Becoming a stepmother isn't the immediate sort of event I always thought it would be. I have a stepmother, who married my father when I was about eight, and I remember meeting her, and then the wedding – and then she was my stepmother, and that was that. Maybe my child's brain has condensed all of that a little bit, but that's how I remember it.
Becoming a stepmother was different for me. I'm not married to my partner, for a start, and we dated for a few years before we moved in together. So I met my stepson quite a few times before we lived together. The whole thing felt much more organic, and the title of stepmother has crept up on me while I wasn't looking.
Contributing to that is the fact that my stepson has no interest in having a traditional stepparent–stepchild relationship with me.
We've lived together for a couple of years now, and I realise it's probably time for me to claim the title though. My partner and I have no plans to get married, so this is about as official as everything is going to get. But I'm not getting close to the sort of stepparent I thought I would be when we got to this place.
I always had certain expectations of what sort of stepmother I would be. I loved the idea of being a 'bonus' parent. I had no interest in being an authoritative figure so much as just being a wise older friend.
I thought we'd build a new sort of blended family between my partner, my stepson and my own three children. We'd have new people in our lives that we may not necessarily choose as our best friends (much like any family), but that we'd grow together as we collected memories of holidays and fun family times, as well as helping one another through life's challenges.
But the problem is, my stepson doesn't share this vision with me. An introverted child, he's still reserved with me and will leave a room rather than spend any one-on-one time with me. And he shows little interest in creating blended family memories together right now, he'd much rather spend his time alone in his room, or alone with his father.
I struggled with this at first, because I thought I was doing everything right. I wasn't putting the pressure on or trying to replace my stepson's mother – I was basically doing everything all the "happy blended families" books told me to do. But that wasn't enough in our situation.
What those books, and I, hadn't accounted for was that every situation is different, and not every situation is textbook. And as much as I'd love our family to be a coherent family unit, it's not all up to me.
So I bide my time, and I wait. Like making friends with a nervous woodland creature, I offer crumbs of family life and, on the occasions my stepson nervously accepts them, I try not to make a fuss or scare him off. I'll keep offering and I hope he'll accept with more frequency until he's eating out of my hand (figuratively, of course).
Blending families is a long game, and the days of the traditional nuclear family being the only model to live by are long gone. I'm not sure that's even a model I'd choose for myself.
Our family may not be traditional, but everyone has a place here. There is love and safety here, and we all get to decide how we show up. That can be enough for now.