Choosing Love: A Valentine’s Message for Stepparents

  • heart shaped tree

My family is not traditional. I became a stepmother to four kids almost two years ago when I married my husband, Craig. Our love is just as deep as other families, but it can be complicated. As a blended family, there is an added dynamic to our relationships: choice.

I waited a while to get married – I was 41 when I met Craig and 42 when we married. I’ve always done things on my own time. But when I met Craig I knew almost right away that he was “the one.” He did, too, and we got engaged fairly quickly.

As we planned the wedding, I was so excited to take on an “instant family.” I pictured a perfectly set Thanksgiving dinner table and opening presents in matching pajamas on Christmas morning. Taking family vacations and always being thrilled to hang out together. I threw everything I had into my new family and just knew it would be perfect. 

Needless to say, putting together a blended family presented a whole host of complications in the first year-plus that I had not imagined. And that meant my new life was far from perfect. Putting aside the complexities of interacting with my husband’s ex-spouse while building our new married life, the parenting part of stepparenting alone is hard work.

I made a picture-perfect spread for the first Thanksgiving we hosted for our gang. But of course, had not counted on the fact that kids under twelve don’t like half of the stuff that most of us eat for the big day. So my youngest stepson ended up with a cheese quesadilla and I ended up with a double helping of humility. 

Should I mention the time when two of the kids got in a hair-pulling slap fest in the backseat? (on the way back from a church outing, no less) Or when one of the kids threw an entire fast food fountain Coke across the kitchen, where it exploded all over our dining room? Or when, in a fit of anger, one of the kids screamed at me, “Rot in h***, you f***in a**hole!” (Except with all the blanks filled in. Welcome to newlywed bliss, right?)

These anecdotes, while extreme at times, might not be so atypical of normal parenting frustrations. But they were all new to this girl – who grew up an only child and had lived alone for ten years prior to meeting Craig. And stepparenting also has an added (and weird) angle because many people, sometimes even those closest to you, don’t understand your new role or your new family dynamic.

Stepparents can be involved in their stepkids’ lives on a varying level. Some see them on weekends, some half of the time. Some a couple of times a year, some full time. There’s no right or wrong – each family and each custody arrangement is different.

I am on the “very” end of the involvement spectrum. Craig has custody of the kids fifty percent of the time. So I cheer them on at almost all of their games, go with them to doctor’s appointments, and attend parent-teacher conferences. But don’t get me started on the doctors and school administrators that have treated me like a second class citizen, even when Craig and his ex-spouse are both there. I have been looked past, completely ignored, left off emails, and asked to prove that I’m allowed to take the kids to appointments (yes, I do have a power of attorney).

And the misunderstandings don’t stop with strangers. When one of my stepkids was about to go into the hospital not long after we were married, one of my friends remarked, “wow, this must be so hard for his mom.” Uh, yeah, but what about me? Your friend? The friend who adores and worries over this boy more than you can imagine. And the one who this precious boy clings to and constantly says he loves.

Recently, I was making plans with a couple of girlfriends and remarked that I needed to wait to figure out plans because we had the kids that weekend. One of my friends shot back, “Whatever, they’re not your kids.”

Except, well, they are. Stepparent has the word “parent” within it. Stepmother contains the word “mother.” I don’t have biological children of my own. These are my only children and I would do anything for them.

I know none of my friends have meant to seem callous, and I don’t hold those comments against them. Almost everyone has been super supportive of my new life. But I suspect it’s also hard for them to understand at times. Most of my married friends have biological children. You don’t get a choice in loving your biological children. They’re literally part of you. As soon as they come into the world, that’s it, you’re head over heels in a way you’ll never recover (or want to). I’m sure it’s hard to imagine that these kids who have only been in my life for a few years are as important to me as blood-related family members.

I didn’t give birth to my stepkids and I would never try to replace their biological mother. The kids know that and I hope my husband’s ex-spouse knows it, too. They love her and, although she and my husband had enough differences to warrant a divorce, she birthed those beautiful children and has the deep maternal love for them that goes along with that. 

A stepparent’s love is definitely different but can be just as intense. Because at the end of the day, stepparents have a choice about whether and how to love and accept our stepkids. And our stepkids have a choice about whether they want to, or can, love and accept us back. And that’s not always a smooth road.

Looking back, it felt so natural to embrace my stepkids that it never felt like much of a choice to me. But it was, and I chose to love and care for them wholeheartedly.

So much so that my heart swells when I hear one of them has done well on a test, or I watch them score a goal or hit a single. Or when one of them asks me for advice and I can tell really wants to know what I think. Or I catch one of them in the middle of a deep belly-laugh. A child’s tinkling laughter is a magical sound, but those belly-laughs are the best.

And my heart crumbles when they’re upset or hurting. I have to turn my face sometimes when our youngest dissolves into tears for fear my own welling eyes will be noticed. Craig has a complicated relationship with one of his kids and my heart breaks every time he reaches out and gets no response. Not just for him, but for her, too, because I know she is also in pain. And for me, because I do truly love and miss her.

None of the kids chose for their parents to get divorced. Or for their father to meet or marry me. In a lot of ways, they may sometimes feel like they got a raw deal because their parents aren’t together. But each of my stepkids gets a choice about whether to love and accept me.

I am no perfect model for stepparenting – I make plenty of mistakes. For crying out loud, I’m still just a couple of years into all this! But I do my absolute best to show my love to the kids in a lot of different ways on a daily basis. I’m involved in all of their activities and make sure I’m there for both the big and the small moments. I talk to them about their day and what’s going on with their friends. And Craig and I take them to church and try to teach them about service to others and our God.

choosing love: message for stepparents

As Corinthians reads, “Love is patient, love is kind.” But love is complicated, too. And messy.

And that’s okay. Because it’s the best kind of messy complicated when it comes to parenting and step-parenting. Norman Rockwell may not have chosen to paint our kind of family. I might not have either when I was a child imagining what my life would look like someday. And it’s likely not the family that the kids might have chosen for themselves.

It’s true that I wasn’t around for any of the kids’ first words or first steps. I didn’t get to pick out cute baby clothes and toys and teach them how to read. But I’ll be there for their first kisses (I mean, hopefully not right there, but you know what I mean) and when they go through their first breakups. I’ll see them off to college and watch them get married.

And for as many wild hair pulling, swearing or soda-throwing mishaps, there are other moments too. Like the tears of joy streaming down my stepdaughter’s cheeks when I surprised her with backstage passes at her first concert. Or the triumphant fist pump when my stepson beat me at Uno. Or the tender, out of the blue hug and “I love you” from my other stepson when we were standing in line at the movies. Those are the times that count.

When I met Craig, this became the family I chose – and continue to choose. Will choose every day, forever. And the family that chooses me. I love them to pieces and even in the midst of our own brand of crazy, I feel like I got way luckier than I had any right to.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope this day and this year are filled with laughter and light for you and all those you choose to love.

xo,

Cameron

2019-02-14T21:31:12-04:00February 14th, 2019|Categories: Family Life, Parenting|Tags: , , , |

45 Comments

  1. Tricia Snow February 14, 2019 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I have never been a step parent but I have been married to one. Great story! I love that you are so transparent about the conflicts. I can sure relate!

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Tricia!!

  2. Patty February 14, 2019 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I know you and I know your heart. You arw giving them the very Best love you have.

    Happy Valentine’s Day sweet friend

    Patty
    Goodbetterbestfood.blogspot.com

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Patty!! ❤️❤️

  3. Rhetta Poole February 14, 2019 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    What a beautiful post! I am proud of you, too! You are growing and learning about true love!

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Miss Rhetta!!!

  4. Karie February 14, 2019 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Happy Valentines day! These kids are so lucky to have you. What a great bonus mom you are! ( My friend calls her step kids her “bonus kids” so she’s a “bonus mom” ) 🙂

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 3:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Karie!! Yes, we use the term bonus mom also – it’s a great one!! 🙂

  5. Holly Bird February 14, 2019 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Cameron, this is a wonderful post! I have been a step parent my whole adult life! Thank you for this!

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 5:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Holly!! I really appreciate it!

  6. Sandi Barrett February 14, 2019 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    You go girl! Great post.

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      Thanks!

  7. Meagan February 14, 2019 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    This was so beautiful! My sister is just about to get married and will then be the mother to the sweetest little 3-year-old girl. She loves that girl more than anything and would die for her. The choice of being step-parent, like you said, is something so beautiful!

    • cgnormand February 14, 2019 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much! Best wishes to your sister – it is an amazing journey!!

  8. Tiffany February 15, 2019 at 10:38 am - Reply

    This is beautiful! You are all so lucky to have found each other. Loving someone is a choice, whether they are related by blood or not. I wish you and your family much love throughout your life together.

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Tiffany! We are very lucky indeed!

  9. Kristen Skiles | Stepmomming February 15, 2019 at 10:52 am - Reply

    You gave me goosebumps! I love this so much, Cameron! You’re an incredible role model, even if you’re only 2 years into stepmomming.

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Kristen, thank you so much, that really means a lot!!

  10. Katie Mitchell February 15, 2019 at 11:00 am - Reply

    Great post! My sister gained two step-children when she and her now husband got married. She has always said she got the children without having to do all of the hard pregnancy stuff ha. She loves being a stepmother.

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Katie! I do, too!! 🙂

  11. Junell DuBois February 15, 2019 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    I love this post. It warms my heart that you embraced your husband’s family in such a way.

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Junell!

  12. Jennifer February 15, 2019 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    I am an adoptive parent and I completely understand choosing to love someone who is not your biological child and how intense that love is. Beautiful story, even with the soda throwing. ❤️

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much!! 🙂

  13. Ramae Hamrin February 15, 2019 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Lovely post! It reminded me of the movie Stepmom with Julia Roberts. I just watched it a few nights ago and woke up with a huge headache in the middle of the night from crying so much. I have never been a step-parent, as I have three of my own children, but if I were ever to get remarried, I would want someone with your heart and attitude.

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Ramae! I really appreciate it! (and what a great movie, such a tearjerker!!)

  14. Cindy February 15, 2019 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    What a mother’s heart you have. You are truly a blessing to those children and if they don’t know it now, they will later. I have a wonderful stepmother, Jerri, who has been an important part of my life, just as my mother has. My stepmom is so awesome that when my daughter was tiny, she reacted when I referred to Jerri as my “stepmom”. To my daughter this woman was simply a fun and loving grandmother. My daughter’s knowledge about stepmothers came from Disney movies where stepmoms were evil. She was adamant that her grandmother was NOT a stepmother. We told her I was just teasing and pretending. 😃 Know that you are making memories…and a difference. ❤️

    • cgnormand February 15, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Cindy!! I love that about your daughter, that just speaks volumes and is a wonderful example of how great that step-relationship can and should be!!

  15. Jessica February 15, 2019 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    I’m sure it’s not easy to blend together. I have watched many good friends and family go through it. I like your perspective on it! I had a stepmom growing up, and it wasn’t easy for any of us. Now as an adult, I really like my stepmom. Keep it up!

    • cgnormand February 16, 2019 at 6:03 am - Reply

      Thanks so much, Jessica!

  16. Brianna February 17, 2019 at 7:48 am - Reply

    So beautiful! Thank you for sharing your heart.

  17. Michele Vadnais February 17, 2019 at 9:20 am - Reply

    It took my teenage step-daughter a while to warm up to me (she was a daddy girl), and the only reason she had was “she’s too perky! No one can be that happy all the time!” Ten years later she calls me mom and calls me for advice, help, etc. (and we often make perky jokes). It is a choice to be a step parent and love someone else’s children…a difficult, complicated and wonderful choice! Thank you for your beautiful story.

    • cgnormand February 17, 2019 at 11:06 am - Reply

      Thanks, Michele – I love to hear that your story has turned out so beautifully!!

  18. T.M. Brown February 19, 2019 at 10:55 am - Reply

    What a beautiful story! I was “almost” the stepdaughter several times in life (loooong story) and I don’t know how I would have adjusted, to be honest. It takes strength and a lot of love to make a situation like that work well. Kudos to you and I can definitely see the love you have those kids shine through.

    • cgnormand February 19, 2019 at 12:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much!! It’s not always perfect, but it is always worth it!

  19. Kathryn at QuestFor47 February 19, 2019 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Families are so complicated, no matter the size, shape, or how blended they may be. I love this mindset!

    • cgnormand February 19, 2019 at 10:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Kathryn!

  20. Angela Greven February 20, 2019 at 6:16 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, you have a huge heart!!! 💚

  21. Amanda February 21, 2019 at 1:00 am - Reply

    This is beautiful! I had my oldest daughter before I met my husband and I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to watch her, who he has always considered his daughter, leave to go off with her biological dad and all of the feelings and complications that come with that. Her dad left the picture many years ago and now it doesn’t feel like any different than if she is just ours together. I seriously admire all of the step parents out there. It’s not an easy job.

    • cgnormand February 21, 2019 at 8:38 am - Reply

      Thanks so much, Amanda. It is definitely not easy – lots of complicated emotions all the time. But I’m sure your husband would agree it’s totally worth it! 🙂

  22. Nicki February 21, 2019 at 9:12 am - Reply

    This is a tough one for me. I’m a step daughter, on both sides. I was an adult when my parents divorced so though I welcome their new spouses into the family they aren’t my parents. My daughter is another story though. She is young enough that these are the only grandparents she knows. I believe titles are earned. One of my step-parents has most definitely earned the right for my daughter to call them a grandparent. The other? Not so much. I realize that this may not be popular but you are right ‘families are complicated’.

    • cgnormand February 21, 2019 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Nicki – and I totally agree. I’m also a stepdaughter and that relationship has been complicated, as well. Each family is unique in the challenges faced and I think there’s no “right” answer for all. Just the right answer (or sometimes the “best you can get to” answer) for each family.

  23. Dominique February 25, 2019 at 1:36 am - Reply

    This is a great post! I think you’ve been pretty mature in this (often) difficult situation. They may not be biological yours, but you have taken responsibility for their well-being and now they are blessed with another parent to look out for them in this world.

  24. Shelly March 2, 2019 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Such a great post Cameron. Blending families is so hard and while I haven’t been a step parent, I did remarry and watched my oldest two bond over the past 17 years with my husband. I feel so lucky that he stepped in and loved my kids as his own. I have had to catch myself at times when people refer to Keith as their dad because I’ve wanted to correct and say stepdad but it really doesn’t matter. He has been their dad as much as their own father and he deserves the title just as much. Thanks so much for sharing with Throwback Thursday!

    Shelly | The Queen in Between

    • cgnormand March 2, 2019 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Thank you so much, Shelly! I’m glad to hear your experience with blended family and that it has been so positive. Thank you!!

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