Kids · parenting · raising kids · screen addiction · step-children · step-parent · step-parenting

The rise of the machines

It’s been a while since my last post. It’s been a busy year, as always, but the main thing that’s kept me occupied……teenagerdom. We have a teenager now, and boy – nothing on earth prepares you for that!! Mr 12 turned 13 at the start of the year, and in true Harry Enfield style, he became Kevin…..

Kevin’s arrival at teenagerdom was marked by the usual observable teenage characteristics, squeaky voice cracks, rapid increases in height – seemingly overnight, so I guess we did have a sense of the impending drama of adolescence that was to come. Well, we thought we did. We didn’t.

Having never been a teenage boy, I certainly didn’t know what to expect. My partner, it seems, either forgot or was markedly less teenagery than Kevin. We knew, of course, that the teenage years are marked by rampant narcissism, ego-centricity, and out-of-control hormones, but what we hadn’t banked on was the intersection of typical teen development and modern technology. In particular, smartphones.

Kevin had an old second-hand smartphone as a 12 year old, that was essentially a toy. It didn’t have a SIM card, so it was little more than a wifi-enabled games console. Aided by my own mobile hotspot, we’d catch Pokemons on the weekends and after school. It had a few games on it, but Kevin would pick it up and put it down as much as any other toy. Then he turned 13 and a scary transformation took place. The phone became so much more than a toy. It became Kevin’s conduit to his new high-school friends, and apparently, you have talk to your friends online before, during, and after school if you want to be considered in any way cool. Like the Terminator, Kevin was part man (boy), part machine. The phone became an extension of his right arm and never the twain shall part. It happened so fast, we didn’t initially notice that Kevin’s teenage mood swings seemed to be synchronous with the blips his phone was making. Once we did realise what was happening, Kevin’s addiction to the device was well and truly in train. In a move we came to regret, we agreed to let Kevin get a SIM card for the phone, as he was going away with is bio-mum for a while and we wanted to be able to stay in contact. In hindsight, we should have taken the SIM card back when the trip was over.

The following months saw my partner and I downloading and trying to ‘break’ various forms of parental control software for mobile devices. We had to think like a sneaky teenager. We were beyond surprised to find how difficult and un-user-friendly a lot of the software was, even for someone who is relatively tech-savvy. I can imagine that parents who are still getting to grips with email and have yet to venture onto Facebook would find it an almost impossible task. We were also surprised at how may of programs had pretty huge holes in them. For example, many of the programs designed to restrict web browsing to child-friendly sites only worked on browsers that were installed on the phone post-purchase. Any browser pre-installed by the manufacturer (known as bloatware) was immune, hence the whole point of the software was lost! Others only worked via restricting access to online materials via a router, so all a savvy teen need do is switch to mobile data.

We partly solved the problem by taking away the phone and replacing it with a ‘dumber’ device, a wi-fi only screen. The problem of mobile data access disappeared, and the software we eventually adopted was good enough (though still not great). However, the pain and suffering we experienced in trialling these different programs was nothing compared to the suffering we endured during the monumental tantrums that followed the news that there would be parental control software on devices from now on. Kevin raged. He ranted. He punched a wall (and probably immediately regretted it because it looked like it hurt – and the wall was fine), he levelled threats, he pleaded, and he even started to pray. No God, however, was going to spare him his online freedom.

Several months in and things have settled down a bit. We negotiated the terms of the parental control with Kevin, to help him feel as though he had some control over his life (which, if you think back to 13, is important to a teenager who doesn’t know how much they don’t know). The tantrums have subsided, the nagging and sneaky behaviour seems to have abated somewhat, but I know the battle has only just begun.  Technology changes fast, and so do kids. At the moment we’re a couple of steps ahead of Kevin, let’s hope it stays that way for a bit longer yet….



The reluctant step-parent

Kids · parenting · raising kids · step-children · step-parent · step-parenting

What’s in a name?

Picture this: I’m standing around with Mr 10 and Mr 13 at their weekend soccer match, doing my best to look cool and dodge the ‘soccer mom’ label. One of the bona fide soccer moms wandered past and innocently asked ‘Oh, are these your boys?’. Now I should point out at this stage, that the boys biological mother is from a distinctly different ethic background to my own , so it’s a bit of a stretch to immediately assume I am their biological mother. However, obvious differences in physical features aside, the question was immediately recognisable to me as linguistic trap! A nomenclature nightmare. What the hell do I say that isn’t a) a flat-out lie ‘why yes they are!’, b) possibly mean-spirited ‘Oh no, I’m not related to them at all’, or c) just plain awkward ‘Well yes but no, you see I’m not their birth mother, they have a mother, but I kind of look after them like a mother and their dad is my partner….’

You get the picture.

So the result was an uncomfortable exchange of glances between the boys and I, followed by a mumbled ‘They are with me, yes’. Crisis averted.

But it got me thinking – what do I say when people ask me if they are mine? I had always assumed that no-one would think I was their mother. In fact, when all four of us are together (the boys, their dad, and I), I sometimes wonder if people think we have adopted children, their appearances being so clearly different from our own. The language minefield required me to convey the nature of the relationship between the boys and I in a way that reflects the care and affection I hold for them, while at the same time preserving the right of their biological mother to claim them as her own. If I said ‘yes they are’ to the question, I would mean so in the sincerest sense of the word, but the boys may feel that I am negating their mother, or trying to replace her in their lives. If I say ‘No, I’m their step-mother’, I’m back to the same old problem of the Disney villain image.

In a similar, but yet more uncomfortable interaction, a man who I knew vaguely but who had never met my partner or the boys, straight up referred to me as ‘mum’ when he spoke to them once. At that point, being wholly unprepared for such an incident, I fumbled through an explanation of their non-biological relationship to me. That was uncomfortable for everyone.

But, all is not lost. I have come across a new term that I think will solve all my labelling woes. While listening to talkback radio recently, I heard a woman casually refer to her step-daughter as her ‘bonus child’.


‘Bonus child’ says the the addition of the child/ren to your life is something good, but clearly identifies the non-biological parent-child relationship. I also assume, then, that having bonus kids makes me a bonus parent. I like it. I like it a lot. I’m yet to use it in anger but I am confident that it will end the awkward explanations I’ve come to fear so very much.


Thank you talk-back radio lady, your casual quip is the best thing I’ve heard in years.

The Reluctant Step-parent.

Kids · parenting · raising kids · step-children · step-parent · step-parenting

In the beginning…

Life at the moment is pretty good. The boys are, for the most part, relatively easy-going kids. Sure there’s the ‘two Fs’ to contend with on a daily basis (fighting and farting), but the general vibe in the house is a good one. But, dear reader, it wasn’t always this way….

When I met the boys bio parent, they were 5 & 8 years old (hereafter referred to as Mr 5 and Mr 8). Both were shy and both were, undoubtedly, confused about why their biological parents no longer lived in the same house. Mr 5, I suspect, was probably a bit too little to really remember life with mum and dad under the same roof. He’s always been able to roll with the punches. Mr 8, on the other hand, remembered life with mum and dad all too well. So my arrival on the scene, as stage-managed as it was, didn’t go down well.

Bio-parent (hereafter referred to as B) and I had been dating for six months when I met the boys. We had always been very careful to take things slowly, given the high stakes at hand. We were pretty careful to keep them in the dark about our blossoming relationship, ensuring their lives were as regular as they always were. That did involve a degree of creativity in planning clandestine meetings on our part. There were late night visits once both boys were well and truly asleep. Rendezvous during school hours. And not to mention the heavy utilisation of a grandparent. At the start, the cloak and dagger stuff was fun. Somehow we had energy, back in the day….

We had started to talk about my meeting the boys, and how it might work. Being somewhat of a compulsive planner (read ‘control freak’), I expressed a desire to map out the process of meeting them. Surely, I thought, if we do this right the rest will be smooth sailing….yes?

All my careful planning and certainty that it would all be happy families if we just got this one little thing right went right out the window one sunny autumn day.  I was wandering around the local supermarket, doing my ‘single person’ shopping (i.e. no trolley, just a hand basket with some select goodies – how that has changed…). I strolled around a corner, lost in my happy little world of pointless concerns (‘should I try a different brand of blue cheese or stick with what I know?’), and found myself face to face with my beau. And the boys.

I froze. I didn’t know what to do. We hadn’t discussed this, this wasn’t part of the plan. Do I pretend I don’t know them? Keep walking, nothing to see here? Do I pretend to be a friend? How familiar can I be? Do I pretend I don’t know who these kids are? Act surprised to meet them? My God, how could this be so hard!?

After what seemed like several days of staring at one another, B enthusiastically introduced me to Mr 8 and Mr 5, telling them I was his friend (that was cool with me, for the record). Smiling and determined to seem ‘nice’, I said ‘Hi boys!’.

Cue awkward silence. They ignored me. A total burn. Mr 8 stared at the floor and Mr 5 decided that his shoe lace needed immediate attention.

Well, this is awkward….


Riiiiiiight… well, I guess I couldn’t expect them to be excited to meet me, could I? After all, they didn’t know me from a bar of soap. They were probably just really shy. Yeah, that’s probably all it was….

It wasn’t.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of a long reign of surprisingly sophisticated passive-aggressive manoeuvring by Mr 8. Now, I’m sure at this point you are thinking ‘come on, you’re a fully-fledged adult. Are you telling me you were regularly out-smarted by an 8 year old?’.

Yes. That’s what I’m telling you. Damn, that kid was good. I was unprepared, and he was unrelenting.

Till next time….

The reluctant step-parent.

Kids · parenting · raising kids · step-children · step-parent · step-parenting

Enter, the step-parent


So, I’m a step-parent. I like to refer to myself as a ‘steppie’ from time to time, to make it sound a little more casual. The title ‘step-parent’, to me, has connotations of emotional distance, lack of care or compassion, and maybe even a sense of overbearing resentment. I guess we have fairy tales and Hollywood movies to thank for that.

Becoming a steppie was one of the (if not the) biggest decisions I’ve had to make in my 42 years. Step-parenting isn’t really something that’s thrust upon you. You don’t accidentally find out you’re a step-parent. Typically, you have plenty of fore-warning when you start a relationship with a single-parent. You have time. Time to reflect, plan, panic, relax, take some deep breaths, then, finally, think about it.

At first, the decision was all about me. How will I handle the mess? The noise? I’m a private person and I like my space, will I feel like my home, my sanctuary, has been invaded? What about the cost? Kids aren’t cheap. My freedom, oh God! My freedom.

I wrestled with the ‘what ifs’ for a long while, always with myself as the central person affected by the prospect of step-parenthood. I thought about all the things I’d heard my friends say about how having kids kills the passion and spontaneity of a relationship. How they take everything for granted, and how they are always…there.

Then, one day, it dawned on me. This is a two-way street. I’ll impact the lives of these kids as as much as they will impact mine. In fact, more. Now, I have a lot of training in human development, I teach it at a tertiary level, so I will admit that I was stunned by my own lack of vision here. These kids were (still are) working their way through childhood and verging on adolescence. What they might ‘do’ to me was nothing compared to what I could ‘do’ to them.

It might sound a little trite, but that was the moment I realised I had to opt in or opt out. There was no sitting on the fence any more. They were learning about relationships, trust, caring, and who was reliable and who wasn’t. I couldn’t, in good conscience, teach them that relationships and responsibility were things that you attended to when they suited you.

So, for better or for worse, I opted in.

Now here I am, with two boys aged 10 and 13, living in my house and bringing with them all that it means to be a kid. Mess. Sibling rivalry. Noise. Sass. Mess. This blog is for the steppies who feel that the bios don’t quite get it, try as they may. It’s for the steppies who refuse to let go of their non-parent selves and (try to) maintain a level of pre-kid coolness. It’s for laughing, venting, crying, cheering, and relating.

The Reluctant Step-parent.