developed an extremely pleasant, open rapport, and that was a definite bonus for everyone.
My aim has always been to be someone the girls could rely on and trust, and someone that they could clearly see made their father happy. My door has always been, and will always be, open.
Over the years, we have negotiated the hills and valleys of our lives together, and I would say that we have done it very successfully. We have all learned and grown from the experience. We accept each other just as we are, and we are able to speak openly and honestly without recriminations.
And here’s my ‘stepmothers’ gift. Today, not only are we bound by friendship, we are bound by the fact that we are family. My husband’s first three daughters are sisters to our daughter, and we all love and support each other, just as a family should.
Why? Because we value each other, we care about each other, and we have respect for each other.
And because we have much to talk about, to laugh about, and to share. We have history and our bond is strong. We are wonderful, powerful women. We are family and we are united.
Inara Hawley © 2015