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It Took Me 36 Years to Appreciate My Stepmom

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My stepmom came into my life when I was 10 years old.

She was not yet a parent but soon would be to my youngest brother. My dad had custody of my middle brother and me from my biological mom.

They divorced when I was eight, and while I still don’t know the whole story, I gather that my dad was verbally abusive and probably narcissistic. My mom just stayed away to avoid conflict. She loved us but fighting with my dad was not really on her list of priorities once the marriage was over, to the point that he got custody of us.

It Took Me 36 Years to Appreciate My Stepmom

My stepmom showed up in ways my parents did not. Despite her effort, I did not appreciate my stepmom for a very long time.

She got us medical attention for issues our parents had not addressed.

She talked my dad off the ledge when he was verbally abusive.

She comforted me when my mom did not send me anything or call on my birthday.

She made sure I got to go to a camp I was begging to attend when my dad was going to say “No.”

She took me shopping for clothes that were not embarrassing and taught me how to find designer items on my dad’s K-Mart budget.

You get the idea. She fought for me and supported me, but I still did not give her credit. She left because my dad was even less of a partner to her than he was a parent to us.

Of course, he made it out like he was the victim. She left us and now we were back to life with just him.

Now that I am an adult, it’s pretty easy to see that she left to save herself and the one child she had rights to. At the time, I mourned the life I almost had. 

Stepmom Persistence After Divorce

She did stick around in the background. Through my teen years, she continued to talk my dad off the ledge when I was acting out. She probably saved me more than I will ever know.

Then, my dad died in a freak accident when I was 17. Only 6 years later, my mom died of cancer.

My stepmom was there for me through both of those events and yet, I still did not recognize or appreciate the level of effort she put into my life.

She always made sure I had access to my brother and counseled me on adulting when I was in my early 20’s. She always picked up the phone when I called, but I still took her for granted.

I later got married and had a child of my own. That was the first time I became a stepmom.

My stepmom became “grandma.” I resisted a little at first, but the truth is, she was good at it. She doted on my son and included my stepdaughter.

Beginning to Appreciate my Stepmom

When that marriage went bad, she listened and helped me financially so I could get out. She helped me go to college after my divorce and let me live with her for 10 months while I got back on my feet.

I began to appreciate my stepmom more at this point, but still not as much as I should have. 

I was a newly single mom, and we were living about 2.5 miles from my stepmom.

She is a very busy professional who is well known in her field as a global expert, so she was not a hands-on kind of grandma but she was there when I needed her most. She listened to me when I was struggling as a working, single mom with minimal help from my ex. She knew what it was like and it was comforting.

She helped me a lot financially. She’d say, “It’s just money. If money can fix it, let me help you.” By this time I was well into my thirties and while I was not financially dependent on her, some of that help created strife between us at times. It just gave me more excuse to not appreciate her the way I should have. 

Fast forward several years and I met my now-husband. He came with two kids and an ex-wife. I came with one kid and an ex-husband. We are a blended family and have an “ours” baby.

My stepmom loves my husband and his kids. She helps me navigate being a stepmom by coaching me on stepping in and out.

I did all kinds of things for my stepchildren the same way she modeled for me.  My stepchildren have good, active parents so that part is a bit different. But not at all shocking, they do not appreciate me, and it sucks.

A Heavy Realization

During a heated custody battle between my husband and his ex, my stepmom took me to dinner. It was not until I was 46 years old and had two stepchildren of my own and some real life “stepmama drama” that I realized how much she had supported and cared for me.

I broke down at dinner and apologized for being such an ungrateful stepchild.  She just smiled and said, “You didn’t know how hard this is, now you know. It’s okay.”

I had accepted her only on my terms, pushed her away, and asked for help when it suited me in this dance for 36 years.

I hope it does not take my stepchildren 36 years to fully appreciate my part in their lives, but if it does, I get it.

I wanted my parents to give me what my stepmom gave me and longed for the day they would be healed of their own demons so they could be better parents. It never happened because they both died young. Actually, the truth is, it may never have happened the way I wanted it to.

My stepmom taught me that even when I step in and out with grace, my stepchildren may not understand why.

She showed me what consistency looks like. But most of all, she modeled how to power through rejection from people you love with nothing but more love.

If you are a stepmom struggling with the effort you are putting in versus the return on investment, understand that you are not alone. Understand that his kids may not want to see what is so clear to you and everyone else around them.

Be patient. These things have a way of working themselves out.

I may have never called her mom, but my kids call her grandma. I hope her sweet relationships with my kids helps her feel redeemed and worthy because she has done so much for us. At 47, I appreciate my stepmom so much and am grateful for the role she’s played in my life.

Hang in there stepmama, you are doing work that changes lives.

P.S. Did you also learn a lesson from the stepmom who walked this journey before you? Here are Emily’s lessons learned as a second-generation stepmom.

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