When I first married my husband I was asked two things all the time. The first was simply, “Was it hard going from full time mom of 2 children to 4?” And the answer was, “No, it wasn’t.” When my husband and I were married back in 2008 we had two one-year-olds, a three-year-old, and a four-year-old. Everyone had a buddy, everyone was walking and somewhat talking, and my main duty was to make sure they stayed alive; a job made much easier by the fact that they just wanted to be playing with each other 24/7 so I had the opportunity to turn my back and stick some Ramen in the microwave or hide the flame throwers from out of reach. No, we don’t really keep flame throwers. I was hiding the grenades.
The second question was much more personal, but just as frequent. I was asked, “Is it hard to love your stepchildren as much as you love your own?” The answer to this one was the same as the first, “No, it wasn’t.” I had made the choice to love them as my own, and once I had made that choice I never once questioned it
The moment I said yes to my husband, the moment I promised him the fidelity of my heart and soul – I chose him and all that was a part of him; whether I would have chosen it to begin with or not, a walking, breathing, heart beating extension of him – were his children. When I chose to give my heart and my life to my husband, I chose also to give it to his children. Their needs were immediately placed above my own and my love for them grew exponentially as I put them, my husband, and my natural children first in everything I did. I may have had to make the choice to put them all first a thousand times, but is there any parent out there raising a child whom is adopted, biological, or step that hasn’t had to remind themselves, “I love this human, I love this human, I love this human,” like the little engine that could as you were unclogging the toilet that just had a beloved toy flushed down for “a swim,” or in our case, were repeating those words as we Mr. Magic Eraser-ing every single wall in our home to scrub off the large smiley face’s drawn in black marker by our 4 and 5 year old while we were still sleeping.
I realize it can feel like an intrusion when the children have a natural mother who is an active part of their lives; but while this may be a natural feeling, it is one you need to get over – now. You can show respect to the natural mother in your home by answering phone calls, making sure birthday cards are written, talking only positively of her around the children (this is a biggy guys), pointing out things the children can get done with her, making sure she’s involved in every activity, etc. etc. – but ladies, you are the Mother in your home, there is only one Mother living in and setting the tone of your home, teaching those children, throwing your arms around those children, wiping their scraped knees, kissing their boo-boo’s, holding them when they cry over a broken heart, etc. When those kids are in your home, they deserve your full heart, your complete love, all the mothering you have to give. The best thing you can do for your stepchildren is respect that they have two Mother’s, respect their Mother’s role, and then give them your heart as you would any child you may have naturally or you may adopt. You have to. You are the one that is present. The absolutely best situation you can put those children in is a home with both parents present and fully invested in them, no matter which home they are in. If, praise be, both homes have two parents and both homes are equally loving the children and equally respecting one another, then thank the heavens – the homes can become an extension of one another as the children slip from one whole home to the next, knowing they are loved and taken care of completely in both. If that can’t be the situation, if one home is not on the same page, do not let it stop you from giving your full heart and soul in your home – make your home whole by giving your whole soul, no matter what happens outside your doors.
There is great joy in parenting, even in step parenting, and even in step parenting when conditions are not ideal. I have experienced it. I live it. My children, step and not, are loved dearly and equally. They are my greatest sorrow and my greatest joy. My love does not take from my stepchildren’s Mother’s love, rather it is simply in addition to it. When she cannot be here, I am, and I hope I am always there with my full heart and soul just as she would be if a divorce had not made that an impossibility; just as I hope my children’s second Mother is there for them when they are in her home. We can mourn and be angry that our children don’t have the storybook life like we all deserve (the one home with a white picket fence) or we can stand up and write them their own story full of all kinds of love teaching them that a sad ending is never a reason to not start writing a new and happier beginning. We can help our stepchildren to write that new and happy beginning that all children were born deserving.
There is joy in my home as we have applied the principles found herein, namely making the choice to jump all in and give heart and soul to make a broken family whole. For that I will always be grateful – for the direction that came while I found myself on my knees, I will always feel inadequate but eternally blessed to know where to pick up the pen and how to start writing our fairytale. May you each experience such joy.