“As a step-parent or bonus parent, as I like to call it, your voice is often drowned out. Through all the court cases, custody/property/money/business battles, it’s not often people ask you for your side of the story or stop to check in on how you are handling everything. You are just in the background trying to stay strong for your partner, all while trying to figure out this whole ‘mom thing’ completely on your own. When you become a new mother, you have all the information you need at your fingertips. With every corner you turn, you have someone telling you how they did things and what they wish they knew before they started. But where’s the handbook for those of us who meet someone and take on an instant-family? How do those of us who never even wanted children navigate through taking on someone else’s?
You see, becoming a mom was never really high on the list of things I wanted from life. Growing up, I was always a free-spirit, but extremely ambitious at the same time. While most of my friends were daydreaming about their wedding, their future husband, and family, I was daydreaming about becoming a CEO or owning my own business. At 19, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I decided to travel in the meantime. Me being me, instead of moving to another state, I got a passport on my lunch break and booked a one-way flight to Australia leaving in 6 weeks, knowing nobody on the other side when I landed.
I continued to travel the next few years and in 2015, I ended up in a ski resort called Queenstown in New Zealand. After living and working in the small town for 2+ years, I was ready to leave New Zealand and move onto my next adventure elsewhere. I booked my flight out and was getting ready to leave when I met my partner, Josiah. I had just turned 25 and nothing over the next few years was anything remotely close to ‘my plan.’
I remember the first night I met Josiah through mutual friends. I think I went over and tried to dance with him and the first words he said to me were, ‘Just to put it out there, I have two kids and I’m currently going through a divorce.’ Wow. The magic words. Nothing could’ve made me run away faster. It wasn’t until about 7 months later I heard from him again. By that time, I was already dating someone else, but I knew after the first few times Josiah and I hung out, I had found my best friend. From the beginning, our energies just fed off one another and our visions and aspirations for our lives were completely aligned. We had found such a good friendship in each other, and things were going well… until they weren’t. We were still living in the same small town Josiah, his ex-wife, and all of their friends lived in. Need I say more?
It can be so easy to get caught up in what people say and how they try to make you look to those around them, but it’s imperative you stay true to yourself. We were dealt more than our fair share of ‘gossip.’ Jos even got blamed for other people’s unfaithfulness. But the people we cared about, the people we loved, and the people who loved and cared for us knew the truth and at the end of the day, does anyone else REALLY matter? I had to accept that defending myself to those who meant nothing to me wasn’t worth my time or energy. From the very beginning, I had learned how to separate my personal life from Josiah’s past life, which is probably why I kept my sanity through the absolute hell we were soon to endure. It’s funny, we often look back at that time in our lives and talk about how everyone trying to tear us down only brought us closer together. Some days, it felt like we only had each other to lean on and boy, did we need resilience because the next 2 years would test us in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Being a stepmom is anything but easy, and having a messy divorce swallowing up your new relationship puts things into an entirely different category. The kids’ mom was fighting for full custody and the only way she could do that was if she could prove Josiah was unfit to parent. I’m not exaggerating when I say every week was something new and only those closest to us know the true extent of the drastic measures taken to slander his (and sometimes my) character. On the days Jos felt so tired and beaten up, I felt like it was my job to stay strong and hold everything together in order for him to keep fighting for the kids. Eventually, we used every bit of savings we had on lawyers, only to see no results.
In the end, Josiah had to start representing himself in court. He was happy to give up the money and the property, but he could never give up on the custody battle. It was the one thing he refused to let himself do. So many days and nights I watched him just completely break down and cry trying to muster up the energy to continue fighting for those kids. Some days he would work for 10-12 hours only to come home and have to spend hours responding to affidavits trying to defend himself and his right to be in the kids’ lives.
It’s like he was always guilty until proven innocent, and when given the opportunity, they will knock you down until you have no choice but to give up. At the time you’re so caught up in the day-to-day, you don’t fully grasp how these things are draining you, but I look back and feel so lucky Jos had enough fight in him to take on representing himself, even when we knew the chances of winning without a lawyer were slim. He knew he would never forgive himself if he didn’t do everything he possibly could to stay in their lives, so that’s what he did.
February 2020 is when everything changed for us. Nearly 2 years later, it finally felt like, for once, we had a win. The parenting orders were signed by the judge and put into effect. In the end, we were not only granted the time we were fighting for but granted even more. It finally felt like we could move forward with our lives knowing our future as a family was safe and protected by the courts. 2 years into our relationship, it finally felt like we were starting OUR life.
I had this happening in the background all while I was trying to figure out this new role I’ve been thrown into. I had no idea what I was getting into and by the time you get through the ‘honeymoon phase’ of being a stepmom, it’s often at a point you can’t easily just back out. I imagine my journey would’ve been quite different from someone who went into a relationship involving older children. Younger children are much more likely to quickly take to you, love you, embrace your company, but with that immediate attachment also comes extra pressure. You now have two kids who love and adore you, and through so much chaos and change in their life, you have become a constant and it can feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders when things get hard.
So here I am, 25 years old suddenly taking on a 1 and 3-year-old. My stepson was the older of the two, and the older he got, the more questions he’d have for us, which were often triggered by something he had heard at his other house. ‘Lex, my mum said I can’t call you mum because you aren’t my mum. She said people can’t have two mums… they can only have one.’ I would never want or try to take anything away from their real mom, especially her title. To be honest, I wouldn’t want them to call me mom. I had enough pressure as it was and the truth is, being called mom would have made everything feel way too real and in the beginning, I wasn’t quite ready. Personally, I didn’t agree with the way she worded that to a 3-year-old, but I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries and I can’t control what or how she explains things to them.
Is there a right way to respond to these things correctly? I have no idea, but I was figuring it out all on my own. So, my answer to them has always stayed pretty much the same. ‘I am not your real mum, because I didn’t give birth to you. Your mum did that so that makes her your real mom. But I love the two of you so much, and when you are at our house, I will always love and take care of you just like a mom. What you call me doesn’t change the way I love you or take care of you.’
Josiah and I have always been extremely cautious of the things we would talk about in front of the kids and made sure to never talk down on their mum. At the end of the day, she is their mom, no matter how she treated us, she is a great mom to them and loves them immensely. Why would we ever want to make them feel anything other than that? But as time goes on, the way you handle these confrontations changes quite a lot. You can’t always defend yourself or explain to children the way you would to another adult. It’s much more complex.
A few times, Noah has come home saying things like, ‘I wanted to call you this week, but my mum said you are too busy to want to talk to me.’ To which I now reply, ‘If you are not allowed to call us, that is your moms’ decision and you have to listen to her, but it’s never because we are too busy for you. You can ALWAYS call us and we will always have time for you.’
It took months of walking on eggshells until one day, I decided my only job is to make sure those kids know they are loved and cared for when they are at our house, anything else is detrimental to them. I feel like I have fully stepped into this role and feel confident enough to back myself and my ability to parent. I believe it’s my responsibility to assist in raising these children to be good people in this world, and that’s what I will continue to do.
I felt like being a stepmom was enough for me. I had given in to this whole part-time-parent thing and accepted this new life. I was more than happy for our life to stay the way it was. I mean, we had the best of both worlds. One weekend we could still be traveling, socializing with our friends, having date nights, etc., and the next weekend, we got to enjoy the family life. I still got to embrace the pleasures of living a child-free life, but it was nice to spend the weekends in between planning things as a family.
One year into this crazy rollercoaster, I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, Harper. I struggled a bit at the beginning of my pregnancy, questioning if I would be able to be a full-time mom. I was so happy with how our life was, I was scared to turn my life upside down all over again.
Although I had some uncertainties, my heart felt so full when I got to see the way the kids were with me during my pregnancy, and with their new little sister. I can hardly put into words how much they adore and love her and it truly melts my heart every single day. I remember when we were driving home from the hospital a few days after I had Harper and Noah said, ‘Lex, how cool now you are a real mum. I mean, you’re basically already a real mum but now someone gets to call you mum too!’ He was so excited for me to finally get to be called mom. It’s amazing to see those little things they notice and pick up on.
The truth is, there are as many different ways to be a stepmother, as there are ways to be a mother, and you will spend years trying to find what works best for the two of you. I’ve learned so much and I often reflect on the most important lessons I’ve taken from this journey.
These days, I remind myself I am not naturally given the answers with them. I am not wired with the love and patience for them as their mom is. I have to make sure I am not too hard on myself when I have days I just feel like I am doing it all wrong. Some days, I feel like super mom and some days, I feel like I am about to go insane, and that’s okay. People who have never been put in my position often have an opinion on how I should or shouldn’t do things. From people I’ve never met to Josiah’s own family, I’ve had criticism and judgment on how I am doing things. And I get it. After time, these people get so used to me being around and parenting the kids they forget I am not their mom. I often feel like I am compared to Josiah on the way we parent and love the kids because yes, it is different. Josiah is their father, and he naturally has the love and patience I mentioned before. People tend to forget I CHOOSE to love and take care of these two kids, and I have to choose that every single day when I wake up… not just the easy ones.
I have accepted I cannot fix what I didn’t break. My energy is now only invested in the present and future of OUR family, not in the damage caused before I was in the picture. As much as I love and support my partner, as a mom I also put myself in the shoes of the children’s biological mother to better understand certain things. It is not me against her, and there have been times when I’ve come to understand where she was coming from, and I have no issue communicating that with Josiah.
I now understand the ebb and flows of the role, and I know sometimes I just need to take a step back. I can go months loving being a stepmom and feel like my relationship with the kids is flowing naturally. And then I go through a phase where I feel like it takes every bit of my energy to parent all three kids. Through the hardest moment, I have found the most important thing is I communicate how I am feeling to Josiah.
When I am feeling good, I am happy to take on a bigger role in their lives. I can be supermom and handle everything just as a full-time mom of three would, and I love it. But when I am feeling off, it’s important to let Josiah know I need him to step in and help me. When I am going through my ‘slowdown phases,’ Josiah will make an effort to take the kids out of the house and spend some one-on-one time with them to give me a few hours of peace. He will make an effort to do school drop-offs and pickups so I can focus those days around some things for myself. He will book me in for a one-hour massage while he takes the kids to the park or for some lunch to make sure I am having a little extra ‘me’ time.
It’s been over 2 years in this and we are still learning through trial and error to find what works for us. I can truly say, through the hardest of times, I am feeling more confident and powerful than ever. I would have never thought I would be in this position at 27, but I am so incredibly proud of the woman I am today. I feel like I am exactly where I am meant to be, and I have my crazy, wild, blended family to thank for that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexa Briggs of New Zealand. 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.
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