IF Walt Disney were alive in 2021, I’m sure his fairytale weddings would include couples who have said “I do” on more than a few occasions and have kids.
Today, almost half of first marriages don’t last. The girl we are in our twenties usually is not the woman we become in our forties.
As a kid, it never occurred to me I would marry more than once. I didn’t dream about getting hitched to a bloke with a couple of ex-wives in the background. Yet like Carrie Symonds, I am also wife number three.
At first glance it can be a daunting proposition — the exes, the children and the family history you will never be a part of.
Yet I have 13 years of third-wife status under my belt. Just this weekend we happily celebrated our wedding anniversary.
Like the new Mr and Mrs Johnson, we opted for a May wedding. If anyone is equipped to give advice to Carrie about blended families and fitting in, I am.
I first wed in my early thirties. Eighteen months after a budget-busting, overseas wedding, we amicably parted.
It was an easy split because we had no kids. Our biggest decision was who got the fancy bed linen. (He did.)
I met Pascal on holiday in southwest France in 2007 when I was 36 and he was 46.
We’d both been single for 18 months. Pascal told me he loved me within weeks — and within six months, I’d moved to France to live with him.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the fact I had fallen in love with a man who already had three children by two different wives.
Pascal’s elder two children, a daughter and a son, were in their early twenties and late teens respectively.
Though they lived with their mum a five-hour drive away, they were in regular contact with their dad. They came to stay several times a year.
I was beyond nervous the first time I met them. It wasn’t helped by their mother regularly calling for updates.
I hadn’t realised they would be intimately involved in our lives. They weren’t perfect and neither was I.
When they turned up with demanding girlfriends or stoned friends, they took over our two-bed house. I would feebly complain about the trail of mess I cleaned up.
I’d whinge about my missing hairdryer, the mountain of wet towels in the bathroom and the mess in their bedroom.
I silently fumed the Christmas they turned up with their mother’s two large dogs in tow for a week’s stay. But I learned to stop complaining about their behaviour. It made me seem like a moaning Minnie, for one thing.
I eventually cottoned on that Pascal would never reprimand them. Part-time dads don’t.
Instead, I’d have a bloody good moan to my mum. She’d help me put what I saw as their appalling antics into context. Kids don’t think about the feelings of their stepmum. Quite simply, my home is theirs too.
Over the years, with a lot of give and take, we’ve managed to make things work between us and that’s because we all love their father, my husband.
My youngest stepson was ten when we met. Shared custody meant he lived with us one week in every two.
There was zero contact between his mum and me. That’s the way she wanted it and I followed her lead. Instead I read all the books I could find on being a stepmum.
We’ve managed to make things work between us because we all love their father, my husband.
I don’t have brothers, so boys’ interests were a bit of a mystery to me. Did I spoil him? Probably. Do I have any regrets? No. For several years, our lives revolved around him.
As he grew, I saw how he played his parents off against one another. I didn’t intervene.
When my husband asked for advice, I gave it. Other than that I backed off. I wasn’t his parent. My role was a supporting one.
After splitting from his first wife, society girl Allegra Mostyn-Owen, Boris wed barrister Marina Wheeler. She is the mother to four of his children: Lara, 27; Milo, 25; Cassia, 23; and Theodore, 21.
Carrie is going to have to embrace all of the messy and unpalatable aspects of these humans her hubby helped create.
However old they are, they are his children whom he loves unquestionably. Accept they are part of your life. Remember that deep down, kids want to see their dad happy.
Boris has no doubt been building bridges. They want to be a part of the new family too. But it will take time.
They remember the parental split and Mum’s inevitable tears. They will feel guilty for having a good time when they are at No10 or Chequers. I’ve no doubt they will feel bad about being disloyal to their mum.
My youngest stepson didn’t speak to me for a month after our wedding. It was one thing to be Dad’s girlfriend but another matter entirely being his wife.
Many kids harbour hope their parents will get back together, so Carrie will need to tread carefully in the early phases of her marriage.
The other aspect of blended family life is the in-laws. As a third wife, you are younger than them. You have to prove yourself to them. Can you cook? Are you going to visit the grandparents in their retirement home?
These are important aspects of family life on which you will be silently judged. At first they will assume you won’t be around for ever.
It’s not personal. They know the faults of their son and brother. Some will still be friendly with the ex-wives.
While this initially stung, I told myself it was none of my business. Instead, I identified who I got on with.
My youngest sister-in-law is a fantastic ally. It helps our ages are similar. I turn to her and not my husband for advice over dealing with his parents.
So I loved that Boris’s father Stanley and his half-sister Julia — Stanley’s daughter from his own second marriage — were there at Carrie’s wedding.
That is already two allies in the making — though not everyone will be in her corner.
The best blended families are created over time. You can’t rush it, things won’t always go to plan.
It’s not about you but about the family. Those pictures of Carrie and Boris bursting with love and happiness from last weekend will cheer them when things are tough.
As a third wife, you need patience, tact and time if love is to conquer all.
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