Choosing To Be More Than Just a Stepmom
I knew going into my marriage that it wouldn’t always be easy. This would be a second marriage for both my husband, Brian, and me so we weren’t naïve enough to think that there wouldn’t be challenges. To our advantage though, we were both in our 30’s with a good understanding of ourselves, our goals, and what we wanted in a partner. But even that kind of mature mindset can’t prepare you for the unexpected curve balls life will throw at you.
We blended our families and moved into what would become our home in August of 2011. Before we were even married I was suddenly stepmom to two young boys (6 and 8) who were still devastated over their parents split. And while their dad chose me as the person to share his life and home with; they did not. I remember having what I now realize were incredibly unrealistic expectations. The kids would love and welcome me right away; and their mom – who I’d get along great with – would be thrilled to have me as her kids’ stepmom. Spoiler alert: that’s not how it went. What I know now is that it rarely goes that way. Toss a bunch of different personalities, raw emotions, broken hearts, children, and lawyers into a big bowl and you’ve got the perfect conflict salad.
Even as I came to realize that the difficulty we were experiencing was quite normal, it was totally deflating and straight up sucked at times. I could go on and on about how we navigated through those early years, how I contributed to the conflict, and what I learned along the way, but that’s an article for another time. What I’ll say is that it was a long road for all of us. For Brian and me it tested our patience, love, and commitment to one another. I’m thankful that we passed.
Around the time we moved in together, my oldest stepson started to show signs of anger and resentment towards us. It was heartbreaking for Brian as a dad and discouraging for me as a new parent. As we tried to work through these issues in private, we faced judgment from every direction – school, other parents, my husband’s ex, friends, and even strangers. Our status as a family was not legitimate and neither was my role as a parent. I remember wondering if we’d ever figure out the formula for a successful and happy family.
I became pregnant shortly after we married in 2012 and I could hardly contain my happiness. I’d always wanted children but my excitement went beyond just that. I felt like this new baby would legitimize me as a mother. Up to that point, I had been “just a stepmom,” in a non-nuclear family – let me tell you that does not give people the warm and fuzzies. I’d now be a real mom and this baby would glue us all together. We immediately started making plans to accommodate a family of 5 starting with a surprise reveal for our kids to let them know they were going to be big brothers. We set up a scavenger hunt leading them to the ultrasound photos. Thanksgiving morning was the big day and we could hardly wait.
Life threw us our first curveball a day earlier. I miscarried at 12 weeks. We were heartbroken, deflated, and completely devastated. The loss of a pregnancy is also the loss of the family you were anticipating and the plans you were making. It’s really hard to see beyond everything that’s suddenly gone. For me, it was the loss of my baby, the loss of me being a real mom, and the loss of our legitimate family.
We went through our own grieving process quietly. We didn’t share what had happened with the kids. Our pain did not have to be their pain and I’ve stuck to that parenting policy ever since. As we climbed out of our grief I started to look at things differently. Yes, the baby would’ve made us a family of 5, but we were already a family of 4. I was already a mom to 2 great boys that I loved. I hadn’t lost any of that.
Despite the criticism and judgment, I made a conscious decision to allow my stepsons, my husband, and me to define my role and our family dynamic. Even though so many doubted our ability to pull it off, or flat out thought I had no business raising kids that weren’t mine, it just felt right to go for it. We didn’t know if more kids would ever be in our future, but regardless, we were all going to be equal under our roof. There would never be “his kids”, “my kids”, “first family”, “new family”, or whatever else. It would be our kids and our family.
There was a fast shift in the relationship between my boys and me. Maybe it was a response to my changing mindset. Maybe it was God sending me just what I needed at the time. Maybe both. Whatever it was, I interacted with them as I imagined I would interact with my own children – and it came naturally. In return, they treated me like a mom and I’ll assume it’s because it came naturally to them as well.
My intention was never to overstep a boundary or replace their birth mom. What they have with her will never be touched and I recognize the importance of that. My intention, and with the help of my very supportive husband, was to create a space that we’d all call home. Where we’d feel welcome, accepted, and loved. Fast forward a few short years – we’re now a family of six – and I believe we’ve done just that. We’ve created the home and the family that makes sense for us. My heart is busting at the seams when I see our four boys – now 2, 3, 12, and 14 – all together. I’m so proud as I watch these young relationships develop and grow. I’m one happy mama knowing that no matter where life takes each of them they’ll always have one another. And I no longer wonder when we’ll figure out the formula for a happy family because there’s no doubt we’re already there.