‘My stepdaughter took a shirt from my hands. ‘This is how my mom does it.’ It felt like a harsh slap back to reality.’: Stepmom shares journey blending families, ‘I love them all equally’

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“It was never the plan to marry a man who had children. In fact, I remember telling a friend I would never date a man with kids.

It wasn’t the kids I didn’t want— I’d wanted to have children for as long as I could remember— it was everything else. Coming from a blended family myself, I knew there were a lot of complications that could arise from getting involved with a man who already had kids. He had those babies with another woman first of all, and she would forever be in our lives. Who wants to be worrying about their husband talking to his ex? Not me! There was no way I was getting involved in all that.

Then there was the fact he’d already been through the process. Would he want to go back and start over having babies with me? That was non-negotiable. I would be a mother someday, nothing was going to get in the way of that. I worried if he’d already done it, I’d feel my experience was less exciting for him since he’s already been there and done that.

The one other thing that had me thinking it wasn’t a great idea was the differences in what our dating life would look like. His time with the kids would dictate when we could get out and do things as a couple. Another factor was his income would be divided between our life and his children’s mother. I wasn’t sure I’d want to live with that, the idea of him sacrificing our life for hers. I know that sounds selfish, but it was something I had considered as a single woman in the dating world.

I wasn’t entirely lying to my friend, we barely dated. I believe it was a whopping three dinners before I was living with the father of two, engaged 6 months later, and married within the next year. He was the one and he made me a stepmom.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

I’m not sure what happened, but all those thoughts of not dating a man with kids were erased when he looked at me. It just felt right, he was my person and I didn’t even hesitate.

We live a plane ride away from the kids, so it was Skype calls I sat in on at first. The kids never knew I was there, but I’d sit out of the frame and soak in their conversations with dad. They were adorable, I was in love with those two little cuties before they knew I existed.

Officially meeting them had me surprisingly nervous. I had been around children my whole life, yet this interaction held so much weight. Would they like me? What if they didn’t? What would that mean for my relationship? It was worse than meeting the parents, so much was riding on what these two little people thought of me.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

They were shy at first, but it was a quick turnaround. Before I knew it, his daughter was in my lap telling me I was her new mommy. That was my first experience with the complicated stepfamily dynamic. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do recall telling her that her mommy would always be her mommy, but I was so excited to get to spend time with her.

Things went very smoothly with the kids, it’s always been that way. They accepted me that first day and I’ve had great relationships with them both ever since. It was the details surrounding them that got complicated.

Early on, there was a custody battle. That was when I learned about family court and that it is too overwhelmed to actually dig into custody cases. Unless there is obvious abuse you can prove quickly, they will try to shuffle you through as quickly as possible… favoring the child-mother bond over all else. At least, that’s how it felt within our experience.

Needless to say, it was an extremely expensive and disappointing situation, but we at least ended up with some visitation time at our home and a court document to hold everyone accountable for phone calls and time together.

The bond I have developed with the kids over the years is something I will hold onto for the rest of my life. They are my kids, and I will love and protect them fiercely. The thing I think I’ve struggled with most is I am not their mom. That spot is taken, and it sometimes left me feeling like I don’t know who I was to them.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

There were times I’d feel so full of love, taking part in some small activity alone with one of my stepchildren and then they bring up their mom, and my heart would break. I remember folding laundry with my stepdaughter and her taking a shirt from my hands and showing me how her mom does it. It felt like a harsh slap back into reality, a painful reminder you are not here bonding with your child, you are sharing a moment with someone else’s child who has already had this experience.

When I would think rationally, it all made sense. They have a mom, she has already taught them simple tasks, it makes sense. Emotionally it is not that simple. I pour everything into my family and within that instant, it has felt like I am a temporary replacement for a position that is already filled.

I remember taking the advice so many had offered me and just held on to the hope one day, I would have my own. One day, I would know what it was to be the only mom, the one who comes first, the one who is loved most, and it would compensate for the hurt feelings being third/fourth/fifth to the kids I loved so much.

A couple of years after becoming a stepmom, I was expecting. I would finally have a child who would call me mom. We planned a special fun-filled weekend for the kids when it came time to share the news. We made some incredible memories and the kids were thrilled about their new baby brother or sister.

Sky Blue Photography

I had built up so many expectations of this little baby, how we would have the connection I longed for with my stepchildren. He would always be beside me and I’d never feel like I didn’t belong in my family again.

Well, although he was more than I could’ve ever dreamed of, he didn’t fix the fact I wasn’t my stepchildren’s mother. It wasn’t until I accepted there was a place for me and their mom I could heal and stop being defensive when they would discuss experiences with her. I began to take pride in the fact they wanted to tell me about things they did with their mom. It meant they didn’t feel any tension between us, they didn’t believe there was any reason to hide that part of their life from me. Once I changed how I looked at the situation, instead of feeling disconnected from them, it made me feel even closer.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

Since then, things have been running very smoothly in our blended family. We’ve welcomed another bundle of joy, one more brother for my stepdaughter to adore. Getting to be both a stepmom and biological mom, I am fortunate to be able to see both sides of motherhood.

Having a hand in raising our four children has been the single biggest honor of my life.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

With my stepchildren, I have been able to walk beside them on their journey through childhood and they have taught me more about myself than may have ever been possible without them. My love for them has pushed me to look inward, recognize my weaknesses and work to be better. Realizing my insecurity, or even jealousy, about their mom was affecting my relationship with them, forced growth. They also taught me what it was to truly love a child, how it felt to know you would sacrifice everything for someone else, in an instant.

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

With my biological babies, I have known what it is to truly be vulnerable. Knowing your baby is going to be extracted from the safety of your womb is a feeling that cannot be described as anything short of terrifying. You can no longer protect them, not fully, from the dangers of the world. That drive home from the hospital made me see things so differently, the speed limit that seemed unnecessarily slow on the way there, suddenly seemed like it should be drastically reduced. I started to see everyday objects or scenarios as insanely threatening and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it.

Although there are some differences when it comes to the worries, responsibility, and overall raising of the children, I can honestly say the love is equal among all of them. I will do anything for my kids, whether they came from my body or not.”

Courtesy of Brooke Leslie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brooke Leslie. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. 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 about blended families here:

‘When it comes to the size of our family, we’re always laughed at. What they don’t know is we love our chaos!’: Mom of 6 shares journey as blended family, ‘We were made for this’

‘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‘

Let’s give this a go, shall we?’ The first time we met, I can’t even tell you how nervous I was. It’s about giving up control.’: Moms co-write blended family journey, ‘Life is humbling and messy’

‘You were adopted.’ My world stopped. I investigated their faces as all of them started to cry. I became their mother.’: Mom of blended family says ‘blood doesn’t mean anything’

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