At 23, I met the man who would later become my husband. But when I met him, he already had a ready-made family that came with him like a package deal. For some, that may have scared them away. For others, it may have made them want to nestle in and want to take command and play mom. But for me, I fell so naturally in love with all three of them, that I didn’t want to take anyone’s place or take over anyone’s role, I just wanted to be a part of their family.
At ages 7 and 10 when we started dating, my boyfriend’s children were going through their own set of emotions and roller coasters with their parents just separating and eventually getting divorced. The kids – a daughter, a precocious little girl, who has always remained very close to her mother, and a son, a carbon copy of his dad, who always remained loyal to him until the end.
It didn’t take me long to fall head over heels for all three of them, especially their father because of his heart of gold and his hilarious sense of humor. But the kids found their own ways to win me over, as well as I did for them.
Six years after we started dating, we finally got hitched and I became a full-fledged stepmother even though I’d been playing the role for several years already. For many things, the kids came to my aid, my defense and stood by my side. And naturally, I always found myself coming to their aid too. Less than a year before we got married, his son decided to live with us on a full-time basis after turning 16. While the dynamic in the house only changed a little, it was nice to have him there all the time. I got used to the front door always opening and closing, the sound of his car pulling into the driveway and his presence standing like a ghost in my bedroom doorway watching my television and forgetting what he actually came in to say in the first place. I worried about him when he went out on weekends, when he called to say he was staying out all night, when he went four-wheeling for entire weekends and actually when he just wasn’t home.
“Stepmother” comes with such a negative connotation for no reason other than it was probably created by an ex-wife who wanted to create an ugly name for the person who would also be playing a role in their children’s lives. Not all stepmothers are evil; in fact some actually work pretty hard to overcome the entire negative persona that naturally comes with the name.
I may not have given birth to my step kids, but I’d die for them and that should count for something. My heart broke for my stepdaughter every time another boyfriend stomped on her heart. I cried when I couldn’t see my stepson graduate from high school. And I was as proud as any mother to have both the kids that life had blessed me with, standing next to me as I became their father’s wife. And my world was shattered when my stepson died at 18; only a month after his half-brother was born. Because the extraordinary role of a stepmother also comes with the added bonus that not only do you have the opportunity to help raise these children, you also have the chance to create best friends in them as well. At the time of his death, I not only lost a stepson, I also lost one of my closest friends too.
The day he died, I called many of my best friends from that Indiana hospital, looking for guidance, comfort and compassion because I knew what the prognosis was going to be when we met with the doctor. Crying, sobbing and exhausted from new motherhood, I knew I would have to say good-bye to one child as I clutched onto my newest child. Stepmother or not, I lost a child that day and his loss has continued to leave a hole in my heart even now five years later.
And after giving birth to my two sons, I fully understand the bond between mother and son. And this is something I have never questioned or doubted. This is a strong bond that is never broken unless severed by some act of extreme selfishness, greed or utter disrespect for human life. But watching my youngest son in the ER the other night, having my heart in my stomach once again as he was sedated, brought back memories of being helpless and at the mercy of those with more knowledge than me on how to fix, repair or save my children.
We can only guide our children toward the good decisions, provide them the tools to make the best choices for their own lives and lead them to the paths of least resistance. But none of these are guarantees. And as I’ve learned, boys will be boys. And whether it’s hanging off rails as a two-year-old or riding four-wheelers with no helmet in the woods, all we can do is hope they know what they should do and what they shouldn’t, and then choose wisely.
And we can only hope to shield them from the pain of the world, but we can do nothing about the pain they willingly inflict upon themselves because they want to see how hot the flames really are. And as a mother, I will always want to hold them tight to make sure they are safe whether it is my 21-year-old stepdaughter who will soon be a wife and mother herself or my two- and five-year-old little boys who fear nothing in the world right now.
While nothing in life is set in stone, for any parent (birth, adopted or step), it is our most sincere hope that our children live their lives to the fullest and come to understand life’s true beauty and one day pass that knowledge onto future generations.