Nine Months For Some Moms But Not AllApr 08, 2021
My son is eight years old. He is naked. Dancing around the house. We are all laughing and he is liberated. He is a bit embarrassed too like he probably is now as I share this (but I promise, he approved). This is the first time I saw him naked. This is the moment he finally felt comfortable around me to be his true self, bare bum and all. This was the moment I grasped the deep joy and complexity that comes with being a stepmom.
I always dreamed of becoming a mother, but when it first happened, it wasn’t quite as I imagined. I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t have a baby shower, and no one wished me congratulations. Becoming a stepmother, simply put, isn’t celebrated quite the same way.
At the time, I was recently divorced in my late 20s, dating another recent divorcee, with two young children, and an ex-wife he shared custody with. And to add to the list of baggage, an office down the hall from mine. Fast-forward seven years and he has now become my husband. His two children, M, and P, mean everything to me and I am fortunate enough to call his ex-wife and her partner (their stepfather), my family too. My husband and I welcomed our son, J into our lives in 2017 who has flourished into a curious, secure, playful child who adores his big brother and sister.
While nothing is perfect, I am proud of the way our co-parenting team works together. But it hasn’t been all rainbows and blended bliss. So let’s start at the beginning when it was really hard for me. Our patience was tested, our boundaries challenged and we took one big leap of faith to get where we are today.
When I entered this stepmom world, I felt so alone. There was no real community for stepmoms, or resources to help guide newbies like me into our new roles. While my friends listened to the challenges I faced, they couldn’t relate. With fairytales full of wicked stepmothers, feuds between wives, and hardships of divorce, the idea of becoming a stepparent is flushed with stereotypes, despite its rise within our culture. No one says when I grow up, I want to be a stepmom. According to Census Canada, stepfamilies make up 12.6 percent of Canada’s 3.7 million families with children. With divorce rates on the rise, this number will only increase, yet there’s still a gap in embracing this role. Stepmoming should not be taboo but rather celebrated. It’s truly my favourite title.
The decision to pursue this relationship made me a mother to two incredible humans, but not in the conventional sense. They have an amazing biological mother who I now count among one of my most trusted advisors and with whom we share custody 50 percent of the time.
When I first met M and P, he was eight and she was six. I didn’t have nine months to plan, to wrap my head around the idea of a baby. I didn’t get to pick their names and don’t see myself in them when I look at their faces. In fact, I never got to experience them as babies at all. I was thrown into it overnight. P always jokes that one of her first memories of us together was on New Year’s Eve, when I cuddled her and put her to bed. There I was, a young professional living in a King West condo entering a world of nighttime routines, goldfish crackers, Sky-landers, and hockey practices.
Reconciling what you really want from the noise around you
For many, dating a man with two young children would be a deal-breaker. At the time, it almost was for me too. It just seemed too complicated. So many questions plagued my thoughts in the beginning of our relationship. “Would he want more kids? When and how many? If he didn’t, would I be okay with that? What about his first wife? Would she resent me for being in her kids’ lives? What about his kids? Would they hate me? Would I want to parent someone else’s kids?
Not only did I question myself, but I was also confronted with questions from my friends and family. While my people aren’t outwardly judgey, I felt it. No one truly embraced it initially. And while I know it came from a place of protecting me, it created friction. Despite the unknowns, I jumped into this relationship fully and completely. I was madly in love after all. And I am beyond grateful that I did.
Before a stepmom gets her stepmom wings
There’s no term for a stepmom before she marries into a pre-constructed family unit. You’re just kind of an unofficial grown-up in the room. And as tricky as being a stepmom can be, I found that ‘in between’ place a very hard place to be, and I know the kids did too. They didn’t know what to call me to their friends, teachers, and family. Was I in their lives for a good time or a long time? Could they invest time in me knowing that things sometimes just don’t work out?
For a long time, I felt alone. I would trivialize what I was going through because I knew I thought it was more challenging for the kids and their mother. So, at the beginning, I smiled, followed instructions, pretended I was invisible and tried not to take anything personally. I internalized everything, especially my feelings: when one of the kids wouldn’t eat what I cooked, how I organized lunches if I was running late, and how uncomfortable their beds may have been compared to their mom’s house. Comparison seems like the natural gateway – and something I still fall into at times. The biggest realizations I had faced off the bat seemed endless:
- I was no longer in control of my schedule
- I was not just involved with my partner, but his entire family
- I would never be on par with their mother, so I shouldn’t try to compete
- My life was no longer private. The children and ex-wife know all the nitty-gritty details down to when I get my period
- I was an integral part of my stepchildren’s lives but will never be called “mom”
- My husband texts his ex-wife daily about their children and will always have a beautiful bond as parents together
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
When you’re raising someone else’s biological children with them, you’re essentially following the instruction manuals written by the parents. When M asks for a new PlayStation or P wants to get her ears pierced, the decision is not mine alone to make. The response is always “lets ask your parents”.
Trudging our way through these challenges and learning to set boundaries, has made our family stronger and happier than we ever imagined. You get through it, and you may even laugh at it one day.
For me, I always wanted children. Becoming a step-parent just sped up those dreams. If everyone views love from a place of abundance, stepparents are just more people to provide love and endless support (and help with school pick-ups and runny noses too!).
I promise you stepmoms, and stepmoms to be: this was the best decision I have ever made. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of the bond I have with each child. M is now 15 and P is 12, and this stepmom gig is one of the most rewarding roles of my life. And if you are worried that you won’t feel a bond, give it a chance. I have crazy, stupid, unconditional love for these two kids, and they make me feel so valued. Every day.
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