‘He was a sophomore in high school, and I was a freshman in college. If you told us then that we’d be married, we would’ve laughed at you.’: Stepmom shares love story, life as blended family

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“Being a stepmom is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. We all know that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and that goes for being a stepmom and having a blended family as well. It’s been a journey of mountains and valleys, but there’s never a dull moment. My husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary in 2020. That year we were thinking back over our journey together, and we realized that in our first five years we had adjusted to being married and becoming an instant family, job changes, the loss of three grandparents, financial stresses, and court dates. At the time, we were also in the first year of a global pandemic, during which we sold our house (after only being on the market for eight days) and moved in with my parents while building our forever home and trying to survive the days of virtual learning. Like I said, never a dull moment.

couple with their son
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

We started dating in 2014. Some mutual friends of ours reintroduced us, and we had an immediate connection. I say reintroduced because years earlier we went on a mission trip together. At that time, he was a sophomore in high school, and I was a freshman in college. If you had told either of us then that one day we would be married, we would’ve both laughed at you.

couple on their wedding day
Sam Beauchamp Photography

But God had other plans.

Fast forward several years from that mission trip. He had been divorced about a year when we started dating. Our mutual friends arranged a little party at their house with a group of friends in order for us to get together and talk some. That was the first night I met my now stepson. He had just turned one and us girls took him inside to play while the guys stayed outside. I vividly remember he did NOT like when his daddy was out of his sight that night.

He had moved back in with his parents and rented out his house after his divorce so they could help on the days he had his son due to his work schedule. When the renters moved out about two months before we got married, they left it in a mess. I had always said I never wanted to have a long engagement, so we planned a wedding AND remodeled a house in five months.

engagement photos of couple on a rock
Sam Beauchamp Photography

About a month before the wedding, just before my stepson turned 2, we decided that they would move back into the house to get my stepson adjusted to living there before I moved in. We tried to do things in stages hoping the adjustment would be easier. At the time, my husband was leaving the house shortly after 5 a.m. each morning to go to work. Because my stepson was so young when my husband and his ex divorced, they had a two-two-three custody schedule, meaning every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday they were switching out. At the time, I had my own photography business from home and worked part-time as a church secretary, so I would get up on the days my husband had him and go to the house and stay with him until he woke up and then take him to my husband’s grandmother who babysat him every day.

couple and their son smiling
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

Thirteen months after we started dating, we were married on a rainy Saturday in October. When you know, you know, right? Our wedding day in itself was an adventure. I had always dreamed of having an outdoor wedding, and we were planning for a simple ceremony in a grove of pecan trees by a lake. Thankfully, we had an indoor backup plan at our church. The weather was calling for rain that day, and we decided not to chance it. Then our decorator woke up sick that morning and couldn’t be there to decorate. Luckily another lady from church who is a decorator/wedding planner had stopped by the church for something and was able to put up our decorations for us. My husband’s parents woke up with a huge leak in their roof that morning and had to get it patched before they could get to the church. His dad was his best man. The power also went out at the church that day. So we had a little time where we were getting ready in the dark.

couple on their wedding day with their son
Sam Beauchamp Photography

Probably the funniest part of the day was when my husband’s ring never made it into the ceremony and my bridesmaids somehow managed to communicate with my husband’s cousin who passed his ring up for me to use without us knowing what was going on. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the ring wouldn’t fit! We laughed about it that day, and we still do now. We’ve learned over the years that you just have to laugh about things and move on. Picture-perfect realities aren’t really a thing.

I wasn’t naive enough to think getting married and becoming a stepmom would be easy, but I don’t think anyone could’ve prepared me for what was actually ahead. I didn’t realize how lonely I would feel as a first-time wife and stepmom. My friends and family supported me, but none of them had ever experienced being a stepparent, and I’m glad they hadn’t. It was hard not having anyone that could truly relate. I realize it may sound like I wasn’t happy, but that’s not the case. It was just hard adjusting. Adjusting to being married and living with someone is hard enough. I think we can all agree it’s not what Hollywood makes it out to be. Add in becoming a stepmom at the same time, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Truth is, even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I had this image in my head of what I wanted our family life to look like, and it wasn’t playing out that way. My stepson had a hard time adjusting to me being around every time he was there and didn’t really want to share his daddy with anyone else. Even at 2 years old, he would tell me to leave and get away. Even though I knew it was just him adjusting, it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

family photo outside
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

In the midst of all this adjusting, three months after we were married, my husband’s grandmother passed away. She was my stepson’s constant. He was with her more than anyone since she kept him not only the days my husband had him but also the days he was with his mom. Because I had the flexibility in my schedule, we decided he would just stay with me on the days we had him and go to daycare on the days his mom had him. So here we are married for only three months, everyone is adjusting to this new life and my stepson loses the most constant person in his life. To say he loved his Nanny Barbara would be an understatement. Thankfully, by this point, he had realized I was there to stay. While it was hard, we needed that time together. We were connecting, and my love for him was deepening, and his love for me, his Haynay, was deepening as well. He couldn’t say Hannah at first so it came out as ‘Haynay,’ and to this day he still calls me that. It’s our ‘thing.’

In 2017, we had to hire a lawyer and go to court. That same year, my dad was diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer and underwent chemo, radiation, and a major surgery. The following year, 2018, we had to hire a lawyer again and go back to court. This time for a custody modification. The financial and physical stress these two years put on us was rough. My anxiety and stress levels were higher than they had ever been in my life. I developed high blood pressure, I gained a good bit of weight, my migraines were getting worse, and I was just overall letting everything get to me. I put my physical and mental health on the back burner. We got through those two years and thought 2019 was going to be a turnaround for our family. We prayed it would be a year of positives for our family. In March of that year, we lost my grandfather (my dad’s dad.) In April we found out my dad’s cancer had returned, this time in the brain. He underwent another major surgery to remove a tumor. We were told it was stage four now, and he would have to undergo treatments for the rest of his life. It seemed like it was something each year.

mom and son smiling
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

And then we all know what happened in 2020. If that wasn’t crazy enough, as I mentioned before, we decided it was time to sell our house and build our forever home on my family’s farm. However, in order to build, we had to sell first, which meant we moved in with my parents for eight months while we were building. When we listed our house on the market, the realtor told us to be prepared to move quickly. We thought we were prepared. Eight days after hitting the market, it was under contract. We started going through everything and packing. Earlier in the year, my husband’s grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer. In June of 2020, the same week, we had to be moved out and closed on our house, he passed away. May and June of 2020 are pretty much a complete blur for me now.

Being a stepmom can be a very lonely role. Especially when you want biological children but battle infertility, which is also part of our story. When you hear, ‘You’ll understand when you have children of your own,’ or ‘It’s different when it’s your own child,’ it’s often a reminder of what you want but don’t have. Most people are well-meaning when they say those things, but truthfully, most people don’t know that part of our story. It’s not something that’s easy to talk about.

Somewhere along the way, society put a stigma on stepmoms. Or maybe we put it on ourselves, I’m not sure. I don’t think the ‘evil stepmom’ is as much of a persona as it used to be, but what I do feel like what most stepmoms struggle with is being afraid to talk about how they really feel. Afraid we will be seen as ungrateful or give someone the impression we don’t like our stepkids. And for most of us, that’s not the case at all. We love our families, we love our stepkids.

mom and son smiling
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

Although we’ve had our fair share of hard times over the years, we’ve also had some of the most beautiful times as a family as well. We’ve laughed hard and loved hard. We’ve been on some of the most fun vacations and made some of the best memories that we’ll be talking about for years to come. Being a blended family has grown us in ways we never would’ve imagined. We joke that if we can survive all that we did in our first five years of marriage, then we can survive anything!

If you’re a stepmom, my biggest piece of advice is to find some other stepmoms to talk to. Don’t get locked inside your own head. Find someone who can relate from experience that you can talk to. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are Facebook groups for stepmoms where you can connect with other women who understand and other women who need to hear your story as well.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long to look for others who could relate and I wish I hadn’t waited so long to share my story with others as well. Second, let go of your expectations. Realize your family will look different than others and that’s perfectly fine. Also, give yourself some grace. This role didn’t come with an instruction manual, and we learn a little more each day. And lastly, enjoy the journey! Find something to be grateful for each day.”

family portrait
Courtesy of Hannah McEntire

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah McEntire. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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.

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