Tips for the First Stepfamily Vacay

If you’ve taken the gradual approach to offspring introductions and are party to the regulation alternate weekend structure of step-parenting, you may not have experienced the very special kind of immersion that is the school holidays.

As a non-maternal type, you will have rigorously avoided holidaying in school term breaks – smugly dodging inflated air fares and shuddering outwardly at the concept of theme parks overrun with children recklessly toting multi-coloured ice-creams near your white linen pants.  Inevitably, you WILL holiday as a newly blended family, high-season tariffs be-damned. This relentless period of consecutive exposure to a new stepchild will be a learning experience on both sides. Here’s a guide to planning for this momentous event.

Carefully select the venue

Your holiday venue selection criteria to date may have involved:

  • High expectations regarding the thread count of bedroom linen
  • A need to be walking distance to a local restaurant or within the range of Uber eats so that your afternoon drinks aren’t dampened by needing to pilot a vehicle to get fed
  • An in-house day spa
  • Proximity to wineries

None of these apply to the first accompanied-by-stepchild holiday.

The single most important factor? Activities. Lots of them. For avoidance of doubt, this does not mean guided wine flights, cheese tasting tours or the 3-hour spa indulgence package. It means distinctly different things like trampolines, an outdoor pool awash with like-minded ten year olds, a games room and proximity to any joint that serves nachos.

On holidays, kids expect a ridiculous amount of entertainment. During school terms, they know how their day pans out  – wake up, protest about having a shower, do six hours or seven hours of school, eat everything in sight, reject dinner, protest about bedtime and sleep. On holidays, a new timetable applies and it needs to be filled, and it needs to be understood. 

An actual conversation on my first step-vacay:

“after breakfast, after we go to the beach, then you get your coffee, then we ride the bikes, then we have lunch, then we go to the pool THEN WHAT WILL WE DO???”

Be aware that if you answer that question with a proposed activity, you are bound by it. If you fail to deliver on that, you are guaranteed to hear this


Ensure you pick a venue that is a veritable Disneyland of extracurricular activities unless you want to be subjected to a lot of a whining and even more Monopoly.

Pack wine

You will likely already know that a certain amount of wine creates a very lovely temporary shroud that will protect you all from all kinds of reality in the form of heartbreak, work stress and the guilt of a carb binge. Mothers know, that once past that pesky period involving breastfeeding, wine will also take the edge off dealing with toddler tantrums, primary school dramas, endless laundry and hair washing battles.

Your first step-holiday might sound like the perfect opportunity to abstain from drinking, to insert a bonus detox event into your calendar given that you should probably stay upright and alert whilst partially responsible for a dependent human.

No. Wrong.

Firstly, this is not your child. If someone needs to retain their ability to drive a child to an emergency room following a cycling accident, it certainly need not be you.

Secondly, you are going to need SOMETHING grown-up to look forward to after a relentless day of child-centred activity.

Be prepared for the intensity

Family holidays are intense. As pre-work, binge-watch all variations of the Griswold movies. Then try to imagine them without humour.

Be reminded that this involves MULTIPLE consecutive days of unfolding stepchild experiences with the added spice of

  • No intermission. You are three hours from home. You can’t take a day off part way through the event. The best you can do is head out to ‘get a coffee and the newspaper’ and try to stretch that to an hour. 
  • No personal space. If you make the rookie mistake of re-creating what you loved when you were a kid and booked a cabin in a family caravan park, you are going to be confined to an area smaller than a shoebox and filled with cheap furnishings.  You will be huddling around a 32 inch LED TV. You will not be able to sneak in a nana nap mid afternoon while some kind of robust father-son wrestling and screaming ensues on the other side of a wafer-thin wall. Although I’m going to now avidly lobby for its universal acceptance, it is currently unheard of to book an extra cabin across the other side of the park to allow you to read crime novels in peace accompanied by home-made espresso martinis.

Control the duration

As a new couple, luxuriously lengthy breaks in amazing locations will always adhere to the principle that more time is better than less.

For your first step-holiday, try to consider the way in which children start kindergarten. Gradually. They go for a couple of hours each day. They do a day here and there. Only after a carefully planned time do they try to string together five consecutive days. It’s very gradual. In the holiday scenario, its you that needs to be ever-so-slowly immersed.

Don’t lock yourself into a ten day break, regardless of your previous principle that amortising the airfare over a longer holiday duration makes everything more economical.

My empirical research suggests this:

  • If you are in a location that has a long documented history of excellent weather and a procession of theme parks use the formula of number of theme parks plus one day.
  • If there is any chance of rain, a three night maximum is best.

An even more-evolved strategy, which I feel I should almost stamp with a personal patent, is the blended holiday. The blended family holidays together for the first portion of the break, with you returning to work at the halfway point. Nearly genius, this allows some father-child bonding time and an opportunity for you to return to your couch and your cat. Not recommended for the first holiday, this an advanced strategy to be implemented when you are three or four years in.

This is about planning,  people. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

The Every-Other-Weekend Wardrobe Wars

There is one single challenge that gets more airtime on Stepmother social media than any other.

The vagaries of child support calculations?

Conflicts over discipline in split households?

How to integrate the lives of all the kids – the ‘his’, the ‘mine’, the ‘ours’?

Nope – the number one source of stepmother angst seems to be the inter-house hold wardrobe wars. This largely consists of conflict over one household (yours) purchasing clothes for the child which are worn when the child returns to the other household. They apparently routinely disappear into an abyss and never return.

As a member of many stepmother social media groups there is an evident level of boiling infuriation when kids go to the other house dressed in a carefully curated junior Kardashian-worthy outfit only to have the offspring return in Cinderella-esque rags / dirty / torn, too-tight clothing.

Here’s the 101 on how to deal with this apparently angst-inducing phenomena:

No one is doing this just to infuriate you

This is not a deliberate undertaking to have you routinely invest in new clothes as another sneaky way to redirect your income elsewhere. This is not the social services equivalent of the ‘dark web’; a secret parallel child-support-like entity designed to hive off more of your spending money and send it to the other household.

It’s NOWHERE near as sophisticated as that.

You can be 99% sure that your partner’s ex is too worn down by domestic duties, relentless school routines and twin-household logistics to be even remotely enticed towards the carefully-contrived deeds required to relieve you of a bunch of outfits  you bought for the kiddos.

It’s very unlikely she’s dreamt this up as a secret second tax on your household.

Very unlikely.

These are not ‘your’ clothes

Yes, you bought these clothes with your own money. With that you have wrongfully assumed ownership.

You did not buy that nattily nautical Tommy Hilfiger polo with the intent that you’d be personally rocking it down to the yacht club on the weekends. You did not buy that spangly pair of sneakers with inbuilt roller skate heels so you could glide around an outlet mall on the weekend in your own personal throwback to Xanadu.

You bought this stuff for the kiddos. So whether that outfit is preserved to only parade in your presence, or whether it’s unleashed to your child’s alternate custodial universe and you never see it again, it still exists and your child is still reaping the benefit of your sartorial style.

Just as you intended it.

If you must, try to think of it as you raising the style standards of the other household, persisting your stylist stamp into the places where you currently don’t physically exist.

Influencing and infiltrating. One semi-designer polo at a time.

This too will pass

Once your child passes into teenager-hood, you will no longer have ANY clue about what that small human considers fashionable. You will relentlessly invest at will, only to have a 50-50 chance that the child will deign to wear the outfit more than once. Let’s face it, you are probably at 25-75 right now.

So it won’t always hurt. It won’t always feel like you invested two months-worth of a quality free- trade coffee budget in a t-shirt only to have the OTHER FAMILY snap it on Insta and masquerade it as one of their own purchases. This is because your lavish purchase will languish, unworn, beneath a bath towel unused since last month due to the simple fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer a thing so an exxy CR7 Nike dri-fit tee is about as appealing as a congealing pile of bulk Christmas Maltesers neglected during an Australian heatwave.

At this point, you are just as likely to win if you battle it out based on quantity and not quality and invest in a vast supply of department store quality sport socks.

So your ability to purchase then lose something meaningful is precisely zero.

Let it go

It might feel like the purloining of polos is the absolute last straw and that defeat at the hands of the every-other-weekend-wardrobe-warrior is the bitterest of pills.

No. There are worse fates.

A two-night variation in the share of care (not in your favour) can blow out your household budget faster than that time you ventured in a DJ’s after being dumped the night before New Years, clutching an underutilised credit card and belly full  of lunchtime Tequila shots.

A flippant decision by your partner’s ex to quit their nicely paying job to pursue their dream as an apprentice Reiki healer can really guillotine a family budget.

The angst that starts to build from October, in anticipation of a festive feast where your in-laws will relentlessly release praise for your partners ex, will wreak more mental damage than the financial fury felt by a lost junior (fake) Fendi.

Focus all your attention on navigating the real challenges associated with step-parenting and simply set the garments free.

The (Stepmother) Princess Diaries

Having ‘Stepmother’ set up as a Google alert presents an endless array of fodder. More often than not it’s a fairly relentless reinforcement of the Disney villain style stepmother stories – women implicated in acts of casual violence, wilful neglect and harsh vengeance. Every now and then though, there’s a shiny little nugget nesting in the Google swamp. This week it was this headline.

Princess Beatrice could become a STEPMOTHER.

Note: I did not add the CAPS. The article had the CAPS, suggesting Princess Bea’s destiny was as astonishing as if she were to become an ASTRONAUT, PLAYBOY BUNNY or the NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Had this publication unearthed the potential for her to become a scientologist, JayZ’s next wife or the host of American idol I feel they’d be less likely to lean on the caps lock.

I am inexplicably pleased at the ability to consider a young princess becoming a stepmother. Neither of these two fates were those that I’d considered a possibility as I contemplated my life plan. One of them did eventuate and it’s not the one that involves diamond tiaras, summer country estates and a brace of corgis.

Could the rocky road to stepmotherhood be less nuts and more pillowy marshmallows if you were a princess?  I think yes. Here’s why.

You are a princess

If you are a princess, dating a man with a little girl, surely you have hit the jackpot. Every little girl wants to be a princess. Very few little girls have a mama, even a faux-mama, who has hived off a portion of the crown jewels, has Phillip Treacy on speed-dial, and has a grandma who happens to be a reigning monarch. Surely it’s easier to impress a new step-girl if you are able to let her parade around the house in actual tiara that’s probably worth more than her actual mama’s house.

Note:  Princess Beatrice’s new boyfriend’s offspring only comprises a son which is just another example of the universe failing to cut a stepmother a break.

You have privileges – the child will pick up on this

Although the new royals are refreshingly modern and are at times spotted doing their actual own grocery shopping, they do generally operate in a cosy cushion of privilege.

As a royal, you don’t catch the bus. You are generally schlepped about in a black Range Rover.

Even if you are too low on the royal rungs to fly private, there is still no fear of being relegated to an egg and bacon burger in an airport Hungry Jacks. The doors of the highest status airport lounge will literally fling themselves open and welcome you in.

The kid’s Instagram is going to be next level.

Surely you can’t fear the bio mum

Stepmothers are innately prone to regarding themselves unfavourably in any comparison to a biological mother. Even on your best day, your most confident day, where all your pros far outweigh the cons, you are still reminded that your new partner had a flesh-and-blood child with this woman.

Princess Beatrice, on her darker days, might feel any of those feelings that she’s not smarter, prettier, or has fewer bad hair days than the child’s actual mother.

But darl, you’re still an actual princess. This is right up there with having actually spawned the child.


No financial fears

As a princess, the monarchy has been funding every frivolity you’ve ever engaged in since you emerged from the womb, no matter how many other heirs stand in front of you ascending a throne. Your mama’s pricey pram, the upmarket education, your time out to do good works and those sparkly earrings you flounced about in at your 21st.

NOWHERE in your future are you likely to experience any of the financial challenges that litter your regulation stepmother’s universe – trying to agree a fair split of school books and uniforms, rationing the extracurricular activities, figuring out who pays for the first passport.

Nor are you going to be subject to any of the vagaries of child support arrangements. You are part of the infrastructure that oversees the child support agency. No one married to a royal ever got garnisheed.

You are very likely to simply shut up the ex by leaping all the waiting lists and swiftly ensconcing your new stepchild in an upmarket, strictly blue-blood school whereupon all financial discussions will just drift away.

Good luck Princess Beatrice, hopefully you’ll pave the way so that the next royal stepmother doesn’t suffer the ALL-CAPS.


Musings: 2018 Spring Racing Carnival

I’m a lover of horseracing. I’m not a lover of attending in person the famed Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival as it’s about almost everything except horseracing. Entirely lacking ownership of a quality racehorse or an acquaintance that could schlepp me into a decent marquee, my preference is to spend quality time with the TV coverage, my online betting account and wine that costs about the same per bottle as you’d pay per glass at the races.

All without the whiff of Portaloo.

Every year brings new revelations. Here are my observations of Derby Day 2018:

Fake tan goals

Huzzah to the female attendees who seem to have finally nailed the art of the fake tan.

From that  moment in the 80s that we realised that slathering our skin in baby oil (or at best, SPF4 Reef Oil) and then subjecting it to the potent radiation of an Australian sun unconstrained by an ozone layer, we sought another solution.

Fake tans were a roguish line-up of smelly, streaky potions that loved nothing more than to immediately leach off skin onto light coloured fabrics. With distinctly Anglo-Saxon skin courtesy of ancestors transported to Australia by boat, most of the 80s and 90s were spent applying chemical concoctions in an effort to make my skin slightly less translucent.  I cannot conjure up the product name but the smell of it is something embedded in my memory at a molecular level.

After years of observing female racegoers that were only one green hairstyle away from Oompa Loompa, it seems that either technology or fake tan finesse is finally now producing something a little more natural.

Well done gals.

Tiny gloves

My glove-love is immutably dedicated to those made immortal by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Long, elegant, black gloves with the tiniest hint of shimmer.

I’m still angry at Madonna for the lace glove era.

I remain baffled at the concept of fingerless gloves for their undeniable failure to warm the most obviously vulnerable elements of the hand.

This year, glove puzzlement has gone next level. Tiny gloves. They are essentially just fingers, linked by the merest connecting fabric.


For the uninitiated, these are called Half Palm Gloves and don’t you even be thinking about entering Fashions On The Field unless you are wearing them.

To me, they look like those pesky low cut socks that lack enough fabric to grip an ankle and are always disappearing below sneaker level.

They are also undoubtedly ineffective at keeping skinny wrists warm and simply MUST be an encumbrance in using an iphone.

Elle Macpherson

Elle is our original Aussie supermodel and it still baffles me that she didn’t get a gig in that George Michael film clip. She rocked a red bikini advertising a Tier Two Cola, survived the high cut swimmers era, holds the record for cover appearances on Sports Illustrated and became known as The Body, which of course is every living woman’s secret dream.

Aged 54, she rocked the races, with her trademark awesome hair and an outfit that was a secret nod to every one of us that knows about a mullet.

She refused paparazzi requests to remove her sunglasses which just made me feel better about every single time I’ve insisted on donning my aviators when I was involved in a pic that was destined for social media.

I’ve always maintained that while Elle Macpherson is not too old for long hair, I’m not too old for long hair (despite being misaligned to Ms Macpherson in any other element other than demographic)


Francesca Cumani

Francesca Cumani has serious racing pedigree. Her dad is an Italian thoroughbred racing trainer yet she has a voice resonant of the Best British Boarding Schools. She’s totally how I imagine Enid Blyton would speak.

She’s now a British-Italian horse racing expert who divides her time as a racing commentator between the United Kingdom and Australia. She’s racing royalty, and by my calculations it’s just bad luck and bad timing that she isn’t married to an actual British royal.

With a family apprenticeship that involved mucking out stables (read: a Dad version of slave labour) she’s risen from steaming stable straw to stylish industry insider.

She’s unafraid to parade a pale fabric in the mounting yard, striding confidently alongside snorting, sweating, shedding horseflesh.  She’s smart enough to give open toe shoes a swerve, knowing that an errant thoroughbred sidestep could take off a toenail or nuke a good pedicure.

On Derby Day she wore a neck-high top straight out of a Jane Austen novel with more layers than Streets Vienetta. On anyone else it would be 100% crusty spinster librarian.

On ‘Cesca it was pure fabulousness.


Three days till Melbourne Cup Day!







The Real Stepmothers Of 2018

This one needs to start with a confession.

After a long period of resistance to every geographical flavour of the franchise, this year I succumbed to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It’s easy to see how this happened. Take a solitary Saturday afternoon, a glass of wine, the reaching of my limit for the inexplicable obsession that I have for the trainwreck that is My 600lb Life and I’ve clicked ‘play’ on the RHOBH. From that moment I was entranced by all the things I don’t have – endless wealth, cough lozenge-sized diamonds, garage-sized shoe rooms and an entourage of household staff. Although I’ve managed to kick the habit, after being relentlessly worn down by these ladies’ ability to fight with each other for no reason, it’s left a fairly pleasant legacy in my new love of Rosé, having discovered that it has evolved somewhat from daggy 80s Mateus.

With the relentless mental search for my next blog topic keeping stepmother-life as front of mind as my love of carbs and cheese, the concepts melded into a question. If you created a gaggle of all the famous stepmothers in history, miked them up, fooffed up their hair and gave them some first world problems in an Real Housewives setting, how would they fare?

But firstly, let me introduce the participants:

  • Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother. This lady was up against it, married as she was to a widowed woodcutter. She’d be endlessly compared to a tragic dead mother, times were tough in the woodcutting economy and forest life was no picnic.  She decides that her stepchildren were superfluous mouths to feed and exerts a honeymoon-period hold over her new husband to persuade him to abandon the kiddos in the forest. The children run into another bad woman who wants to eat them, despite the fact her entire house is made of cake.
  • Cinderella’s stepmother. Again, inclined to rampantly favour her bio kids over her stepchild, this lady enslaves her stepdaughter to a relentless regime of domestic duties and dull outfits. Cinderella defies all odds to be the chosen one at a ball where a  handsome prince auditions new wives in something that is uncannily similar to today’s ‘The Bachelor’.  She misses a pumpkin-inflicted curfew, loses a shoe but still gains a prince.  The stepmother is left sans one housekeeper and still managing a gaggle of lazy and homely offspring.
  • The Queen in Snow White. This lady has some issues. She starts down the well-worn path of subjecting Snow White to all the household chores and, disturbingly, seeks daily advice from a talking mirror. Once the talking mirror lets on that Snow White is the new goddess of the household, she orders her huntsman (because we all have one of those on staff?) to take her out in the forest and kill her.
  • Such is Stepmother lore, it turns out that we have one lovable, kind stepmother for every three incarnations of pure evil. The last to join the cast of the real stepmothers of 2018 is The Sound of Music heroine, Maria Von Trapp from The Sound of Music. However unlikely we might regard the journey from the nunnery, to whiskers on kittens, to marriage into Austrian aristocracy, this is a lady we can totally cheer for. She not only has to take on the legacy of a dead wife, but a living breathing competitor for the affections of Captain Georg Von Trapp in the form of someone who is a dead-ringer for Grace Kelly. Still, she nails it.

Throw these chicks into a Real Housewives framework and here are some highlights of the first season.

  • Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother and Snow White’s stepmother form an early alliance. They were inseparable once they discovered their shared appreciation of the value of good men – those who will accept a command to dispose of innocent children deep in the forest.
  • Cinderella’s stepmother attributes Cinderella’s success, and her bio-daughters’ unrelenting spinsterhood, to the ability to fit into a very specific glass slipper. Her Real Housewife commentary relentlessly returns to shoe discussions, yet she’s not quite Adrienne Maloof enough in the RH franchise  to launch her own shoe line.  She  lobbies the producers to get Sarah-Jessica Parker to make a guest appearance on the show. She has the hang of online shopping and develops an unhealthy obsession for the purchase of Jimmy Choos in three sizes. The other gals stage an intervention in her lounge room amidst towers and towers of shoe boxes. Cinderella’s stepmother signs on for a guest role in Hoarders.
  • Maria Von Trapp schools Hansel and Gretel’s mother with two great reasons why she didn’t need to kick her stepkids out into the forest and subject them to the woman in a house built of carbs:
    • Yes, they are a couple of extra mouths to feed, but the savings inherent in recycling curtains into outfits will go a long way towards covering the food bill.
    • Finding a marketable skill (in her case the Von Trapp Singers) opens up countless opportunities to monetise your offspring. Maria alludes very subtly to the modern day version – Kris Jenner pimping Kim Kardashian’s early video work.
  • Snow White’s stepmama is initially buoyed by the successful launch of her new raw food restaurant, devilishly named ‘The Poisoned Apple’, with a quirkily ironic red-carpet appearance by Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter and an organic Rosé-fountain.  Now single,  she struggles with Tinder due to trust issues engendered by the huntsman not doing his duty way back when.  She also suffers from Imposter Syndrome and feels she has betrayed the wicked stepmother sisterhood based on her inability to kill Snow White with any of a suffocating bodice, poisoned comb or tainted apple.

In a get-together fuelled by Margaritas these gals lock in another season and vote in Stepmama#5.

Leann Rimes.



The Deal With The Biological Bond

Having never had children, you will be unable to comprehend the apparently limitless love, that allegedly heart-expanding level of consciousness that a biological mother has for her child. It seems to be something more epic than James Cameron’s version of the Titanic, an indescribable thing espoused by generations of women oozing maternal contentment. It has spawned a million hashtags, not the least of which is the execrable #blessed.

I’ve had some of my most simply sublime moments watching Netflix with a sauv blanc and a snoozy cat  – yet these are apparently not on par with the emotion between mother and child.

This blissful bond is the payoff offered by Mother Nature for the ordeal that is represented by pregnancy and birth. The payoff NEEDS to be sublime. To be prepared to have your own child is to knowingly go into a scenario where you will have a blood–and-scuzz-covered infant extracted either:

  1. Through a gaping scalpel wound that will render you virtually immobile for several weeks and possibly unwilling to ever wear a bikini or contemplate a plank position at the gym, or
  2. In a manner which has been successfully negotiated for thousands of years but still seems frankly barbaric, and will likely involve stitches where stitches should never be.

Biological mothers prove themselves willing to go through this ordeal and many other unmentionable symptoms:

  • Daily projectile vomiting that you can’t comprehend without recalling that late-teen experimental phase fuelled by cheap wine coolers.
  • Helplessly observing bulging silvery stretch marks etch themselves permanently on a previously taut stomach.
  • The indignity of wearing elasticised everything.

Even celebs who appear genetically blessed with talent or gorgeousness suffer along with the mere mortals:

“I just started calling myself ‘Swamp Ass.’ Like, I have swamp ass right now. I had major swamp ass because I was wearing these Spanx to hold in my gut … It’s like the bayou up in that region” – Jessica Simpson

Although the connection between this and Spanx is brow-furrowing at best, it’s fair to say that no-one has ever celebrated a moist, swampy, inner bayou.

“When I got pregnant, I had so much testosterone in me that I grew a beard. I only cropped it last night. It’s actually true. I’m not telling a joke. I actually have a beard, but I’m proud of it. I call it Larry.” – Adele

As if we are not already obsessed about hair removal.

“When I was pregnant, I just wanted to get lots and lots of animals, for some reason. We talked about cats but David said absolutely not” – Victoria Beckham

I venture to say that Victoria would have been a more cheerful woman if she’d been successful in getting all the cats.

‘The pregnancy, I wouldn’t really wish that upon anyone. Anyone. It’s all worth it in the end, so I would definitely suffer through that, but pregnancy was not a good experience for me. At all.’ – Kim Kardashian.

About as real as you can get from a Kardashian.

The only one that appeared to breeze through it?

‘I sometimes forget I am pregnant’ – Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge

Spoken by someone whose pregnant belly looks like nothing more than me after a reckless night of beer and bolognaise.

All this, and more, means that women who give birth totally deserve the hormonal payoff that appears to be generated as soon as they lay eyes on the squalling infant.

The reverse is also true. If you are unwilling to go through all of the above to generate your own child and merely acquire one as a result of dating a dad, you simply cannot expect to feel the biological bond that results from sharing a large chunk of DNA with another miniature person.

The only thing that you did to deserve having a child thrust into your life was to fail to declare offspring as a deal-breaker on your online dating profile.

So the fact that you have not created this small human through blood, sweat, tears and the sacrifice of your pelvic floor means you don’t earn the biological bond. The sooner you realise this the better.

What you need to know is that regardless of any investment in swamp-ass, you have the potential to regard with extreme fondness this youngster who shares some DNA with someone you are actually crazy about.