I have been married now for about two and a half years. Making the decision to pursue my relationship with the addition of a step daughter was one of the scariest and most ill-prepared for choices I have ever made. Do I regret the choice? I won’t lie, sometimes I ask myself ‘what on earth was I thinking?!’ Other days, most days, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I became an instant parent and the experience has been and continues to be some kind of roller coaster to say the least.
My husband and I dated on and off for a number of years before making a serious commitment when my stepdaughter, HJ, was five years old. We were married when she was seven.
When we were dating, it was a very different scenario with how our relationship as a ‘family unit’ played out. In hindsight, dating was a lot more black and white. I was not HJ’s mother or stepmother or legally tied to her or her dad in any form. I sometimes went to school functions with her dad, read her stories some evenings and attended her piano and dance recitals when I could, but it was more of the role of an aunt than a permanent fixture in her life. I could retreat back to my own life and my own home and take a break from the relationship whenever I needed. I had a view from the outside and I could close the blinds when I wanted. Then we changed all of that…
I will let you in on a little secret (okay, it’s not really a secret). No one dreams of becoming a stepfamily because it truly adds a stressful complexity to life that otherwise would not be there. When my husband asked me to marry him I was no longer on the outside. I was on the inside and the inside is a maze and sometimes we get stuck on the wrong paths in the maze it can feel very dark, scary and endless. We jumped in and it was sink or swim.
A friend of mine got married around the same time as I did and she was describing a situation that she said “shook the foundation of her marriage.” In my head, I laughed (that kind of laugh you do to keep yourself from crying). The earth shattering argument she described was a blip on my radar in comparison to the stepfamily life I had jumped into less-than-prepared. I mourned a little bit because my husband and I never got those baby step arguments to shake our marriage nor been able to work through those small problems (that, at the time, might have seemed earth shattering). We didn’t get to practice and find ways to deal with little conflicts before having to deal with the big conflicts that come with co-parenting and stepfamily life. We jumped right in, head first, into an instant family where our lives revolved around a child that was not ours together. The internal and external conflicts that come from that were far more than I had expected. We have our up days and down days, but we work through all of those days together and it strengthens our marriage with each small and big victory.
In hindsight, I wish I had read some books, checked out a few blogs and sought out more stepmom friends to talk to before jumping in. The problem is that I thought I kind of knew already. Step parenting and stepfamily life is one of those things that you just, very honestly, have no idea about until you’re in it. You think you know and then you actually know. It’s like a lot of things in life. I mean, if I HAD prepared myself more for this life transition I very well might have been scared off. If I had been scared off before we had even started then I wouldn’t have the family that I have and I wouldn’t have grown the scar tissue or backbone that came from this unique journey. I seriously consider putting ‘stepmom’ on my resume because I know firsthand what this title entails and represents (althought I don’t think many employers will understand the same way).
Part of this step parenting journey includes letting a lot of things go. I have found significant solace and peace from reading articles, blogs, books and anything else I can get my hands on that have to do with step parenting or blended families. It makes me feel a little less alone, because this world can seem very lonely as a step parent. I recall one morning, when I was pretty new to the stepmom gig, I picked HJ up from school and there was a mother who had walked up and said ‘Hi’ while we were waiting for the bell to ring. She asked if I had a son or daughter in the class and I said, ‘yes, my stepdaughter’. She mentioned that she was also a step parent of two older children…she gave me that look, that look of knowing what it’s like. It’s those moments that I don’t feel quite so alone.
I hope this blog provides some solace for other stepmama’s out there as I share my personal experience as a step.
To my stepmama comrades – ‘may the odds be ever in your favour’