Priscilla 'Cilla' Appeaning, mum of four, stepmum of two, personal coach, creator of @thestepmumsclub on Instagram and part of The Mum List 2021 talks to us about her own experiences of motherhood and being a stepmum, plus tips for blended families and why she created her Instagram community...
'I became a mum when I got pregnant at 21. I was in my last year at university and I come from a single parent house as well, so my mum obviously hit the roof. Then I had to try and navigate having a baby through university and finishing off my degree. I was told I would fail basically.
'At the time I lived in quite a violent area, a bad neighbourhood and I just didn't want to become the black girl that dropped out of uni and is a single parent. I just didn't want that to be my story.
'So I managed to get extensions on my deadlines and I managed to get my dissertation in on time. And then I graduated! That was my proudest moment of being a single mum, having that degree.'
From single mum to stepmum
'Three years later I met my husband. He already had two children by two different women. But my family knew of my husband, so I wasn’t too bothered by it. Within 12 months of meeting, we got engaged and got married. Within I would say probably the first three months, we introduced the kids.
'At the time, I had my daughter and I wanted to make sure that the children actually liked each other. The boys are older than my daughter – one turns 13 in June and one has just turned 14 but my daughter is 10. So obviously, it must have been strange to have someone around who was much smaller than them. And for all of them to realise that they're not the only children anymore and they have to consider each other.
'When it comes to creating a blended family it can be hard for the kids as they don't really understand the blending. They just think, okay, there's now a new child in my space. Why? When parents break up and they meet new people, it's all very involuntary for the children. We’re just taking them along with us, we’re not asking them.
'So yeah, I think that that was the biggest thing. I tried to make them understand that this person is going to be raised with you. You want them to recognise each other. It's probably more unfair than it is a hurdle because some children learn quite beautifully and some don't. But you never know until you begin that journey.
'But I definitely think it's an initial fear for all kinds of parents that have children coming in to a blended family. And if you don't have any children beforehand, and you become that stepparent I think that initial fear is ‘will the children like me?’'
Growing the family
'After my husband and I got married, essentially on our honeymoon, I became pregnant with my second daughter. And after I had my second daughter, I got pregnant again and had my third baby. Unfortunately the next time I was pregnant I miscarried, but a few months after that I got pregnant again and had my fourth baby, my lockdown baby who is now four months old.
'Obviously lots of life events happened in between that were difficult to navigate but that’s our little family now. And they’re all happy and healthy so that’s all I need.
'The things that I found hard was transitioning from being a single mum to having a man with his opinion on my childcare. That was the hardest! With my eldest daughter’s biological dad, we never had a co-parenting relationship. So I decided to go ahead and be a single mum.
'So then, when I got with my husband, he was like, ‘Oh, I don't like the way she calls you by your first name’. But I didn't really mind. And I would always say yes to her, and she would always be involved in adult conversations, because you know, she's my little buddy.
'I hadn't been used to having that input. I realised that as a single parent, I was controlling. But then again I had to be because I had to control my whole world and make it good.'
The Stepmums Club
'I decided to set up The Stepmums Club because for me, actually, my biggest thing was I wanted the mothers of my sons to know me, and like me. I tried at first to be a part of the conversation. But, as the years went by, I could see it wasn't going to happen, our relationship was actually becoming very negative. I still cannot shake the feeling of ‘Oh my God, why don't you like me? Everyone likes me’.
'So, I went on Facebook, because there's a Facebook group for everything isn’t there. I wanted to know whether others were in this situation, what they were doing, is this a thing that they're going through.
'And I just couldn't seem to find the answers I wanted. So I decided to start on Instagram, because that's what I used more at the time, I didn’t really use Facebook. And I thought that if I could create a platform then I can control the conversation and I could ask the questions that I wanted. So that rooted the page as a space to ask questions, where everyone can have their say if they're not getting the answers, this can be the kind of bridge for them to get in contact with the correct people that can give them the knowledge that they're looking for – so, many things in one space.
'My whole thing was, alright, I have a growing group of women that talk to me in private, but how do I get them to talk on the actual page, the open page, because if we don't start talking about our real experiences, nothing is going to be solved. So then I thought to myself, I know, I'm just gonna start messaging radio stations and magazines, and everywhere else in the media, if I start the conversation in the media, then maybe the conversation will catch on. And then real stories will get out there. And essentially, that is what I did.'
Being a stepmum is an emotional rollercoaster
'If people think it’s just them going through something, or just them having a tough time, then they just suffer in silence. Being a stepmum is more than just me and the new partner, and then just trying to work it out. This is a really emotional rollercoaster.
'The fact is there are some really low points. You centre your whole world around creating this family and put all of your energy into it.
'There are women that have been clinically depressed because of being a stepparent. It's just such a minefield, and still so backwards in the sense that the only stories you see in the media are from celebrities, and celebrities are not really going to tell you the raw, real stuff, because they don't want to get dragged into that, so they will say vague things. And you will see a lot of women saying, 'Oh my gosh, that is so true'. Still, I do completely understand, because they have such a large platform. And just even a one liner about being a stepmum is comforting to the other stepmums.'
Support for stepparents and blended families
'Most commonly, stepmums come to me for advice when they feel like they are not happy in their role. Because there's interference from outside of their households. The most common question is, ‘Am I crazy? Am I a bad person for not being happy with the way things are?’ But that question covers so much ground because every dynamic is different.
'And then after that, questions of how do I become a step mum? What does one mean? What do you actually do?
'There’s still not much support out there for stepparents and I think it’s because many stepparents are still so worried about what people think about them and the stigma that the name alone carries.
'Certain stepmums can actually develop postnatal depression when they come into a parenting situation to a newborn. And they don’t feel like they belong on traditional parenting sites, they don’t think they can ask questions about feeding and weaning because they’re “not the real mum”.
'They’re still very much in their private groups working it out behind closed doors, and that's fine. But it just means that the people that can kind of fly the flag, are celebrities, and celebrities are very cautious.
'And then you’ve got the media saying things like Stacey Solomon should be ashamed because she's got more than one dad for each of her children. If we're still having these kind of conversations, things are never going to change.'
Supporting mental health and the importance of self care
'Looking after my own mental health was a whole big trial and error around the time I got pregnant with my third baby. I was pregnant for four months before I found out she was there!
'I essentially became very different. I became very withdrawn. I would cry, before I even knew it I was crying.
'My husband was really my shield at that time. And I started to learn about techniques of what we call disengaging. Essentially I disengaged for as long as I could, until I learned what boundaries were and how to implement them.
'In 2020 I was given the opportunity to train as a family coach, and it really helped me get through lockdown - all the tools and practical advice that I was given, although I was learning about them, I could apply them in my own life too.'
Three top tips for stepparents
'Okay, so my tips are:
- To learn how to create boundaries, not assuming that you already know because I feel like people think that they’ve got it down but they haven't looked into it. And once you’ve find out what boundaries are, set them and stick to them.
- Redefine your role as a stepmum or define if you haven't already. And when I say that I mean actually decide what you're okay with and what you're not okay with in it. The media, and magazines and stuff is not gonna tell us what it looks like to be a stepparent in 2021. Decide what it means to you
- And then the last one is definitely get in a community of stepparents.'
My favourite thing about being a mum
'Personally, I’m looking forward to when they're all teenagers and they're all probably taller than me. And I'm seeing them as adults and kind of all the fruits of my labour manifesting.
'Yeah, that is the kind of vision I have, and that is what helps me keep going every single day because there's going to be a day where they're like in their 20s and they're going to be amazing people. And I'm just gonna love it. I can go ‘yeah, I made that’ and the world is gonna be very, very happy with me.'
The best thing about being a part of the stepmums community
'Making actual change. On the grand scheme of things, if I can change the heart of a stepmum, that is really really special to me. I've always wanted to help women and I kind of saw the need for this conversation and this space from my own experiences and I feel proud to have started that and excited to see where I can take it.
'I mean, there’s more ways than one to be a parent, or to be a family. There's always some kind of dynamic that we never saw coming. And here we are, there's like this new type of model. And I think it's so important to give everyone the space to share their type of mothering and what motherhood or parenthood means.'
Growing a community for supporting stepmums, Cilla is helping diminish the stigmas which may come with being a part of a blended family. As the founder of The Stepmums' Club, Cilla shares her family's journey and that when it comes to family, there are no boundaries. The mum-of-four also talks about providing stepmums support, coaching, advice and having open conversations with like-minded stepmums through her private Facebook group. Follow Cilla on Instagram @TheStepMumsClub.
Meet the top 20 mumfluencers you should be following this year
Read more popular articles
Birth stories: “Surrogacy during a pandemic was harder than I ever could have imagined”
Rosie Ramsey on her book, C-sections and baby number two
Colourful Motherhood Campaign: celebrating babies’ colour, culture and heritage