‘Are they ALL yours?’ What do I say? ‘Yes, these 4 are mine, but those 3 aren’t.’ Being a step-parent is THE thankless job.’: Mom discusses ups and downs of being a blended family

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“‘Are they all yours?’ As a mother of seven, I get this question a lot, whether on social media or in real life. How do I even begin to answer this question without hurting feelings? What am I supposed to say? ‘Yes this one, this one, this one and that one are mine, but no, those three are not.’

The reality is, I am a mother of seven. Four of them are my biological children and three of them are my stepchildren. I know there are no bad intentions when I am asked the question, but the reality is, it’s a hard question for me to answer. I pour my all into all seven of my kids, regardless of whether they are my biological children or my stepchildren. I feed them, provide for them, homeschool them (for now), and love them. All of them. Regardless of whether I birthed them or not.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

I am a newlywed and a mother. I have two daughters, ages four and nine, with my ex-husband. I have a son and daughter, ages 1 and 2, with my husband, Joseph. My husband has three children with his ex-wife, ages 6, 7, and 10. I guess the easiest way to think of our blended bunch is, ‘His, Hers, and Theirs.’ We live in Southern California and since quarantine hit, my husband and I have been home the last 5 months with all seven of our kids.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

Joseph and I started dating in July of 2016. We had a natural connection and many of the same interests. Once we connected, we became official and never looked back. We bought a house in 2017 and found out we were pregnant shortly after. Our daughter was born in January of 2018. She was 4 months old when we found out we were expecting, again. Our son was born in February of 2019. We got married in 2020. It’s safe to say things have been nonstop since we started dating. Blending our family has been a beautiful experience but also quite the journey.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

There have been so many highs alongside many struggles. Over the last four years, I have constantly worked on how to be a good step-mother, but also continue to be the best I can for my own children. I have had three kids in 4 years and in those four years, have navigated new waters within step-parenting. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘being a parent is the most thankless job’? I think being a step-parent is definitely THE thankless job. I feel like I fall in that weird space of ‘Yeah, I matter when it is convenient but that is about it.’

Even now after four years, my 6-year-old step-daughter will walk right by me in the kitchen to go find her dad, who is cleaning the pool, and ask him for a glass of water. Like, hello? I am standing right here. Why go bother your dad who’s busy to fill up a cup with ice and pour you water?

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

A few years ago, this would drive me insane. I would tell my husband, ‘She hates me, she cannot even ask me for a simple thing like water.’ My feelings would be so hurt, and I would feel defeated. Yet, on the other hand, my 10-year-old step-daughter loves asking me questions about life, being around me, learning from me, and shows a different form of affection. There is this fine line in step-parenting with so many unwritten rules, especially when the co-parenting relationship isn’t the strongest. You have to discipline a different way or sometimes not at all, and leave that to the biological parent. You have to show your step-children you love them but not make them feel uncomfortable as though you are trying to replace their mom. You provide for your step-children but still, have a lingering cloud telling you you can’t do X, Y and Z because you’re not their ‘real’ mom, but yes, put your love, money, and energy into them, unconditionally. I have learned I have to continue to be present and let them feel however they need to feel. They did not choose this. I have to remind myself to give them grace.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

Which reminds me to also be nicer to myself. In four years, I’ve given birth, went through a divorce, moved back to my parents’ house, bought a new house, gave birth again, and again, started a new job and got married — all in that order. When I think about my life in the last four years, it does not seem that crazy, but when I write it down or talk about it, I realize how much has actually happened. This does not even touch on all that has happened in between all these life-changing events. In 2016, I also started dealing with anxiety issues. Anxiety has never been an issue for me. Now it is something I deal with daily. I get frustrated because I believe it was triggered by all these life changes, but all these changes are things I wanted. I wanted a divorce. I wanted to buy a new house. I wanted kids with my husband. I am living exactly the life I wanted, so why the anxiety? I have yet to find the answer but essential oils have been my saving grace with coping. I wanted a natural, holistic approach in dealing with my mental health issue. Lavender, especially, is so helpful. For me, oils remind me to breathe, be aware of my breaths, and make me feel grounded again.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

This is a beautiful life I am living; I am madly in love with my husband. I truly feel like he was made for me. My soulmate. My best friend. He is everything I have ever hoped for in a partner. He is always intentionally present for our children and me, he’s patient, he supports me in everything I do, he cooks, he cleans, and he is just an all-around amazing man.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

My hopes for our children are they feel safe and loved in our home. I hope they see how hard we work and play. I hope they realize everything we do is for them. We want all of our kids to feel comfortable in their space and feel heard. We want them to know their voice matters, even in our big family, each of them as individuals matter. I hope our kids learn how to love by our example. I hope they understand how to be treated in a relationship, as they get older. I know their little eyes are watching and I hope I make each of them proud.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

Blended families have their own unique difficulties, but there is so much beauty to them. Our kids always ask about each other and really enjoy hanging out with each other. I know they are proud of their big blended family. Quarantine has brought us all so much closer. We have been home with all of them Monday through Friday, as opposed to the normal custody schedule. It has been a nice slower pace, and we have really loved the togetherness of it all. Our 4 and 6-year-old both learned how to swim this summer in our pool, our 1-year-old started walking and has a whole vocabulary now, and our 9-year-old’s braces come off soon! There is so much to celebrate with our kids.

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

If you are a step-parent, a mother, part of a big family, please know you matter! No matter what anybody else says, thinks, or does, you matter and you are loved and worth it to each child you have a part in raising. Life gets hard sometimes, find your support, and find your people, your community that will lift you up, hold you, and love you unconditionally. Feel all your feelings, the good, the bad, the ugly. Let those emotions out and keep pushing. Celebrate your highs, feel your lows. Your children love you and always have their eyes on you.”

Courtesy of Kelly Grace Vella

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Grace Vella from Southern California. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this:

‘He’ll never be a dead-beat dad who got remarried and started a new life. And I refuse to be the evil stepmom.’: Bonus mom successfully co-parents with husband’s ex, ‘We all make the effort. We all show up. We are all present’

‘I invited my husband’s ex-wife to my wedding. In our family, we’re not ‘half’ or ‘step.’ We’re just family.’: Mom and stepmom come together to peacefully co-parent after feud, ‘women should always support each other’

‘My ex-husband married my best friend,’ she tells everyone. We’ve given ‘Sister Wives’ a whole new meaning.’: Wife and ex-wife become best friends after years of fighting, successfully co-parent blended family

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