I love a feel-good blub so I treated myself to watching Rio Ferdinand and his wife Kate Wright telling his three children that she’s pregnant. A gorgeous gamble. I mean you never know with kids. My son was almost six when his sister was born and seven years later, there are times when he’s still not entirely sure the whole thing was the best idea.
Ferdinand’s young children leapt up in joyful excitement. They jumped up and down and hugged and screamed in delight as their stepmum showed them her tiny bump.
Ferdinand’s first wife, Rebecca Ellison died of cancer in 2015, when the youngest of their children was just five. If you are as invested as I am in Ferdinand’s happiness, (if you watched his Bafta-winning documentary, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, how could you not be? What are you? Made of stone?) you will know the couple were in a documentary together “Rio and Kate: Becoming a step-family” where Kate spoke with searing honesty about how tough she found her new role. The documentary got the inevitable “rich people moaning” comments on Twitter (much of it was filmed at their exquisitely beautiful home. Wealth does not negate the challenge of caring for grieving children but Twitter will Twit). Those who cared to actually watch the whole thing rather than press clips would have seen how Wright’s story and experience is a side of parenting which is very rarely told…step-parenting, creating a blended family without being the “real” parent.
I have never been a step-parent but I am a single mum who is somewhat in awe of the people who fall in love with someone who has children and dedicate themselves to the happiness of those children; people who relentlessly put their needs before their own, knowing that those children didn’t ask to have you in their lives; and perhaps having to deal with your soulmate’s hostile ex (I know how bad that can be, I have seen Mrs Doubtfire).
When my son was three, I had a boyfriend who, on a night out, lost his cool with me and snapped “can we have ONE night when you’re not talking about him?” Bye-bye boyfriend.
There is a difference too, when step-parenting a family with children who have an absent parent. In the case of the Ferdinands, a tragic illness took away their mother. In my case, the biological father of my daughter made the decision before the baby was born to not be a part of her life. (Ouch, right? Those emails will not be going in her memory book). It took me a long time to accept that I simply couldn’t fill the absence of her biological father with another man, I would have to be mum and dad. It took me a few agonising relationships to realise this.
Single mums can be vulnerable to men who see us as easy prey (I have seen About A Boy). I had a couple of shockers, invited into my life by loneliness. But I also had a couple of kind men, one of whom is my daughter’s godfather. Allowing someone into mine and my children’s lives lock stock and barrel isn’t something I can see myself doing again. It’s exhausting. Relationships take up a lot of energy and when it’s not their actual father, compromise is tough. I’ve ended up resenting having to expend that energy and time which could have gone into my kids. Before you think I’m a total smotherer, in my pre-lockdown life, my career took me out at least three evenings a week, throw in a boyfriend who wants to go to the cinema with you – well that’s a lot of missed bedtimes.
There’s a line in Jerry Maguire when he asks Rod Tidwell (a character Cuba Gooding Jr won an Oscar for playing) what it was like dating a single mum and he replies: “I was raised by a single mum. Single mothers don’t ‘date’. They’ve been to the circus…they’ve been to the puppet show, they’ve seen the strings.” We have indeed. We know what we thought was “true love” can dissolve, leave you stranded to rebuild from the bottom up. Every single parent has rebuilt their life and the falling headlong over the cliff romance can’t happen again because we have children to think of and we can’t risk breaking again.
My ex-husband is engaged to a woman who is beautiful with my children and bakes with my daughter, who is not her fiance’s child, but she treats her with the same love regardless.
The touching Ferdinand video, and picking up my daughter from her brother’s dad’s house the other day as she howled “But I want to stay longer!” was a reminder that there are single parents out there who do find the right fit. For me personally though, my energy is for my children. I won’t share it until they are older. During lockdown, I have loved being cocooned with them, just us three and the dog and the cats. I can’t imagine introducing a whole other adult into our cocoon again. Except for Cuba Gooding Jr. I would make an exception for him.