“My husband and I met 16 years ago as colleagues at an orientation in training for jobs at Verizon. I walked into our training class, late… and the only available seat was next to him. I wasn’t upset that I had been forced into sitting next to him since he was a pretty handsome fella. But, at the time, I was in a relationship, so it didn’t matter anyway. We instantly hit it off, though just as friends. He was energetic and enthusiastic and different from most of the guys I knew at the time. I thought he was a little loud for my taste, but I did appreciate his energy. He seemed like a friendly person and someone who it would be fun to partner up with while we were in training.
Orientation lasted about a month, so we spent a significant amount of time together. We partnered for group projects, took lunch breaks together (with the rest of our team), and sometimes exchanged funny emails on the VZW server. Over the month, we had gotten close enough to exchange contact information, and we kept in touch loosely over the next 11 years. We’d shoot each other a text on birthdays and on New Years, stuff like that. Once he actually popped up on me at work, and we had lunch. It was during this 11-year span that I found out he had a daughter. I saw a photograph of her on Instagram though, he didn’t exactly tell me directly. I thought that it was interesting but not suspect. We were cool but not close enough that I felt like he owed me an update on every development in his life. I noted it and moved on.
In 2014 when we reconnected, his daughter was almost 3 years old. I was fresh out of a 10-year relationship. My ex and I were together for what was, at the time, my entire adult life (from the age of 20-30), and the way our relationship ended left me incredibly bruised. I wasn’t looking to jump into another relationship and certainly not a serious one. The plan was to pick up the pieces of myself and pull it all back together.
When my now-husband started courting me, I wasn’t really ready. But, when he invited me over to his house to spend the Labor Day weekend, I said, ‘F it!’ and went. We hung out, and it was a great time. He took me to one of those trampoline parks which was torture on my back but still fun. We took a walk on the beach, and he cooked every meal I ate the entire weekend. A few months later, he would ask me to be his girlfriend…and I had to pause and really think it through.
I wasn’t completely over my ex and the idea of him having a child made the prospect of being in a relationship with him that much harder to swallow. Getting over my ex was one thing, that was a matter of healing. But getting around the child he had was something different. Not only for all of the reasons that you might be thinking but also because I was feeling neglected in my last relationship, and being with a man with a child just felt like it would lead to more of the same thing. How could he make me #1 when he has a baby who must, by default, be his number 1 priority? I was skeptical but moved forward not expecting to be proven wrong.
I met my husband’s daughter 3 months into dating. She was 2 years old, and we had a playdate. I was very careful not to ‘invade’ her and her father’s space and acted as an observer of the two of them. I didn’t join in play unless she invited me. I was careful about the amount of affection I would show her dad in her presence, being mindful that this was something she likely had never seen before. I didn’t want her to feel as though I was trying to take her dad away from her, in whatever way she might feel that as a two-year-old. I wanted her to be comfortable with me being around, knowing that the relationship she had with her father would be preserved. We had lunch at a popular local restaurant, and by the end of the day, she was talking and playing directly with/to me. She had warmed up to me, and I was happy about that. The second time we saw each other, she approached me and gestured for me to pick her up. It was nice.
After dating for a few months, I realized that my husband was more than capable of loving me and his daughter at the same time. We weren’t competing for priorities of his, but two separate pieces of his ONE life. We both require the same love, attention, and nurturing, and he was willing and able to do the work required to be successful at providing it.
I wasn’t anticipating how serious our relationship would get and so quickly at that. And when he proposed to me only a year into dating, I still wasn’t ready…in all honesty. But, I saw such potential in him and in us. I loved him and his daughter and believed we could be happy…so we agreed to a long engagement and took the plunge. My friends and family were shocked. Most of them didn’t even know my ex and I had broken up, much less that I would be marrying a guy I had only been dating for a little over a year. Some questioned the ‘stepmotherhood‘ of it all and cautioned me that if I ever had a child with him, there could be contentious feelings and behavior. That I would have to deal with a ‘baby momma’ and the related issues. That there would be tons of awkwardness and hurdles. And, some of that is true, but there have been so many more rewarding times than there have been challenging ones.
I’ve been in my stepdaughter’s life for almost 8 years now. I have watched her grow from a curious toddler into a smart and creative young lady. It was never hard for me to be a part of her life or to let her be a part of mine, but it was a challenge wrapping my mind around what we were supposed to mean to each other. THIS was really the hardest part of step-parenting for me.
It was never my goal to assume the role or responsibility of being her mother but, at the same time, I had to juggle the expectations that her father had of me, that my family had of me, and the expectations I had of myself. Coming into her life, I anticipated she would be like the daughter I didn’t yet have. I didn’t push for it, but I have to admit I expected it to some degree. But, as time went on, I saw myself as more of an older friend. And, as our relationship grew, it was more of a mashup between caregiver and big sister. I realize that I have some responsibility for her, but my responsibility was secondary to her father’s and is only when she is in our care. Unlike her dad, I’m not responsible for her successes or her failures. As much as I may hold myself accountable for anything I did or didn’t do to contribute to or prevent them, I am only tangentially to thank or blame for her victories and losses. This is a reflection of the reality of our family, which is that I support my husband in raising my stepdaughter. I am not raising her, myself.
Even typing this feels ‘wrong.’ It feels like I am saying that I don’t care or that she isn’t ‘mine’…that I don’t love her or that it doesn’t matter to me what happens to her. These things couldn’t be any further from the truth. BUT, for me, it was important to come to this realization in order for our family to function smoothly. Understanding my role helped me understand what value I could add to our family, how to avoid conflict or bumping heads with her mother, how to support my step-daughter and her father, and how to protect my own mental and emotional wellbeing. Uncovering my purpose was tied to this understanding, and once it was clear for me, our lives got easier. It helped us, as a family, identify where I should step in as opposed to when I should take a step back. It helped us to set boundaries and expectations for one another, and we are all the better for it.
My step-daughter and I have a great relationship. She is now 10 years old and she has a sister, my 7-month-old daughter with her dad. She is the best big sister there could be. They love each other, and our family is strong. Becoming a mother has also changed my relationship with my step-daughter. I am much more appreciative of her selflessness, her supportive nature, her positive energy, and the love she has for her family. I feel closer to her than ever before. She is a wonderful young girl, and I am delighted to be her stepmom.
I thought there may be some competitiveness and perhaps some jealousy once her dad had another child, but she is so mature, so loving, and so welcoming. Having a new baby seems to have made us a tighter bonded family vs. putting distance between any two of us. Having both girls in my life feels like the biggest blessing ever, and becoming a mother has made me ruthless about their well-being. I love my girls. They are everything. And this isn’t a one-sided experience. At least, I don’t think so. My stepdaughter calls me by my first name, but she recently asked if she could call me ‘something else.’ It was such a heartwarming ask, and even though we never landed on the ‘new’ name for me, it let me know she feels closer to me than calling me ‘Alyss’ allows her to express.
Being a stepmother has made me a much more empathetic person. It’s like I feel everything and think for everyone in my family. It’s also been one of my greatest challenges because it has so far been the only role in my life where I wasn’t 100% sure what I was walking into. The only role where doing everything in my power isn’t always the best or most appropriate thing. This role has taught me restraint, taught me how to be a better team member, and taught me to always keep the bigger picture in mind.
As much as I would like to be prescriptive and tell other stepmothers how to be successful in their families, I can’t. Because one thing I know for certain is that no two families or situations are the same. What I will say though is that you should always, always give yourself some grace. Parenting is hard. Relationships are hard. Breakups are hard. Dealing with families is hard. Dealing with exes is hard. Marriages are hard. And step-parenting is a combination of all of the above. There is NO way for it to be easy. But, if you give yourself some grace, allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and pick up the pieces, you will be okay. Try to love and value yourself ALWAYS. And remember you don’t need to make the biggest contribution to your family to be an integral part of it.”
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