‘I want you to adopt us.’ It wouldn’t be easy, but she was worth fighting for.’: Mom adopts stepdaughters into forever family

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Becoming A Stepmom

“I have always wanted to be a mom. I never considered raising children that weren’t my own. I never once thought I might be a stepmom. Which also meant I could have never guessed I would be a stepparent full time. I honestly think I was just naïve about what being a parent really meant. Until I had my own biological daughter, I wouldn’t understand, as a lot of it just didn’t make sense. It really felt like I was babysitting children.

I had been recently divorced, as my first marriage lasted only six months. When I realized that I couldn’t see myself having children with my first husband, I knew that I couldn’t stay married to him. It was devastating, embarrassing, and yet, I grew up so much. I came out stronger, making sure that I stuck to what I wanted my life to look like and not just bending to someone else’s wishes. I wanted to instill this same strength into my children, whenever I did have them.

When Josh and I started to date, I was very up front with him about my desires to have a baby. I knew he had two children, Kylie (9) and Emmy (2) at the time, and I didn’t want to ‘just’ be a parent to ‘them.’ I’ve always had this dream of being pregnant twice. I knew that he didn’t want any more kids, as he thought he was done after Emmy, so it was very important to me that he agreed to have one with me or I was not going to be in a relationship with him. Our lives do not go as we plan them, so when Josh and I agreed on having only one child, I knew that I would never be pregnant again. He and I didn’t want to have four children, as he had his daughters full time, not every other weekend.

Girlfriend and Boyfriend making faces
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Single father with his two daughters outside
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

I was immediately thrown into becoming a primary parent. I was terrible at it. I grew up in a very strict household. I honestly thought that was what parenting was, strict routines, strict dinner rules, control everything. I was completely out of control, because my life was now dictated by Josh’s schedule, his two daughter’s schedules, and his ex-wife’s wishes. Not only did I start a relationship with my now-husband, but I was also trying to grow a relationship with his daughters, his parents, and pretending I had a good relationship with his ex-wife. It was horrific to say the least.

Husband and Wife walking down aisle after getting married in their old home
Courtesy of Samantha Bartlett with https://www.samanthabartlettphotography.com

I went in with high hopes, as I have always been the hopeful and naïve one, full on trying to be a Pinterest mom, but things simply did not work out as expected. In fact, at our first Christmas, I was 7 months pregnant with their little sister and Kylie decided that was the perfect time to tell me she did not want me there. I knew in the back of my mind it was because it was the first Christmas without her parents in the same room. They had started divorce and custody proceedings the prior fall, but decided to celebrate Christmas together that year for the girls’ sake. It wasn’t long after that Christmas that their mother decided to move two hours away from our town.

I knew the pain she was going through, and that it wasn’t directed at me, but it was also difficult to not take it personally. I wanted, more than anything, for us to be a family together. I dreamt of our new normal being large family gatherings, including their biological mom, to show the girls how much we all supported them. Surprise! That never happened.

Life After Birth

After the birth of my biological daughter, Holly, I pretty much took her on as my full-time focus. I wanted to show the girls that their dad is still available to them at all times and that they weren’t going to be replaced by their younger sister. I was struggling so much during this time. I was so happy to have a baby of my own, but I was also grieving the loss that would never be. I was grieving the life I would never have, the perfect nuclear family that I had dreamt of. I had three daughters, two of which didn’t seem to even want me around.

Pregnant mother in all black with cat whiskers
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Baby daughter sitting on her father's lap
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Mother holding daughter in black and white
Courtesy of Brett Birdsong with http://birdsongphotography.com

Every other weekend they would go to their mother’s and then we’d have to uphold the routines when they got back. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling with PPD, grief, and all the other things associated with childbirth. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want to have all this pressure to be the mom of three kids. I was being told I needed to love them unconditionally, when I barely knew what that meant. I didn’t even unconditionally love myself. How could I love children unconditionally when they didn’t even like me?

It’s impossible to love unconditionally when you can’t trust someone to not hurt you. This is a very difficult concept for biological parents to understand, especially if they haven’t been a stepparent. I entered this life in the middle of it. I didn’t have experience at raising children at any stage of life, and here I was, struggling to raise three girls at three completely different life stages. I know I skipped Lamaze class, but is that where they give you the manual of parenting? Amazon doesn’t have it either, I’ve already checked.

As time went on, we started to notice small positive changes, like Kylie referring to ‘us’ as her ‘parents’ instead of ‘Dad and Melissa.’ I had always been Melissa to them, never mom, and I hadn’t expected them to call me mom. I did ask them to refer to me as ‘Mom’ when speaking to Holly, so that she didn’t grow up calling me Melissa. They were always so kind and thoughtful when it came to their little sister.

Sisters sitting in front of crib, oldest one hold their baby half sister
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

I got used to this parenting thing and it got much easier for all of us to get into a routine. I planned birthday parties, was checking in on homework, taking Kylie to volleyball practice and cheering her on at games, musical practice, and performances. Going to Muffins with Mom at daycare with Emmy, teaching the girls how to take care of themselves, brush their teeth and taking them to the doctor. You know, the general parent things. I really enjoyed helping them with their programs and being an integral part of their lives. We started taking family beach vacations, and getting family photos taken, which also helped make us feel more like a family without caveats.

Daughter eating a muffin
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Half sisters standing behind garland of lilies
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

Rocky Roads

Kylie started to show signs of struggling between the houses and we realized she was being told a lot of negative comments about her dad. Their biological mom was not the most reliable when it came to pick up and drop off. Oftentimes, the girls would go to their grandparent’s house instead of her house so, when the disparagement started to become more frequent, we went to court. I realized during that court battle I did not have any legal rights, even though I was a primary parent. If something happened to my husband, I would lose my girls. My biological daughter would not be able to see her half-sisters, as their biological mother was not a fan of me. I would lose everything.

This scared me to the core. I continued to solidify my relationship with Kylie, showing her that I am a support system for her, even if she was scared about ‘choosing’ between ‘moms.’ I always offered to lend an ear and a shoulder, not to force her to tell me anything, but to help her get things off her chest. I never spoke a negative word about her biological mother because that would only tear her down instead of building her up. I helped Emmy with her pre-schooling and Christmas programs, and when their biological mother didn’t show up to Pre-K graduation, I decided it was time to stop waiting for her to show up and for me to step into the role.

Mother and stepdaughter smiling together
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Mother, her husband, and her step daughter at a run
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

When Kylie started to struggle with her mental health, we realized it was the tipping point. She told her friend she wanted to commit suicide. I got the call and, luckily, we were able to get her help immediately. We informed her biological mother what was going on and she just replied, ‘Okay.’ She didn’t come to see her. She didn’t check in. She didn’t seem concerned. I didn’t want to step on their biological mom’s toes, but it was excessively obvious she was stepping out of their lives. I needed to be the person they needed. I stopped giving excuses for their mom’s behavior, as she would cancel an hour before we needed to leave for drop off. I used to take them somewhere to distract them, but I realized not sharing the truth was making it seem as if we were just not taking them. Their biological mom would text Kylie saying they were going, but then would text my husband saying she couldn’t get them. We started to show Kylie the text threads, where her mom was saying she wasn’t getting them.

I felt that I needed to start protecting her and Emmy from their biological mom, the decisions she was making, and the things she was saying. It was not a healthy relationship, and I could not continue supporting it, knowing they were being hurt. She didn’t call them. She barely texted. It was them longing for her to care, but she couldn’t pick up the phone. I always told Kylie it was so important to let out what is bothering her. We may not have the answers, but we can validate her pain. We can validate how abandoned and unloved she was feeling.

Family standing in front of American flag during Fourth of July
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

When COVID hit, they stopped seeing their biological mom altogether. She said it was too dangerous for them to see her, yet she continued to promise them they were going to her house and then would cancel. It was gut-wrenching to see their pain. It upset me so much to see them hurt, knowing that we couldn’t do anything to help ease it. She was not seeing how her actions were affecting them. I just loved on them, hugged them, and held them while they cried. I tried my best to be the person they needed, but I knew I couldn’t replace their biological mom. I couldn’t fix the hurt she was causing them. Me apologizing for their mom’s actions was not going to change the way they felt.

Later, in 2020, Kylie heard her former stepdad signed away his rights to his daughter, and she asked me about adoption. We had many conversations in the past about what life would be like if their mom stopped seeing them or moved farther away. She told me it felt like her biological mom was dead, but she knew that she wasn’t. I told her I was going to tell her my actual opinion, as for the five years we had been a part of a family, I had always kept my personal feelings out of things. I told her that, after the court case three years prior, I wanted to adopt them. I dreamed of adopting them. I dreamed of giving them stability. I dreamed of being able to keep my family together if my husband had passed away. I dreamed of no more ‘every other weekend’ away, as it was hard on all of us. I wanted my family to stay together.

Mother and eldest step daughter smiling
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

Adoption

In the state of Indiana, since Kylie was older than 14, she would have to give consent to adopt. She told me she wanted me to try to adopt them. I told her I could not make any promises, because everything with their biological mom was a fight, so I knew that this would not be easy. Emmy had been really struggling with not seeing their biological mom, so I told her that I was going to adopt her. That I wanted her. I needed her to know she was worth fighting for, so she would not feel unloved and unwanted. Emmy decided that day I was going be known as ‘Mom’ and not ‘Melissa’ anymore.

The adoption process was stressful. I lost ten pounds the week of court, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I was just waiting for something bad to happen and trying to prepare for every scenario. For court to be pushed back, for Kylie to say she didn’t want me to adopt them, for their biological mom to come up with some miraculous reason for not seeing them, for something to go wrong and I wouldn’t get to adopt them. It never did. I adopted them without consent of their biological mom due to abandonment. For once, my efforts to be a family were granted. I finally had legal rights to my children. My children that I raised, that I messed up with in the beginning, that I grew to unconditionally love. My girls that are huge pieces of my heart. They are mine forever.

Mother at court with stepdaughters, daughter, and court members following successful adoption trial
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer
Family outside together following adoption
Courtesy of Melissa Rainer

After the adoption, we have a much more stable life, but the abandonment and hurt doesn’t just ‘go away.’ We work through things as they come. Therapy is still a huge part of our lives, and we just love and support as best as we can. Kylie is going to be a senior this fall, Emmy is going into fourth grade, and Holly is going to be a first grader. I can now sign them up for any sport, without worrying they won’t be able to make games. Kylie can work and schedule things on the weekend without worrying she can’t go. I could have never guessed at the beginning of all of this, that I would be their legal mother. I would have bet a million dollars against it, actually. Emmy is the age Kylie was when my parenting started and I finally feel like all my crash course experience will help me with the next hurdle, puberty 2.0.”

Daughters smiling with their half sister
Courtesy of Brett Birdsong with http://birdsongphotography.com
Family skipping on beach together
Courtesy of Brett Birdsong with http://birdsongphotography.com

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Melissa Rainer. You can follow her journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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