Back in 2019 I was listening to BB radio 5 live and heard about the Rachael Bland podcast award. The team at radio 5 were looking for someone to create a new podcast series in memory of the radio 5 presenter Rachael Bland who created the award winning cancer podcast "You me and the big C" before dying of cancer aged 40.
Rachael Bland, creator of You, me and the Big C, the popular cancer podcast.
The popular podcast created by Rachael Bland who died from cancer aged 40.
Nobody talks honestly about 'Stepmumlife'
The brief for the competition was PERFECT for a brave, honest conversation about Stepmum life. Without really thinking about it, I fired off a written entry about why I thought Stepmotherhood was a topic that we really needed to get the nation talking about.
I thought nothing more of it...
"You're through to the next round"
(My son loves repeating this to me over & over, X factor style!)
Early in 2020 I received an email from the competition organisers telling me I was (drumroll....) "through to the next round" (try saying that without the ooomph of a reality show host, it's not possible!!)
It was exciting. But they wanted me to record a 3min piece of audio detailing more of my idea, how I wanted the podcast to work, how I was going to make it relevant and a whole bunch of other stuff that quite frankly sounded like homework!
The pandemic had just kicked off and I had been very unwell in March 2020 and laid up in bed and isolated from the rest of my family (be careful what you wish for, it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be!) I wrote my script for how I thought the podcast could work. As I wrote it I became more convinced that this was a conversation which needed opening up. But I also became convinced that it wasn't something I would EVER talk about. It was too raw, too painful and too difficult to be honest without creating uncomfortable situations for my own family.
So I decided not to bother entering....
Then I had a thought - if I entered then perhaps the BBC would realise this was a topic worth talking about and find someone else to talk about it, so I was back to my entry. I recorded my piece of audio and with the help of my partner I sent it off to the BBC not expecting to hear another thing.
And for months I didn't....
We had a difficult few months as a stepfamily, the pandemic was hard for many families and different views about the "rules" between households created issues and tensions for us. We muddled our way through like the rest of the world and by the Summer we thought we were in a place of calm.
Then I got the call.
You've won a podcast series!
I'd only gone and won the bloody competition.
I must have been the least enthusiastic competition winner EVER. I received the phone call and upon being told by the producer that I'd won and that the BBC wanted to make a 6 part podcast series on Stepmumlife I mumbled that I wasn't sure and I'd have a think about it... NOT the reaction they were hoping for!
My partner Dom is the first person I share all my big news with, good and bad, but I sat on this piece for a week, not really wanting to raise it, at that time I never wanted to raise anything related to Step life... it always ended in one of us feeling hurt.
A few missed calls from the producer and I realised I was going to have to either accept or decline. Every ounce of my being wanted to say no and pretend I'd never ended this competition (what was I even thinking?!). But there was this tiny voice in the back of my head saying "You might be able to help someone"... So I brough it up with my husband Dom. I won't lie, the initial conversation was awkward! Whilst our relationship as a couple was strong, we weren't in a good place as a stepfamily and we didn't want to do anything which might make that worse. We went back and forth on what we should do until Dom said "If you don't talk about this stuff, nobody will. You might be able to help someone. I think you should do it".
We talked about how we could approach it in a way which was respectful to everyone involved in our extended stepfamily (including the "other house") and we came up with some good ground rules between us.
It was important to me that we were transparent with my Son (10 at the time) and my Stepdaughters (then 9 & 12), so we shared the opportunity with them and garnered their thoughts. I'd been so worried about the conversation but like many things with stepfamily life I was totally blindsided... this time by their positivity and support. The girls had lots of questions about what I'd cover and how I would talk about things and we answered them honestly and made some commitments to them about things I would and wouldn't speak about and ways in which I would talk about some of the lead 'characters' in the households, and this commitment has never wavered.
As I was telling them about the reasons behind doing the podcast, I realised that I had NEVER spoken to them openly about how hard I had found things. All they had seen from me was either a mask pretending everything was fine, or someone who seemed moody and quiet, or at worst someone who was angry. I deeply regret not being more honest about how hard I found things in the early days but I didn't want them to feel I was putting my adult problems on them, and I also felt that the focus should be very much about the children and how they were finding things... Because of that I bottled everything up... not a smart move!
But what about the Ex?
After the girls' positive reaction I told Dom I wanted us to let his Ex know. I felt it was the 'right' thing to do and if I was her I'd have been pretty nervous about the whole thing. He messaged to share what was going on and let her know if she had questions or wanted to talk it through that he / we could do that. She raised a few things (all things I would have wanted to know if I was her) and after that was ironed out we heard nothing more. She ended the last message on the topic "It's important to build trust" which was not the usual tone of messages and I felt a wave of respect towards her.
I get asked a lot what she thinks of the work I do and the truth is, I have no idea... We've had a few criticisms of things (I can't say too much obviously) but I take my lead from My husband on it and he has always been so supportive and pro the work I do at Stepmum Space. My hunch is that as far as the criticism goes, as always, people are triggered by the things they need to do the work on....
I gave the producers at the BBC the thumbs up and we began working on the podcast that became "You're not my Mum; The Stepmum's side". This was the first time the BBC had ever covered Stepmotherhood directly in a podcast and I was delighted that I'd taken the plunge.
Looking VERY nervous the first time I was in the BBC studios!
The feedack I got was incredible! It really meant the world to me and I loved making the series. The BBC worked hard to try and get some celeb stepmums on the show but unfortunately nobody wanted to come and share their stories openly. It's such a minefield and I can totally understand why it's hard being in the public eye and talking about this stuff! I have had a few DMs from some lovely celebs (who will remain anonymous) who I know enjoy the show! I'm hopeful that people will start to speak out in a more relatable way as time goes on!
Just before I met Rachel Burden and Rick Edwards on 5live Breakfast! Such a great show!
When I first met the podcast producer she asked me who my dream guest was and I said Dr Wednesday Martin! I credit her book "Stepmonster" with saving my relationship. It helped me understand during those difficult early days exactly what was playing out and after Dom and I read it we definitely understood eachother (and what was going on with the other key players in the dynamic) so much better! I LOVED chatting with Dr Martin and continue to recommend her book!
After the BBC series ended I had so many messages from women who wanted "More Stepmum real talk" that I decided to launch Stepmum Space.
I don't have a background in this type of thing so everything had to be learned from scratch by me (and Dom who helped me soooo much in the beginning, and still does with some of the editing!)
Dom created the podcast cover and we launched in Feb 2022!
Since launch I have been bowled over by the feedback I have had from listeners, I read all the messages and reply to as many as I can. I have been so humbled by women's stories and I am so grateful to all of you who have listened to the podcast, shared it, told friends about it or commented on the social media posts. A million thank yous! All your shares help get 'Stepmum Space' to other women who need it in their life!
Hanging out at my kitchen table chatting to fab women is just WONDERFUL!
I make the podcast at home in my free time (of which as a working Mum there is not much!) but to know I am doing something which helps women who are where I have been in my is incredible.
I look back now and am so grateful I took the plunge and went for it when I was offered the chance to create the BBC show. I've grown in confidence and learnt so much along the way. One of my values is courage and I'm so pleased I put that into action!
There are so many of us who feel the same and it's only by talking about it, with empathy and compassion for all involved, that we can truly begin to create change.
I'd love to hear what you think of Stepmum Space and what's been your fave episode so far? Let me know in the comments!
Lots of love xx