Being a parent isn’t for the weak or faint of heart. Being a parent of a non biological child of divorce comes with it’s own set of challenges. Egos get in the way; slights become magnified; choices become heartache; and anger gets placed where it isn’t deserved. When a divorce is particularly nasty, the new partner may wear the blame for the marriage breakdown….so let’s clear that up right away. A marriage breaks down because of two people: the two that are married. Rather than assume your own part in a failed marriage, it is far easier to lie and tell children that it is the fault of someone else. Well, let me call BULLSHIT on that one right here and now. No matter what your parents have told you…if you are a child of divorce, the divorce was caused by your parents…no one else. And generally divorcing parents don’t chose to leave their children…they choose to leave their spouse. Big difference.
When I think of my family, I think of my husband and our kids…..not my kids and his kids; our kids.
Being a ‘STEP’ anything isn’t easy. A step mother, a step father, a step brother or step sister….but you know the conclusion I have come too? It would be a heck of a lot easier if everyone involved would commit to dropping that damn four letter word: STEP.
Our family is a blended one. I have two biological children, as does my husband. Without going into a lot of details, when my husband’s children were 11 and 16, their biological mother decided she didn’t want the hassle of having kids (and the boyfriend didn’t want them) so she…in a rage…said for my husband to take them. Now let me tell you this: there is not a man alive that I would chose over my children. None. But she did, and so very quickly we arranged for them to move across the country and they came to live with us. To be fair to the boyfriend, we had also just recently been successful in having the child support payments reduced from $1800+ a month to $1200+ a month so that may have had something to do with it. Of course that didn’t include paying for figure skating, hockey schools, sports and summer camps , but those we paid for directly so the ex never received that money directly and with receipts to prove it, the court lowered the payments.
I also knew that I would have to help financially support his two children, as well as support him emotionally as he learned to live without them …a fact made all the more difficult by his ex-wife’s determination to make even phone calls difficult. Visits were never ‘convenient’ and so, literally, for years, whenever he (we) wanted to see them, we had to hire a lawyer to write a letter to her lawyer to get her permission. It was a joke to her, using the children against him…to me, it was pathetic, nasty, mean…and very expensive. But we did it.
The day the ex decided she wanted a man more than her kids, I had no hesitation at all. Although living with us wasn’t part of the original deal, they were a part of my husband and as such a part of me. Of course they would come and live with us! And so, we sold the house we had just bought two months earlier, and moved into a bigger one.
I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting into, but at that point it didn’t matter. Those children needed a home and a family and it was up to us to provide both.
And so, they arrived, one day in July, a small suitcase each and a box. That was it….wearing shoes two sizes too small, clothes full of holes, and a heart full of pain. In they moved..into a home with an already established family with a father they barely knew and a woman not their mother.
Right away I made it clear that I was not trying to replace their mother (why in God’s name would I ever want to?!) and that they would be treated the same as my own two biological children….with lots of love, but also with expectations and rules to follow. They had been fending for themselves long enough. Time for the adults to assume the leadership role so they could be kids again.
From that moment, they became my daughter and my son. Period. No step, no his kids. MY kids….OUR kids. We had some fun times, but we also had some challenges…boy did we have challenges!
I made some pretty HUGE mistakes. I tried to treat them as I had treated the older two. The difference was twofold: the older two knew without question how much I loved them, and we had a history…I had raised them from birth so they knew me and I knew them. It couldn’t be the same, but in my naivety, I thought it could.
Looking back, they were kids. Their own mother had just said ‘I don’t want you anymore’, they had moved to a home they didn’t know, with a family they didn’t know, to a town they didn’t know and schools where they were the new kids. I was the adult….I knew all this and truly, at the time I did everything I thought was right. It wasn’t. I know that now.
I have another son and daughter that are older. I became ‘Mom’ when they were just turning 7 and 9 years. Again, the word STEP, never entered into it. I love them as my children too. Perhaps because they were younger, or perhaps because I was the new one in the family, that relationship was far easier. When their father and I divorced, the kids and I lost touch. My fault. I didn’t want him to know where I was or anything about my life. I cried myself to sleep many a night I missed those two kids so much. I had remarried and moved very far away, but the wonderful thing is, we are now we are back in contact and it brings me great joy.
Now that they are all adults, I sit and watch my husband’s two as they form a close bond with their biological mother. Part of me is very happy for them, but part of me rages in anger…how can they forgive the woman who threw them away?! Why are they now closer to her than to me? Why am I the one hurting? E-G-O
Because, she is their mother…and I am not. That’s why. Because I was, am, and always will be the STEP mother. That is a truth. Regardless of the word.
Sometimes the pain manifests as anger…like going to the high school graduation for your son, and his biological mother is sitting in the seat reserved and paid for by you! The pain turns to protective rage because she could come across the whole country to his graduation, but couldn’t be bothered to attend your (her) daughters a few years earlier?!
Sometimes the pain just sears your soul….like seeing the biological mother’s name on your son’s wedding invitation but not yours. Hearing your son thank her for travelling so far to the wedding but not a single mention of me or his father. Seeing her get to have the honour of the mother – son dance. Being introduced as “My STEP-Mom”. I’d rather be just Peggy…introduce me by my name. I don’t need a ‘title’ that causes me pain.
I have never heard my biological children, now that they are grown, or when they were younger, use the word STEP when referring to my husband. He is their Dad….they call him by his name, but always have refered to him as their Dad. It warms my heart. I have never heard either of them refer to their siblings…any of them…as STEP. They are their brothers and sisters. Perhaps it’s because we have been together since their birth and they know that giving birth does not make you a mother. Donating sperm does not make you a father. Loving unconditionally does.
At my daughters high school graduation, she walked toward her two Dad’s…my husband and her biological father…and said with a huge smile “Which one of my two Dad’s wants the honour of the Father-Daughter dance?” Both beamed with loving pride at this beautiful young woman. My husband deferred to her other Dad and said, “You had her first, so you get the first half”. At her wedding, she only had one Dad present in the physical form, but she made room for the other…leaving an empty chair with a single white rose on the seat…right beside her other two parents, my husband and I.
The night that my children’s biological father died, my son said something that resonated with me, and does to this day. “I was so blessed to have three parents love me so much” He was 18 years old… The word STEP is not part of their vocabulary.
Part of me says it’s the way it should be…they need to forgive her to move on. Part of me is angry, because with all the mistakes I made, I gave them a home when she didn’t want them. Part of me just wants to be recognized. Even if it’s just as Peggy….I don’t want to be STEP anything. The biggest part of me is jealous that the ex is the one they are close to. E-G-O
And so, in light of distance, time, healing and love, I have consciously stepped back. I am trying to keep my pain…and mostly my ego…in check, for in the end, all I want is what’s best for my children…all six of them.
But the good news is that with the next generation, I am not STEP…now I am just Gramma, the same as I am to the other three grandchildren…and to my youngest daughter….I say thank you for that.