Editor's Note: So thrilled to introduce inspired stepmom Sara. I think you'll be able to relate to her emotional experience finding her way as a stepmom and find inspiration in the lessons she's learned. It definitely triggered some heartfelt feelings when I read it and her wisdom has stuck with me as I think about my own family.
A whole decade into it, I still sometimes feel like I need stepmothering school. Don’t get me wrong. I knew what I was getting into, and the husband and the darling toddler were worth the trouble ten times over. Still, it’s not exactly what I had expected. Stepmothering is hard. But there are saving graces, the greatest of which for me has been learning to embrace my spot in second place. This has saved me over and over again, more so every time I re-learn it.
My awakening to my standing as second mom came early on. We had been married for about eight months. The boy was three. I would pick him up from daycare on my way home from work, and we would sing songs and talk all the way home. He was full of questions and imagination. He would call me Mom, but he was not confused. I asked him why he called me that, and he grinned and said, “Because you’re my stepmom.”
It lasted until the day his mother picked him up from our house, and he energetically waved to me from the car and shouted, “Bye, Mom!” The next time I saw him, he caught himself calling me Mom, corrected his mistake, and told me he wasn’t allowed to call me that anymore because he only had one mom.
Ouch doesn’t begin to cover it. So naturally I put up a protective shield. I could not allow myself to love this little child that freely or openly again. It was too risky. I could get hurt emotionally, maybe even killed. For several years, I was more reserved. I still loved him; I was just not quite so unrestrained about it. I didn’t like the situation. I knew I was a good mother, and I wrestled mentally with my second-chair status.
But I began to accept it. I would laugh off the “You’re not my real mom!” moments with responses like, “OK, but would you like a real peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” He would laugh too. I even learned, when he would say he liked his mom better, to say, “Oh, I like her too,” and the tension would dissolve.
That’s how the light came on. I didn’t have to be number one. I just needed to open my arms (and the tougher one, my heart) to the boy when he’s here. Yes, when he’s here, he is mine. Right? Almost. That attitude, while well-intentioned, missed the mark. I was still trying to have some moments where I could be number one. And here’s why that just didn’t work for us.
Treating him like he was mine meant shoving him into the mold of our home and expecting him to fit. People would ask me if I thought it confused him to be expected to follow our rules. My response was always, “Of course not!” After all, he’s a smart kid. If he can understand the different sets of rules at school, church, and his friends’ houses, I’m pretty sure he can get how we run things around here. Besides, he is part of this family, and he can function as such. I may not be his real mom, but I’m the mom of this house.
Treating him like he was mine also meant that our way of raising him would be undone as soon as he went back to his mom’s. She had different rules for movie and video game ratings, sleepovers, bedtimes, almost everything, it seemed. So while these things were not confusing to him, they were frustrating to him and to us, and more importantly, they ignored who he was.
One day when I was unloading my frustration on my sister, she asked me why I was so worried about what this kid does and doesn’t do. Is she crazy? I thought. Because he’s my kid! “No, he’s not,” she corrected me. The light went on again, only this time a little brighter. My job is to love, not to try to raise him as I would if I were his only mother. Not only do I not have to treat him like he’s mine, I shouldn’t!
We now bend the rules in our home for him. Don’t get me wrong. Our house is still ours. It’s business as usual on the day-to-day things. But on the big issues, I step back and let his dad work it out with his mom (his real mom).
I love this kid. And I have learned to accept what is. It’s not just OK if he doesn’t love me quite the way he loves his first mom, it’s appropriate. The more he matures, the more I see that he is hers. He thinks like her. His sense of humor has glimmers of her. His attitudes are hers. That is as it should be. She is his mom. She is number one.
I am his stepmom. I am number two. And the way I see that is this: it’s actually a high station. Being someone’s second mom is an honor. It’s one step away from the real thing. Once I embraced that, it freed me up to freely love a great kid.
Sara W. became a stepmom in 2002, and she and her husband have since welcomed three additional children to their family. She has been a professional writer since 1997 when she earned a degree in English from Brigham Young University. After she became a mother, Sara began freelancing so that she could continue to do what she loves while putting her real job, being a mom, first. Sara and her family live in Utah.