For most little girls, when dreaming of their futures, perhaps the only thought on being a step parent comes from Disney classics, evil Step Monsters who care little for their step kids, and can hardly be bothered by them unless they need their house cleaned or something mended. It’s not something girls, or guys for that matter, spend their lives pining about, planning for, or wishing about, because let’s be real, being a step parent is a tough business.
I met my husband when his son was seven years old. While dating someone with a child wasn’t entirely in my own personal plans for a potential forever relationship, I was at a place in my life where long term commitment wasn’t necessarily the goal so I thought, Hell…why not give it a whirl and see what happens? However, regardless of my personal perspective on dating at the time, there was a child involved and no matter how you looked at it, this seven year old whirlwind of delight came with the package and to me that was serious business. We dated for nearly four months before we went on our first date with him to a local roller skating rink. My husband has always had a tendency towards impulsivity and wanted to get us all together a mere few weeks into dating, but I just could not fathom that.
What if his father and I didn’t work out?
What if we got along splendidly, but a few month down the line split?
I could not possibly consider putting a child in the middle of a relationship until I was certain I was serious about it. It would be unfair not to and the teacher in me, the future mother in me, just wasn’t willing to do that to such an innocent little boy. When in fact we finally did begin to date as a threesome I knew very clearly the commitment I was prepared to offer his father, but most significantly, his child and am personally convinced that they both had plotted against me in that respect. Much the same way I am easily drawn to a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning or the sweet, sips of that first glass of wine, I fell hard, and I fell fast. It was quite possibly the most exhilarating time in my life and it became impossible to imagine my life complete without either of them. While I was falling deeply in love with what would become my future, I was also slowly entering the reality of step parenting. I knew very clearly that I was not his mother and this was someone else’s child, but to me, it never meant that I couldn’t love him as if he were my own.
My husband and his ex-wife had a messy divorce, and he has had primary physical custody since his son was in Kindergarten, honestly, something fairly unheard of if you have ever dealt with the fun of family court. She gets visitation during winter, spring, and summer breaks during the year, she pays him monthly child support, and she does not have a say in the day to day goings on of her oldest child. For the first few years of our relationship, it was plainly obvious that she despised my husband for all of this, and subsequently me as I was now party to a roll she was not permitted to play in her own son’s life. We endured countless messages and calls questioning our every decision, several false CPS allegations, and consistent inconsistency in regards to discipline when she chose to take part in those phone calls. It was both frustrating and exhausting.
Now, as a biological parent myself, I cannot fathom being that far away from my child willingly and imagine that I would have reacted in a similar fashion had I been in her shoes. Here was this other woman (me) who she barely knows, fully immersed in her son’s life from classroom parties, to soccer games, to doctor’s appointments, to simply living together and there she was, his mother, as nothing more than the outsider looking in. It is heart breaking and no doubt wrought with complexity of feelings greater than I could ever comprehend.
This is not to say that I made it my life’s work to undermine the relationship he has with his mother, that is not me at all, but I am also not the person who can just step out of the way when it was clear that this delightful young man was immersed in a quandary far beyond his control and longed for someone to fill a role that his biological mother just couldn’t take on for whatever reason. I knew my place though, and made it explicitly clear that he has an amazing mother who loves him dearly and I will never step on that relationship in any way (despite how much she frustrated me). My role in his life is not to be his mother, he already has one, but rather, to love him as his mother would and should love him because that is the right thing to do. Easy to do at first since he is so easy to love, but over time as comfort set in the real reality of my position revealed itself as a tough pill to swallow. While I am monumentally blessed to love, support, and nurture this amazing young man with no deference between him and my own as a step parent, I am constantly fighting a losing battle.
No matter how hard I worked for him, no matter what comforts of a mother I provided him with, no matter the support I provided for him, I am simply not his mother, and I never will be his mother in the truest sense of the word. I knew that very clearly from the beginning, but was not prepared for the feelings that would later come with it. When I married his father nearly four years ago, I willingly entered into this lifetime of filling the role of his mother by proxy, but never getting any of the actual credit for it. Once the novelty of marriage wore off, and we began to settle in as a family, this reality became a significant source of frustration and sadness on my part. Not because I wanted the credit, or a gold star, or acknowledgement for my actions, but because that was the pure and simple reality. Being a step parent, while one of my greatest joys also became one of my greatest sorrows simply because I would never be elevated in his eyes, to the role of mom that will always be given to his biological mother, as it should. But forgive me for wanting to be a little selfish and get some of the credit too.
While initially a bitter pill to swallow in the light of day, I have come to accept it and embrace it. The reality does not change my role in his life, and if anything, it may even motivate me to continue loving him, supporting him, and providing for him as if he came from me. Not out of spite and not out of want for recognition, but simply because that is who I am, that is the role I signed up for, and that is what this amazing child deserves and I am tough enough to handle it.
Plain and simple my life as a working mom is pure madness. Students to teach, paperwork and assessments to prepare, the teenager’s activities, the toddler, the Husband, the house, and the baby on the way are simply enough to drive a person quickly towards insanity, but here I am loving every second of the mess and chaos in spite of it all.
Being a working mom is no joke, but I have often said that I am a better mother because I work. I was a teacher for nearly 10 years before kids and family life came along so it has always been a part of me and not something I will let go of easily. It makes me happy. Becoming a stepmother and a mother in my own right too, also makes me happy, and covers me with a joy I have never known before, and I believe it is both that ultimately give my life the purpose I need it to for the sake of others I am connected to. I am a better teacher because I am a parent, and I am a better parent because I am a teacher. Schedules get more complicated to manage, calendars are essential to survival, meals more challenging to prepare, the house a little messier than usual, but in spite of the madness and the mess, everyone is well loved, cared for, and supported. No one is worse for the wear without a parent at home every day.
I admit, however, I have often sat in pure envy of the time and opportunities stay at home moms have with their littles. They possess a creativity and craftsmanship that I simply am not capable of achieving. I know my strengths and it is something I would simply not be good at, nor would it be realistic since two incomes are necessary for our livelihood. Beyond the income, however, the idea of staying at home all day frightens and overwhelms me. My anxiety increases simply by thinking about how I would structure all of that time during the day and honestly if I would be able to tolerate my children and if they could tolerate me without someone losing their mind on a daily, or hourly basis. It scares me to think that while staying home with my children would provide them with stimulation and enrichment, that I might lose a piece of myself in the process.
I know what I am good at, and know that some people need to work to earn a living and that some people are blessed enough to get paid to do what they love. I represent the latter. Teaching is and always has been my passion. My children have never known me to not work with the exception of the three months I was home with the toddler, and the six weeks I will be home with the newborn coming up in May. I will be honest saying that returning to work and the normalcy it provided was a tremendous comfort. I missed my daughter, but at the same time, I relished in the joy that I get from my job and the fulfillment that comes with it, carrying that pride and purpose over into my life as a parent.
I liken it to that the oxygen mask speech flight attendants give before a plane takes off. You can’t help anyone else until you have helped yourself first. My career, for me, is an effort in self-care that in turn makes me a better mother to my children. It shows them that passion for something is important to making us happy as individuals and that there is no need to sacrifice one passion for another as they move through the phases of life. That there is nothing wrong with wanting to have it all and living the life that you want is not impossible…it might be messier and more chaotic to balance, but for me, that’s honestly the fun part.
The madness of motherhood for a working mom is real, but a reality that far too many of us are experiencing whether out of financial necessity or simply because of the joy that comes from working. Whatever your choice, know that it’s a good one.