I sat and stared at a blank screen for what seemed like an hour, watching the cursor blink, before I could write. The truth is I don’t talk openly to everyone about being a stepmom. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate through this topic with grace and ease. It seemed so… personal. I am highly transparent as a writer, and this deserves truth telling. I also don’t think I am the authority on being a stepmom, some days I think I suck at it. Then I thought it might be odd for my stepdaughter, who is in the throes of her teenage years, to witness my writing on the topic. She more than likely would not want her stepmom blabbing about the trials of step parenting.
But she trusts me, and that’s the thing about being in this role. That’s the thing about our relationship. You have to earn it.
When I first met my husband he was newly divorced with a bright-eyed four-year-old daughter. She had yet to understand the complicated layers of divorce, and it was bittersweet. I knew I didn’t want children, and I had parents who were still in love after decades of marital bliss, so divorce and children were not in my realm of understanding. This relationship surprised most, maybe even you as you’re reading this, but not as much as it surprised me.
At first, it felt like I was the neighborhood babysitter, responsible on the surface, or on a part-time basis. But slowly as I dove deeper into the relationship, I came to the realization that this was not about me and my boyfriend. From the beginning, it has always been three of us. Even on those “it’s not my weekend”, it was always three. This little person was the other half to my half. If I wasn’t ready for adulting, I was being asked to be. This was not a drill.
I have layers of feelings and truths centered around being a stepmom, in all its messy, complicated, joyful and emotional beauty. What I am still struggling to figure out, what I’ve learned and what I know for sure. These are those truths that I have learned speak the loudest.
Understanding My Role
When my stepdaughter was six she broke her arm. We rushed to meet her and her mom at the hospital and when we got there I froze up. I didn’t want to go inside. I sat in the car for hours while they were casting her arm. I felt guilt around that choice for years and made myself out to be a complete wimp. It later dawned on me why my instinct was to keep my distance, and it was simple. She needed her mom and dad, she was six and scared.
I made a conscious choice early on that my role in her life was not to replace a parent. Twelve years later, I still feel the same and I believe it has formed its own unique relationship between the two of us because of that decision. With both parents present in her life, I knew the best stepmom I could be was someone who was there to listen, set an example of love but never overstep.
On Giving Real Advice
One of my biggest struggles has always been the concern that I am giving the wrong advice, or that I am asking the wrong questions. When we give advice to a friend, we can retract, refrain even joke. But to a child, or to a teen that is not your biological child? It’s larger than that. I have learned to be myself, and in those moments of “oh shit, she is reaching out to me right now for real life advice”, I say whatever I feel is right.
My words may not impact or make sense to her now, but in the future, it may have the potential to lift her up. If there is one thing I will always want as a stepmom, it is for her to know she can talk to me. Anytime, anywhere. And those moments she approaches me before her dad? Oh, they are bliss. Not because I win, but because I have established myself as someone she can confide in.
How I See Her Mom is Everything
I do not see her mom as someone my husband was in love with, or romantically involved with. You can roll your eyes and think I’m full of it, but truly I don’t. Although their past is present in my life through my stepdaughter, I have always been steadfast in my belief that what happens prior to anyone’s presence in a situation is not our story to tell. I see her mom as a mom, to a beautiful teenage daughter.
When my step daughter was five and graduating from kindergarten, I watched her mom beam with love. Then again when she graduated from middle school, I saw her as a mom with tears in her eyes, watching her baby girl grow up. A woman who loves this child to pieces.
I will always respect the role she has in her life, and understand my bond is not the same. Understanding that is ok and it’s essential. When you are not the biological parent you can still care for and love this child, and want the best for them, however the bond between a mom and her daughter is magic and not mine to take.
The Balancing Act
I would be a liar if I said it was always easy to navigate seamlessly through the dynamics of being with a man who has a child, that I never felt I was climbing uphill trying to figure out if I’m doing it right. I would be a liar to say that being a step mom has not at times brought out the worst in me, or in us. That it hasn’t tested my marriage, or my sanity.
I am being honest when I say it has made my marriage stronger. The memories the three of us have shared, and continue to make, is one of the most important aspects of my life. It is the most fascinating and rewarding role I play. I have learned to be selfless, and compassionate. I have learned to be resilient and a better listener. I have become a better wife, sister, daughter and aunt because of it.
I’ve learned that falling in love with a man who is a father, is the greatest act of love I will ever take on.
Cheers to the stepmoms, who are owning it and stepping into it with nothing but love.