Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic violence which may be upsetting for some.
Child Of Divorce
“I had a stepmom. I had a stepdad. I am a stepmom.
After experiencing what I did during childhood, I never thought I’d ever speak those words.
I am a stepmom.
I certainly never thought I could say that word without shame. Stepmom.
Growing up, I felt so much shame around that word and sadly, it partially stemmed from fairy tales and what’s been ingrained about ‘evil stepmoms’ in our young, childlike minds through movies like Cinderella, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel.
This leads me to ask this question about stepmoms…
‘Are we good or evil?’ Up until a few years ago, I leaned toward ‘evil.’
That shame I felt was further solidified as a stepkid, as the shame I had was rooted in judgment. I judged my stepmom because she wasn’t my mom. I also judged her because she didn’t know any better.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned now that I, myself, am a stepmom… it’s that no little girl on this Earth wakes up one day and says to herself, ‘I want to be a stepmom when I grow up.’
We say things like, ‘I want to be a mom,’ or ‘I want to get married!’ But here’s what we don’t say: ‘I want to fall in love with a man that has a baby from another woman and raise them like they’re my own, even though they’re not.’
It’s not something we choose because we dreamt of it. We choose this because we choose to love our partners, and their kids are a package deal. We choose to love their kids and raise them like they’re our own because we want to, not because we have to. And it’s in this space that we dance on a fine line between what is known to be good and what is seen as evil.
I am a child of divorce, three times over. My parents split when I was 5 months old, they both remarried, and they split again.
Having A Stepmom
My stepmom came first. I was about 2 or 3 when I met her, and I wasn’t in attendance at their wedding. It’s something that haunted me into my adulthood because what hurt me the most wasn’t my parents’ divorce – I somehow had an understanding they were never meant to be together – but not being a part of my dad’s second wedding led me to question why I was never good enough to be loved. To this day, there is no clear understanding of why I wasn’t there or who made that decision, but as I got older and started to notice my absence in their wedding photos and quite frankly, their lives, it started to taint my view of my stepmom.
I spent the majority of my life with my mom as she had sole custody of me and made me feel like I was home. I’d get to stay at my dad and stepmom’s house every other weekend, and as a really little girl, I loved it because they lived by the beach and they had two dogs, Ally and AJ. To be completely honest, I don’t remember much other than knowing I felt like a visitor in their home and their lives – an inconvenience of sorts.
As a young child, I also remember never truly feeling close to her. This began to evolve as I got older, but despite not feeling a close bond, I always looked up to her. I knew my dad loved her and I wanted her to love me, too. As a kid, I never felt like she truly did because what I needed are things I never got.
I was the type of child who craved presence and to know that I was important enough for my parents to be at events, but I don’t believe my stepmom ever made it to anything. I craved connection but as much as we talked, it was rarely anything that made me feel loved, understood, or cared about.
I also loved affection because that’s what I knew from my mom and grandparents. She was not the type to freely give affection, except for when she was drinking. One of the most vivid memories I have of this was the night of a party at my dad’s house where someone got belligerently drunk and started a fight in front of me. I was visibly shaken so my stepmom reached over to hug me and with wine on her breath said, ‘It’s okay, sweetie. Don’t worry about that stuff.’ She never called me sweetie, but in my young mind, a nickname equaled affection. I remember feeling so cared for at that moment – a feeling I clung to for years.
That feeling, much like a period of intoxication, was fleeting. It didn’t happen again unless she was drunk.
They had my younger brother in that same time period, and I continued to feel like an outsider in their lives because life happened while I was away, but I got a peek into it every other weekend. During this time, my relationship with them felt like a yo-yo. I was being pulled in, only to be let back out. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I realized I was on a recurring path to destruction, instability, and unreliability – but that was my ‘norm.’
Later Relationship With Stepmom
They ended up divorcing for reasons unbeknownst to me, but as I grew older, our relationship actually got better. I stayed involved in her life as she and my dad became better friends outside the marriage, and had my little brother in common. We found things we had a shared interest in like licking the batter off the mixer when we baked. We both cried at the ending of Selena, we both loved cinnamon raisin bagels in the morning, and we used to bond while cooking dinner for the kids. It started to become apparent to me she simply didn’t know how to love me as a child, but it was easier for her to navigate the unknowns once I got older. I started to understand her and began to let go of the resentment that built over the course of my lifetime. I began to look at her as human, not as ‘evil.’
Here was a woman who loved a man who had a child. She didn’t choose this situation because it was her ‘ideal’ circumstance. She also didn’t choose to figure out how to love me best but now, it’s pretty clear to me she simply didn’t know how.
It also wasn’t until a few years ago that I understood her battle with alcohol addiction came into play in their divorce; the same addiction which ultimately led to her untimely death just a few months ago.
With so much uncertainty in my life, I always had my guard up, and in turn, leaned heavily on my intuition to guide me with people. Some called it awareness, but I called it survival. I needed this skill to preserve my safety and my flags fired up the moment I met the man my mom was dating and ultimately ended up marrying.
My (ex) stepdad was a glorified piece of work, to put it nicely. From day one, I wasn’t a fan, but since I was young (about 9), it was chalked up to me not knowing any better. Everyone thought I simply resented him because he took my mom away from us, but the years of emotional abuse, manipulation, violence, control, and trauma shook everyone straight by the end of our nearly 8-year stint under his roof.
Through the eyes of a child, my stepdad was evil. The hardest part of it all at first was the manipulation and hold he had over our mother, made abundantly clear when he would encourage her to side with him because I was just being a ‘bratty pre-teen.’ This began to change as she began to see him for what he was, but the next hurdle we had to overcome was control over our finances. He had a hold over my mom’s finances and shot her credit into the dirt by financing appliances and letting the house they bought together go into foreclosure (after we left), keeping us from getting approved by any apartments or finding signs of a life outside of him.
He isolated us from family and friends. He put us down any chance he got. He went out of his way to say we wouldn’t have a roof over our heads if it weren’t for him. It was ugly. The fights in our home weren’t fights… they were battles.
We fought for our peace, a battle that was lost every day until the day we got out. If there wasn’t a fight going on, there was the most deafening silence one could ever hear. There were rage-punched holes in our walls and broken furniture. There was fear. There was sadness. There were padlocks on closets and deadbolts on doors and rewired garage doors to keep us from getting in. There was hiding at friends’ houses and denied restraining orders. And to top it off? There was also a new baby in the mix.
It came to a head one day over a jar of pickles that my middle sister couldn’t open… He erupted. We hid under a desk with my baby sister in my arms. The police came and the Department of Children and Family Services got involved and helped us get out – once and for all.
While I hold space for his abundantly obvious mental instability, it’s clear to me any attempts at kindness were overshadowed by malice. Abusers will always tell you they feel remorse over their actions. They will always do whatever it takes to reel you back in and repeat the cycle, keeping you under their thumb. To me, this is what evil truly is.
But most of all? This is what developed the shame I felt around the idea of being a ‘stepparent’ to a sweet little boy that I now love so much… to the little boy I am now proud to say I am a stepmom too.
Being A Stepmom
Even through years of therapy and inner work, my time in this role of ‘stepmom’ has healed my heart in ways therapy never could. I used to feel shame in this word, being so focused on the fact this little boy isn’t biologically mine. I felt shame because of my own experiences, being jaded by my own actions and imagining it’d be impossible for a child to love me as I didn’t love my stepdad. I was stuck on the fact I didn’t feel worth loving because that’s what seemed to be displayed to me time and time again.
Being a stepmom has been the most rewarding yet equally challenging experience, but an experience that will forever be worth it. I learned to have grace as I’ve never had before. Grace for people like my stepmom who didn’t know any better, nor choose to become an overnight parent. Grace for my partner in the decisions he made before knowing me, that could have led to a world of hurt for all involved. And grace for my mom, who like myself, is a survivor of domestic abuse, and did the very best she could for our circumstances. It also has shown me her love for us is what got us through, along with the sacrifices and strength she displayed for us to see. That strength was passed down and is exactly what I tap into on my hardest days. She showed me I was loved through it all, and that’s the love I want to share with my family, as well.
I’ve learned the value of presence and being around for school events or volunteering in the classroom because not only has he verbalized how much it means to him when we’re there, but you can see the way his eyes light up when he sees us in the room. It may not have been done for me, but my partner and I do everything we can to make sure we show up for him.
I’ve seen our connection grow and strengthen as time goes on because my partner and I encourage him to be his own person and to make his own choices. We encourage critical thinking, awareness, socialization, boundaries, and routines to give him the best chance at having a stable and loving childhood that will set him up for success as an adult. We talk about hard things, we ask him how he feels, and we love him for who he is.
I’ve tapped into my memories with my stepmom remembering just how special I felt when she called me ‘sweetie’ that one day, so I make a conscious effort to show my stepson my soft side, even when all the frustrations in the day tell me to do otherwise… not just when I’ve had a drink. I call him my little man and he calls me Tay.
While he may not have my genetics, I see little traces of me in his actions… I see him make gestures that I make. I hear him use phrases I use like, ‘I am aware,’ when we’re stating the obvious. I read an assignment he wrote in class telling all the other butterflies, ‘You got this. I would be proud,’ which is a phrase we’ve repeatedly used to help him overcome his anxieties and find confidence in himself without external validation. I see him thinking about things and forming his own opinions like we’ve encouraged him to do. I saw it in the card he drew me for Mother’s Day where he wrote, ‘You are the most loved stepmom in the entire universe,’ a compliment that will forever surpass simply ‘being the best.’
Being the ‘most loved’ is something I never thought I could be, until now.
As a stepmom, I’ve given parts of myself to a little boy who didn’t grow in my belly but grew in my heart, and that alone is the best healing ‘little me’ could have ever received.
Final Thoughts On Stepparents
So… are stepparents good or evil?
But is that even the real question, anymore?
Or is it, ‘Am I strong enough to break generational trauma for the good of myself and my family?’
The answer to these questions is ours to decide.
My experiences have led me to create The Stepmom Manifesto, a soon-to-be online community and podcast for stepmoms that provide tangible advice, templates, strategies, and learning materials to help find their inner badass in high-conflict situations.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor Ridge from Los Angeles, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. You can buy her book here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this:
Spread beauty and strength for others. SHARE this story on Facebook with family and friends.