The post below was an article I was asked to write for LoveWhatMatters.com about my personal journey to becoming a (wicked awesome) stepmother.
~names have been changed to protect the innocent~
Woman overcomes fears to become amazing stepmom
My Love Story
When Eric came into my life, I was still reeling from a messy first marriage and an even more painful divorce. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, and I certainly wasn’t looking for a family. I was free from the burden of being tied to anyone or anything other than my two Australian Shepherds and my career. I was single but extraordinarily content with being on my own.
Needless to say, my first marriage had left me rather jaded.
As they say, though, some of the best things happen when you aren’t looking, and that’s precisely what happened when Eric and I crossed paths. Instantaneously I felt a connection, and I truly couldn’t figure out why.
After our happenstance, hours upon days upon weeks were filled with incessant sharing of our deepest thoughts and life stories. He was everything and more than I had envisioned in a life partner. It all began to move so quickly; it was as if I was drowning in his affections with no desire to be saved.
A Big Hurdle
Though I had always loved kids, and, truth be told, related to them better than most adults, the idea of dating someone with children was incredibly daunting, as my experience as a stepchild wasn’t always filled with picture-perfect memories. I feared that as a product of such, my attempt at the role could potentially fail miserably.
My father’s second wife wasn’t necessarily awful to me, but she also wasn’t entirely motivated to be engaged in my upbringing either. I longed for her attention, but, sadly, I rarely received it. My mother, on the other hand, had met a woman who became my other stepmother, and she was the polar opposite of my dad’s wife. She took on an immensely active role in my life, showing up for pretty much every school function and activity that I was involved in. The irony though was that the one whom I had to pretty much beg for any involvement, well, I wanted nothing more than for her to like me. The one who gave me unconditional love, support, attention, and affection, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with.
Kids are funny that way.
The First Meeting
The day Eric and I had planned for me to finally meet his daughters, he was participating in a race across the state line and would be taking them camping. He invited me along under the pretense that I was simply a friend that he liked, as a feeling-out period for the girls. While most people in our situation may have warmed their children up to the idea of a new partner over a meal or group function, here we were about to spend an entire weekend together on a road trip.
It seemed crazy.
It seemed too soon.
It seemed terrifying.
However, I had grown to love this man, and in my haze of being deliriously happy, I decided to just go for it.
An extreme case of the nervous belly doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt when his blue Toyota Tacoma rolled in the drive to pick me up.
I thought to myself, ‘What the heck am I doing? I’m not prepared for this!’
But then it hit me.
Is anyone ever really prepared to take on the role of a stepparent?
The introduction to meeting Krista and Kylie was actually pretty flawless. Eric and his ex-wife had done a marvelous job of raising their girls to be accepting, warm and welcoming to any new faces they were introduced to.
I brought each girl a little bag of goodies that I gave them upon our meeting, and they appeared to genuinely appreciate the peace offering. During our five-hour drive, they passed notes to me from the backseat asking me the most important questions like, "Do you like mermaids?"
To which I responded, "Of course I do… because I am one!"
They got a kick out of that.
Our camping weekend was a wonderful stress-free time full of bonfires, s’mores, nature walks, and even a few solo musical performances (performed by Moi) to entertain the girls while Daddy raced. They actually seemed to like me, and with the confidence that was instilled, all the nerves and reservations I originally had completely faded away.
I was one of the lucky ones.
Butting Heads As Parents
However, it hasn’t always been roses and rainbows.
The first several months of our family foursome were pretty magical, but as all honeymoon phases do, it began to wane a bit after time. I think, for us, the biggest challenges arose after I had officially moved in. Their established home had now become my home as well, and with that came a new dynamic. Eric’s parenting style and mine differ greatly. Where he tends to take the more lenient, ignore-it-and-it’ll-change route, I’m more of the reprimand-and-nip-it-in-bud kind of gal. This was obviously a major power struggle for us when it came to establishing rules in the household and following through with consequences when those rules weren’t followed. It was a learning curve that we both had to adapt to, and at times it could be quite strenuous for us as a couple.
We never really had the luxury of being just two people casually dating, there’s always been four of us. That’s the thing about being in a relationship with someone who has children: you are the plot twist that doesn’t appear until the second act, and the first act is ultimately what has set the stage for your family’s storyline.
The question you have to ask yourself is: What role do you want your character to play?
Would you rather be the hero who saves the day and brings in something new and exciting?
Do you want to be seen as the villain who is out to wreak havoc on a once-happy home?
I knew, because of my own past experience with stepparents, that I wanted to have a positive influence on Krista and Kylie's lives, and that meant somehow finding a way to balance being both a friend and a parental figure.
Raising My Step-Daughters
Being a friend has been the easy part; I just have to be myself. I talk with them, play with them, and am not afraid to get silly with them. They never have to wonder if I’ll be a willing participant in family fun, as I always say yes and indulge in their creativity and imagination. I let them dress me up in funny costumes and paint my face. I DJ their living room dance parties and host their impromptu fashion shows. I try to make their birthdays as memorable as I can by gaudily decorating the house the night before so that when they wake up another year older they feel special.
I make spending time with them my priority, even if that means sacrificing my own personal hobbies from time to time.
The parental part has proven to be a tad more difficult. With no manual to assist me in the rearing of someone else’s children, my course of action has often been just to wing it.
Early on, I promised that I would never lie to the girls; I would always explain the reasoning behind my actions, and I would always be someone they could confide in. These promises which I have held steadfast to, over time, have helped establish trust, and in turn, have also garnered their respect.
But, it. took. time.
I may be strict, but I’m also compassionate. I don’t try to be their mother, because they already have one. I encourage their relationship with her, and am adamant about keeping the grown-up issues to the grown-ups; my job is to be a support system, not to play their parents against one another.
After three and a half years I still struggle with pre-teen and teenage moodiness, angst, and hormones, but it has gotten easier over the course of our years together. I guess you could say that flying blind has paid off, though I’d be lying if I said I haven’t made a few late-night phone calls to my own mother and stepmother for advice.
Ultimately, despite the challenges of navigating uncharted waters, I am happier now, as a stepmom, than I ever have been. The fear of not living up to expectations was squashed rather quickly when I just dove in and did my best. Turns out, I didn’t need a manual on how to be a good stepparent; it happened organically because all I ever really had to do was love them. Even in those moments when they are mad at me or they push me away, rather than push back or give up, I just love them harder; in our house, we ‘hug it out.’
My love for the girls isn’t fleeting or dependent on how they treat me. It’s constant, purposeful, and unconditional. The greatest part is that the love Eric and I have for one another has only been strengthened through the trials and tribulations of navigating blended family life.
I didn’t ever plan on being a stepparent, I don’t think anyone does. This isn’t an easy path, not one that I think most people would choose knowingly. It’s more like the fork in the road where you get lost in the woods, and at first, you think to yourself that it’s possible you’ve made a huge mistake. The options are to turn back and return to your comfort zone, or keep treading forward and see what mystery lies ahead. I chose the latter, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
As I said, the best things in life often happen when you aren’t looking, and Eric, Krista, Kylie, and this little life we’ve built together, the good, the bad, and the ugly, are by far the greatest things in my life.
~This story was published on Love What Matters on July 05, 2022~