This is a love letter to you, the stepmothers of the world. It is a letter of love because thank you is nowhere near enough. I am the biological father of 4 beautiful children. 3 from my previous marriage and 1 from the marriage my wife and I are currently enjoying and working very hard at. There are two reasons I am writing this letter to stepmoms. One is personal, and the other is practical.
On the personal side, my wife is a stepmom to my 3 children from a previous marriage, and a bio-mom to our young son. She is a tireless servant, just like you.
On the practical side, my situation is not unique. 1 of every 2 marriages ends in divorce and of those, 75% remarry. The majority of these men remarry and spend a significant amount of time, resources, and emotional content on remaining a presence in the lives of their biological children. My point here is that while the title of stepmom exists in the canon of familial and social roles, it is one that is without definition and one that will not rest until it gets its pound of flesh.
It is hard being a stepmom. It’s a job. It’s a calling. It’s a labor of love. It’s confusing. It’s complicated. It can be thankless. It can be exhilarating. It can be rewarding. It can be devastating. It can be the best decision you’ve ever made. It can also be a bruise upon your life that never heals.
I work as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Psychotherapist and I tell all my prospective stepmoms that you’re not just saying yes to marriage, you’re saying yes to being a stepmom as well. They are two very different proposals. Step-mothering is the wild west of social roles. Chances are you are nodding your head yes. You get this. The position is often all about the “nots.” “I’m not trying to replace your mother.” “I’m not your child.” “You’re not my real mom.” “You’re not even my child.” This begs the question, what IS step-mothering about? What IS this relationship? Here in our culture the stepmother is simply a “legal stranger.” No legal standing without actual adoption.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, 1300 new step families form every day, and according to The Stepfamily Foundation’s research, 75% of those complain about “not having access to any resources geared towards step-families.” I don’t know that anything could have prepared my wife for the role she was undertaking. I marvel in awe at how she navigates all of her positions. She is a woman, a wife, a mother, a step-mother, a medical professional, and a beautiful child of God. She is you. I ask myself how it is that you all do this?
The only answer that makes sense to me is that you’re built for it, and you answered the call with a resounding yes.
Now my guess is that when you were a little girl and dreaming big, you never dreamt of being a stepmom. You didn’t have any stepmom dolls or watch any stepmom cartoons. Here you are falling in love with someone who has kids and you have to unwind your previous dreams in order to cultivate your new ones.
It takes an extraordinary amount of maturity and discipline to be a stepmom. It also takes years of mistakes and false steps. Experiments gone wrong and feedback that sounds something like this, (paraphrase) when things go well it’s because they’re supposed to, and when they don’t it’s catastrophic and because of you. Does that feel familiar? Sound familiar? Please give yourself plenty of grace. If you are still in it to win it, you’ve won.
I don’t know what your story is, but I do know it’s difficult. I know it’s been hard work. I know it’s been full of love and all the sweet and sour trappings of life. I’m familiar with it all. My wife and I are a handful of years apart and while she is younger than I am we both found ourselves at the end of graduate school and in a place in life where it was time to move forward in the healthiest and most genuine way possible. When we met socially for the first time and were open about our mutual interest in each other we put it all on the line. We were 5 minutes and one drink into the rest of our lives.
Priority number one, our faith and religious practice as Christians. Check.
Number two, and she brought this up swiftly, kids. I hadn’t known her for five minutes and she was already putting my children first. She knew I had kids and she already cared deeply for them.
That’s what you do as stepmoms.
As a father I just want to say that I appreciate you to no end. Thanks will never be enough. Kids will be kids and they will run all over you with golf shoes, but you have to be squared away and careful at all times.
Crazy schedules. Adversarial co-parenting dynamics between your husband and his ex-wife. Child support. The societal stigma of being a stepmom. The Family Court System. Maybe your husband needs your help being a better father. Maybe you have to take up for your husband when he is continuously verbally and emotionally abused by his ex. Kids being kids. Fraudulent CPS reports. Step children needing you to dig deep for them when you’ve already broken your shovel on rock bottom. Having to share the new love of your life with the love of his children. The tight embrace of a child that needs you. The tears of a father on your safe shoulder. The knowledge that your unique relationship will make a good child a better adult. The experience of the most unique and complex kind of love that humans can enjoy. The pride of answering the call to be more in this world than most understand. You are so much more than you realize.
Please believe me. Yes, a great deal is being asked of you. The treasure is worth it. To all you stepmoms out there, I have so much love for you because gratitude and thanks will never be enough.