I became a stepmother to four kids, one with special needs, when I married my husband, Craig. Our love is deep, but our family can be complicated. And as a blended family, there is an added dynamic to each of 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.
Expectations Vs. Reality
As we planned the wedding, I was so excited for my “instant family.” I pictured a perfectly set Thanksgiving dinner table and opening presents in matching pajamas on Christmas morning. Taking family vacations and being thrilled for family game nights. I threw everything I had into my new family dreams.
Needless to say, there were whole host of complications in the first year that I had not imagined. And that made my new life pretty far from perfect. Putting aside the complexities of interacting with my husband’s ex-spouse while building our new married life, I quickly discovered that stepparenting is hard work.
I made a picture-perfect spread for our first Thanksgiving. 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.
And there’s that time during our first year of marriage when two of the kids got in a full on, 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?
This kind of stuff may be normal for some families, but the sheer chaos of it all was new to this girl – who grew up an only child and had lived alone for ten years prior to meeting Craig.
Your Role Can Be Hard For Others To Understand
Being a stepmom also has the added dynamic that many people, sometimes even those closest to you, not understanding your new role or your new family structure.
I have always been a very involved stepmom. Cheering kids on at games, going to doctor’s appointments, and attending parent-teacher conferences. And I can’t count how many times I’ve been looked past, completely ignored, left off emails, or even asked to prove that I’m allowed to take the kids to appointments.
And the misunderstandings don’t stop with strangers. When one of my stepkids was headed 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 anyone can imagine. And the one who this precious boy clings to and constantly says he loves.
As a new stepmom, I was making plans with a couple of girlfriends and remarked that I needed to wait to figure it out because we had the kids that weekend. One of my friends shot back, “Whatever, they’re not your kids.”
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Except, well, even though I didn’t birth them, they are my family. 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 even when things are rough, I would do anything for them.
Stepmom Love Is A Different Kind Of Special
Which that brings me back to choosing love. When you have biological children, biology doesn’t allow for a choice in loving them. 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 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 stepmom’s love is different but can be just as special. 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. I chose, and still choose, 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. Our relationship with the kids has been complicated over the years and when things are rough, it breaks my heart. For us and for the kids, because I know they’re in pain, too.
But It All Comes Back To Choosing Love
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 at the end of the day, they each have a choice about whether to love and accept me.
To be clear, I am not the perfect stepmom. Not by a long shot. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make plenty more. But I do try to show my love to the kids on a daily basis. I’ve been involved in their activities and I try to be there for as many moments, big and small, as I can. 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.
No, Norman Rockwell may not have chosen to paint our kind of family. But let’s be honest: I might not have either when I was a child. When I dreamed of meeting the man of my dreams, that dream didn’t include being a stepmom. And I’m guessing being a stepchild isn’t something any of mine would have chosen for themselves.
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’ve been there for first kisses (I mean, not right there, but you know what I mean) and first breakups. I’ve helped teach them to drive and I’ll see them off to college. And someday, will hopefully watch them get married and start their own families.
And for as many wild hair pulling 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. 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.
P.S. Looking for help learning all of this stepmom stuff? Head HERE and check out my Stepmom Survival Toolkit.