I want to preface this post by saying, I absolutely love my Stepkids and I wouldn't have my family any other way.
Now I am a Mum to my own little one, I get it. I understand better what it's like for my husband to be away from my Stepkids for a week at a time. It must be agony. I can better understand his amazing tolerance and love for them. I thought I did before, but now I understand better.
I first met them when they were six and three and I always thought that (among other things) they were preparing me for having my own kids. I expected sleepless nights, nappies and being 100% responsible for this little person to be much more difficult. But I've actually found that being a Stepmum is a much harder gig... Here's why.
You don't have a biological need to love and nurture them. Having a baby that you grow inside you, a person that is a part of you living outside your own body and that you are responsible for in every sense is a totally different experience. Loving your own baby is almost a given.* Biologically we are wired for it. Our hormones and pathology pretty much demand it. But Stepkids - you don't have to love them. You have to choose to love them. Everyday. Even when they are being assholes.
They don't have to love you either. They will almost certainly tell you they hate you at some point and unlike when they tell their parents this, they might actually believe it for a while. When they do let you in though, it's all the sweeter. That little hug before bed when you don't ask for it, or the Mother's day card where they write '^step' but really mean all the beautiful words inside. They don't have to, but they can choose to love you.
You can have opinions on how the kids are raised: what the rules are; where they can and can't go; and what's appropriate to watch or not watch. At the end of the day though - they aren't your kids. You don't have the casting vote. You can't fight every battle and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
You can't be your partner's number one priority. Not even in the beginning. My husband tells me that's not true and you can all be number one be at different times - maybe that's the case. But either way he's already got responsibilities and if he's the kind of man you want to have your own kids with this is something you love about him. But it also sucks.
The decisions of someone else in the tri-parenting (or even quad-parenting) relationship can effect you and your life; your bank balance; the things you do and places you go. You can't just decide to move to another city or country because as a couple that's where you want your life to go. You have to consider not only the kids, but also their other parents.
Their sh*t (stuff) will annoy you a whole bunch more than your own kids. I used to be completely baffled as to how my neat-freak (then) boyfriend could not stand to have the house untidy when it was just the two of us, but allow the absolute carnage that was kids-week. Now I have a toddler who destroys any semblance of order in one afternoon Wiggles dance off - I totally get it.
Their sh*t (actual sh*t) will gross you out a whole bunch more when they aren't yours. You know the stuff, the puke, that disgusting crust on the toilet lid and whatever that slimey thing was that was shoved down the side of the bathroom vanity that - actually you don't even want to know... When they're your own spawn its somehow not quite as gross because, well, you made them so suck it up. It's still gross though.
In the end, it's all worth it (repeat three times daily).
Their life is richer for having you in it and your life is richer for having them. Your Stepkids have the benefit of another positive role model in their life, another version of a good life to aspire to and another person they can turn to when times get tough for them. In some ways during the teenage years you can actually be closer to them than they can be with their bio-parents. You can keep their confidences. You can be their non-judgemental shoulder.
It's hard. It can be infuriating. It can take all of your strength to bite your tongue and not send those messages you want to send; to think of the greater good and the positive influence you want to have in their life. If you and your partner can make it through those years together, you can pretty much handle whatever life throws at you - including parenting your own toddler, pre-teen, tween, teen and young adult (here's hoping).
Being a Stepmum, a successful one anyway, takes a huge amount of tolerance, patience and love. I'm not by any means perfect, but I do hugely admire anyone who does it or even attempts it - shout out to you because its a tough gig that gets very little kudos. For me, its been a much harder, longer road than parenting my own child - but hey I'm only 13 months into that journey and who knows what the journey ahead holds.
* I know that for some Mums that feeling of overwhelming love for their baby isn't instant and takes time to develop. If you are struggling with your feelings about being a new Mum you are not alone please seek help.