A few months after moving in properly with Charming, I almost moved back out again.
After consistently breaking up fights, pairing up socks, and lifting manky used teabags out of the sink to put into the bin, I predictably, lost my shit.
I could hear my own nagging voice, which was irritating even to me, and no one seemed to appreciate or acknowledge that I was doing all of this extra housework, every day, on top of my own full time job!
The children were only young at the time, so that was to be forgiven of course, but Charming could be just as bad!
I honestly believe in those early days, that they all thought invisible cleaning fairies were following them around, closing cupboard doors, hanging up their coats, putting their shoes away…
But I felt at first, as though I just had to get on with it, that’s what I’d signed up for wasn’t it? Or was it…
Eventually though, I told Charming straight (when I was feeling brave, and after several G&T’s) that if he and the kids didn’t start making more of an effort with the housework and chores, that I’d rent a flat, live on my own again in peace, and go back to visiting them at the weekend – leaving the chaos and mess for him to deal with! Problem solved, sanity restored.
I was used to living on my own. Where it was tidy & organised (ish!) and easy. I wasn’t used to, or equipped at managing that kind of workload, on top of my stressful day job AND catching up on Netflix, I mean how are you supposed to fit it all in?
Seemingly in this brilliant age of equality, I had ended up accidentally, falling straight into this stereotypical role of “housewife,” a super woman who is essentially the cook, cleaner, peacemaker, and finder of all the worlds lost bastarding things.
Put simply, I was in this predicament (and this is by no means a criticism) because his ExWife had been the one to do all of this before me.
Everyone knows that being a parent is a full time job in itself, so this doesn’t stop when you walk in through the door from work! We just start our second job properly then, cooking teas, navigating meltdowns, bath and bed…etc
Charming is an amazing Dad, and to his credit always listens to my viewpoint from a StepMum perspective, is supportive of how I feel, and recognises the unique challenges that are faced in this seemingly undervalued role within the family.
He is however, just a bit blind to housework sometimes!
So, when we were discussing this, I reassured him that I wasn’t expecting perfection from them, that would be unfair and unrealistic – just a genuine attempt to share the workload, would be enough to stop me going crazy.
We agreed how to divide the big jobs between us, and then discussed with the kids what their responsibilities would be in our home, when they were with us and tied it into a little bit of pocket money each week for their help.
I’m a big believer in monetary rewards and casual bribery were kids are concerned! Works every time! I feel zero shame…
And this helped, if only to shift their perspective in our home, for them to recognise that their Mum wasn’t in this house and neither were the magical cleaning fairies, so we all needed to work together to support one another.
Now, at this stage the kids were young – so when they were asked to “make their bed,” it would still look as though a small baby elephant and rolled around in it, even after they had made it!
But they were really proud of themselves, and would drag me into their room to show me!
I always heaped tonnes of praise on them anyway, because they had tried, and they were starting to form these important skills and habits. I never, ever, criticised their efforts when they were little – and tried to take the time to show them how to do these jobs properly, rather than just instructing them to do it.
There isn’t always time for this of course, and oftentimes I would just end up doing it myself later – but the important part for us was that they wanted to help and understood why.
Plus they also got a couple of quid at the end of the week, so the incentive was there!
We also found they were a little less keen to buy a load of sweets, if we told them they had to pay for it themselves! “That’s what pocket money is for kids!”
When I was a teenager, I had no option but to live on my own from quite a young age. I hadn’t been taught many life skills really, and I couldn’t just shout “Alexa, how do you cook rice,” the internet didn’t exist! Consequently, I successfully managed to give myself food poisoning!
Our children need us (even if they don’t realise it!) to coach them on the basic life skills at the appropriate ages.
Our eldest will be going to Uni soon, and if he doesn’t learn how to use the washing machine, quick time, his future housemates and girlfriends will have every right to hold us partly responsible! No one likes a stinky student do they.
Historically, it has also been very much the girls that got involved with cooking and cleaning at a younger age – the ideology of course, that this is “women’s work.”
Boys haven’t always been encouraged in the same way, as the assumption would be that they would just marry a woman, and have all of that “easy” housework stuff done for them!
This is already becoming outdated for our kids though, never before have we seen such a focus on equality and diversity, which is truly incredible.
So, in the same way we encourage our StepDaughter that women should aim to “smash glass ceilings,” be self sufficient, self reliant and so on…
We also advise our StepSon that he’s going to need to be able to cook, clean, keep the house running and learn how to piss directly into the toilet!
The struggle is real isn’t it ladies.
There should be no jobs for our future generation that are exclusively for men or women, either in the professional field, or indeed, in the home…
My own personal exemptions to this however, are putting up tents and catching spiders! Both of these tasks are far too tricky for me, and I will always enlist Charmings expertise here…
Aside from this, we have an equal partnership in our house and I contribute 50% to our family, but somehow, initially, I’d ended up stepping into what is largely perceived to be the Woman’s Role in the Home – which basically amounted to doing fucking everything, aside from putting the bins out once a week!
Give me sitting in my office, drinking brews, pretending to work, and calling it “breadwinning” any day of the week, over having to deal with the kids meltdowns, school gate politics and tackling the never ending piles of washing & cleaning…
Add mind numbing kids TV into the mix, and frankly it’s a wonder any Full Time Mother can remember her own name by the end of the day! I’m not sure I could do it.
The self help books I read in the early days, also advised using non-accusatory language when talking to StepKids, and it does work particularly well when pulling them up on housework.
All us StepParents know of course, that we are not permitted to try “being the boss” of our StepKids, are we crazy, they will laugh in our faces if we try to tell them what to do!
So instead, we have to use sneaky, encouraging and NICE language wherever possible! So they don’t even realise we are getting them to do things…
Not the same with biological kids is it? You can ask them however you want really, and they will either do it, or not do it, if you speak to a StepChild like that though, without thinking it through first – you risk getting stonewalled for weeks.
The theory in the books being that the way we ask anyone to do something, kids or not, immediately impacts whether they will listen to us, or if we automatically piss them off!
Here are a few examples that worked for me, so rather than:
“you’ve left your wet towel on the floor again, I am sick to death of telling you about this, go and hang it up to dry’
“did you enjoy your bath sweetheart? Please remember we hang our towels up afterwards”
Or another example could be:
“stop punching each other and fighting over the iPad, it doesn’t even belong to you, you ungrateful little shits”
“kids we don’t treat each other that way, lets come to an agreement and share, or I suspect your Dad will take the iPad off you”
Now don’t get me wrong, there are always going to be days when regardless of how much we try to be considered and kind, all bets are off!
We end up ranting and raving at everyone, and day dreaming about living on our own with the dog, in a cottage in the arse end of nowhere!
It happens, it’s human and it’s to be forgiven. We are resilient “wicked” StepMums and we try again the next day.
Teamwork truly does make the dream work, but so does bribery and Gin…
And I’ve found I’m a much nicer and far more patient StepMum, after several large G&T’s!