As part of our real life stepmum series, read all about this lovely ladies journey from single to stepmum in another country. Being a stepmother is hard enough, without having to navigate a whole new culture! I know this stepmum well, and I can tell you she always does it with kindness and class. She is constantly facing challenges from the ex whilst dealing her own fertility journey.
(As with any posts from the real life stepmum series, if the story resonates with you and you would like to be put in touch with them, please let me know!)
In 2018, my life changed completely, almost entirely for the better! Or maybe I should say, I changed my life. I decided to seize the opportunities, despite the challenges they might bring, because in the end I wanted to be happy.
In 2017, I was living a full but intense life in London. Successful in my job but burnt out and starting to despise the corporate life (and my ‘Devil Wears Prada’ boss, you know the type!). My 12-year long relationship was drawing to a close, sadly blighted by poor mental health (on his part) but we had also just grown apart, having been together since we were 20. I threw myself into fitness, went to the gym every morning and joined a running club where I met some great, inspiring people. I spent most of my free time with them, training for and running marathons!
One December evening, a former colleague and friend got in touch and said he was in London for a night (he lived in Sweden) and would I like to meet for a drink. We’d met 7 years previously on a business trip in Milan. Me, an eager graduate trainee and he, a married director 12 years my senior, gushing about his beautiful daughter who had just been born. We look back now and know we had a lot of respect for each other and always felt good in each other’s company, but there genuinely wasn’t anything improper going on. The stars weren’t yet aligned (plus we had integrity and that would’ve been wrong). Anyway, fast forwards to that night in December, and we realised there was something special between us.
So, 2018 went a bit like this:
January-March: quit job, offered great new job in Germany, properly move out of flat shared with ex-boyfriend and be the one to call time on a relationship which wasn’t good for either of us, go with my sister to get some tattoos (!), run 3 marathons, learn to drive (needed a car for new job), start dating the Swede and fall hopelessly in love.
April-June: Move to Germany, start new job, make new friends, drive on the other side of the road on the terrifying German autobahn (!), learn some German, fall more in love with the Swede, who comes to visit every other week when the kids are at their mum’s.
July: Meet the Swede’s children, the daughter who was now 7 and a son who had just turned 3. In Sweden they say ‘bonus-’ instead of ‘step-’ family/kids/mum, which I think is lovely, and also very accurate. Yes, it was a whole lot more complicated that he had children, especially as that meant we had less freedom in terms of where we would ultimately live together, but they were so much part of why I loved him, and really were a bonus.
October: He proposes (in my car which I am still quite terrified of driving, on the way back from me picking him up from the train station, but he couldn’t wait!) and whisks me off to Paris to celebrate.|
December: We all spend Christmas in London with my family, who welcome the Swede and the bonus kids with love and warmth. They can see how happy they make me.
3 years later and I’m now married, living in a small seaside town in the south of Sweden, in the house which was once their family home, learning Swedish and a fully-fledged (but definitely still learning!) bonus mamma. And life is good. I chose this and there are so many things which are wonderful.
But it is not without its challenges, such is life. One of the obvious challenges was the fact that we have cultural and linguistic obstacles as well as the ‘standard’ stepfamily ones. My bonus daughter speaks fluent English since they spent some time living in Singapore and London when she was little. Plus, I found it a lot easier to bond with her, being a girl and a bit older. I have introduced her to The Spice Girls and Friends, always do her hair for her and help her choose clothes in the morning, and I think she’s grown to love my English quirks and thinks it’s quite cool to have an ‘exotic’ bonus mamma!
It was a harder nut to crack with my bonus son. He was so little when we first met, didn’t really understand what had gone on between his parents, or why he now had two homes and this strange lady who spoke funny who turned up to live with Pappa. But little by little, as I started to learn Swedish and he started to understand and then speak English (amazingly he’s pretty fluent now – kids pick it up so fast!), we found our way. Now we are really close and have our own little ‘Swenglish’ conversations which make his sister and Pappa laugh.
The kids’ mum lives nearby and technically has 50% custody, but in reality the children are with us more of the time, we pay for the lion’s share of everything, and take a lot more responsibility for their welfare. I went into this situation trying to be mature, kind and believing there was a different way of doing this. It didn’t have to follow the well-trodden path of anger and resentment for the adults, upheaval and uncertainty for the kids. And sometimes we manage that. Sometimes we don’t.
The biggest test came this summer. We had been trying to conceive for over two years and finally, with some assistance from modern medicine, were on track. All was well with the pregnancy and my bonus children were so excited to have a little brother on the way. Then out of the blue, we were dealt a painful blow. I felt unwell one morning and went back to bed to rest. A few hours later we were on our way to the hospital as I had taken a turn for the worse. I had managed to pick up a bacterial infection which turned into sepsis and our little boy couldn’t survive. We were devastated and we are still working our way through the loss and the sadness.
The next morning, my husband got a call from his ex-wife who seemed to be in a bad way. She’d had a huge violent row with her boyfriend (whom she lived with, along with his 4 children), in front of all the kids, was leaving him and needed somewhere to go. He had to interrupt her hysteria to explain where we were and what had happened. Now, I am not completely unkind. She’s not had an easy life and has not really found her way since their divorce. But she barely acknowledged our situation and expected us to step in and pick up the pieces, once again. We arranged for my mother-in-law to look after the kids while we were in hospital for another 5 days and then took them full time for the rest of the summer so she could sort her life out. She even asked us to lend her money to rent a new place. The thing which irked me the most though, was that she also wanted emotional support from my husband. He spent hours on the phone to her, counselling her on all her troubles. Yet he was also in pain, having lost a child (and actually almost lost me at one point) and I hated the fact that she was abusing his kindness at a time when we needed all our energy to deal with what had happened to us.
A few months have passed and she is still testing my patience and the limits of my sympathy. I try to always be kind and above all, do the right thing for the children. I’m also very aware that we have each other, and feel stronger than ever, having faced into one of the most heart-breaking experiences together. That must be hard for her to see. I just wish that she could also find love, happiness and peace. And whilst I know there is some good fortune involved, I do believe we choose our path.