I was in a really bad place. The slightest mention of the family he had before me sent me into turmoil and agony.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t come first. Why I couldn’t be his only. I loved his daughter, and logically, I understood that without his first wife, we wouldn’t have this precious girl in our lives… But emotionally, I hated being second.
He would ask me questions:
“If you feel this way, why are you with me? You know I have a past.”
“Why do you feel this way? I’m with you now.”
“When will you get over it?”
“Can you get over it?”
“What can I do?”
His questions only made me feel guilty. Unsure why I felt this way, all I knew is I hated it. I hated feeling sick seeing his ex-wife or even hearing about her. I hated the instinctive wince or cringe whenever he mentioned one of their memories together or my stepdaughter K told stories about her time at Mommy’s house.
It took some real soul searching.
One day, I sat down and really thought about my feelings and insecurities.
Why is this so hard for me? Why do I feel like she’s more important than I am? Can I handle this? When will I get over it?
It was on my mind so much that when I heard a puzzle metaphor for one’s relationship with God, I instinctively applied it to my personal life.
My husband’s life is like a puzzle. The various stages of his life are different pieces of his puzzle. His cowboy phase in high school is one of his pieces. So is his time serving in the Air Force. And so is his first marriage.
He grew up with his first wife.
He learned what a husband is and what to do (or not to do).
He fell in and out of love.
He had a child.
His wife was a piece of his puzzle.
But so am I.
Different Shaped Puzzle Pieces
His ex-wife was a corner-shaped piece that helped to redirect his puzzle to allow my piece.
She wasn’t an unimportant piece. Just because he’s with me now doesn’t negate the importance of the role she played in his life. She helped define who he is today. He grew up with her. He learned how to be a husband and became a father. That part of his life has very much impacted who he is today.
But who he is today is not who he was when he was with her. The space in his puzzle that needs to be filled now is shaped differently than her puzzle piece can fit.
He needs someone today that can love him and his daughter. Someone that can help him heal from the hurt of his divorce. That understands his insecurities and his pain points. Someone that can co-parent with his ex-wife and share their daughter. And that can love another woman’s child as her own.
Today, he needs someone patient and understanding. I can be those things for him. I love his daughter, and I am careful not to trigger his insecurities. Some days my presence is enough. Others, I’m adaptable and fit the role he needs that day.
What he needs today and every day for the rest of his life is not the previous puzzle piece – one who is already comfortably situated between two others. I’m the puzzle piece he needs today and forevermore.
The Stepmom Piece of the Puzzle
In that moment, I reflected on all of the parts of my past that made me perfect for the job of his second wife and his daughter’s stepmother. I thought about how all of the other pieces of my puzzle helped make me the perfect shape for the stepmom puzzle piece in K’s life.
I grew up in a broken home. My parents split when I was 2, and I knew that I wanted my stepdaughter to grow up in a home where she didn’t worry about her parents bad-mouthing one another, and to grow up with two homes full of love. The pain of my childhood has transformed into constructive lessons for my role as stepmom.
I am accustomed to stepparents. I have cycled through my fair share of stepparents. My mom and stepdad just celebrated 20 years of marriage, but my dad’s been married 3 more times and counting. I know what stepchildren respond to, and what they don’t. There are boundaries which shouldn’t be crossed I’ve witnessed firsthand, and I have experienced the potential the stepmom role has for being a confidante and best friend.
I have so much love to give. In our story, I’m not K’s mom, and I never will be. But Stepmom serves a certain purpose in her life that even her mom can’t fulfill. I have an enormous heart that is eager to share my love with my husband and stepdaughter.
Putting it All Together
When you think about the stepmom role as unique, it is an entirely different perspective. Your role isn’t to replace Mom or to be a replica of your husband’s first wife. This place is uniquely your own. It’s special and perfectly designed for you.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Being a stepmom isn’t glorious. You’re made to feel second rate and inadequate. You weren’t the first, so you must be second choice, right? Wrong.
You are in the exact place you’re supposed to be for your husband and stepchildren. Their puzzles are incomplete without your piece; without you, they’re not whole.