It definitely sounds strange but one of the things I didn’t expect in the early days (the unexpected list is an enormous one) was that when we were without our scheduled contact, I would come to really miss the little monster. It hits me at bizarre times, whether the conkers are falling from the trees and he misses the annual collection with his cousins or we’re making a new recipe and I automatically calculate the dairy free changes we need to make.

Even those things we do totally unrelated to the monster (or any other kids) he will make an appearance in our thoughts or conversation. Of course, this is especially on the evenings or weekends we expected to see him or had arranged activities, bought tickets etc for us to do together. Our house feels different, which is strange because monster isn’t with us all the time but there’s a big difference between him being away for a few days and not knowing when he’ll be back. Walking past his bedroom is a daily reminder that he’s not here, I eventually decide to strip off, clean and air all his bedding. We leave the door closed as if that makes it less real and will somehow remove us from the pain.

When things are good and we have very regular contact with the little monster, I sometimes find myself looking back to the early days wistfully dreaming of couple days out, Sunday lie ins and evenings out. I look forward to “monster-free” weekends… when they’re few and far between. Then we come to a spell of not seeing monster, not by our choice, and I suddenly feel racked with guilt for every time I’ve made a bleary-eyed wish for 5 more minutes (give or take 3 hours) in bed. And no, we don’t feel any excitement or positivity that we have some “us” time, we just feel worried and sad. The first 6 – 8 weeks are definitely the hardest and that’s a pretty long time to be full of guilt, confusion and sadness over a situation you can’t control.

As ‘step-mum’ I often feel that I should be strong for myself, my partner and our little boys return. Nobody’s initial reaction is to ask how I’m coping, but rather to ask after my partner. Honestly, this is absolutely right and I would probably do the same thing but it does sometimes cement the isolation that sometimes comes with being a non-biological ‘parent’ and the pressure to always be ok, even if the situation really isn’t. Having a support network outside your relationship and coping strategies that work for you is so important for dealing with the stress which can cloud almost everything.

I end up carrying a lot of guilt, a lot of the time for things I really should feel no guilt about. For wanting to spend quality time with the man I love. For wanting to be involved in the life of the little boy who shares my heart. For other people’s actions and their consequences. For failed promises of a better week, month or year. But none of these things are in my control, and for the vast majority no action I take could possibly improve them, at least not without creating a huge ripple of negativity elsewhere. I haven’t found a solution yet, but once I do I’m sure it’ll be one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn.


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