As a stepmom, I regularly reflect on the dynamic of having more than two parents and what type of impact that may be having on my stepkids. On the other hand, something I never reflect on is growing up without parents. Why would I?!
Well, the fact of the matter is, I was once a child growing up without parents… and up until today, I didn’t think it was impacting my adult life.
A Stepmom Lesson: Growing Up Without Parents
I beat all of the statistics that were stacked against me. I earned a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and am halfway to my Ph.D. I found an amazing job. I got married, bought a nice house and a nice car, both perfect for my family. I opened a business with my husband. I’ve actually thought to myself before, “Wow, Ashley. You did it. You’ve accomplished so many things that weren’t in the cards for you.”
Growing up without parents may have impacted me then, but it surely doesn’t impact me now. At least, that’s what I thought…
A realization from Modern Love
I recently watched a series on Prime Video called Modern Love. The show depicts eight different love stories—not all romantic—and to be honest, I cried through almost every episode. The one that struck a personal nerve with me was Episode 6: “So he looked like Dad. It was just dinner, right?”
Without spoiling too much, this episode revolves around a young adult, Maddy, whose father died when she was eleven. An older colleague of hers, Peter, reminds her of her dad. Maddy becomes determined to have Peter fill the void in her heart that her father left when he passed. Of course, Peter misinterprets what Maddy is getting at, and the whole thing becomes incredibly cringe-worthy.
In the beginning, I kept thinking, “Wow, what is wrong with her?! Is she serious right now?” I was totally disgusted and genuinely was hoping that the episode would end with Maddy getting psychological help.
But as the episode progressed, I found myself realizing, “Wow, I am Maddy.”
You see, Maddy’s whole issue revolved around the fact that no one was around to be there for her. She craved parental advice and guidance. She wanted someone to know her on a deep level and to be proud of her. She wanted unconditional love… not the romantic type. Maddy wanted to feel safe, protected, and loved.
So do I.
Sure, I’ve “succeeded” as far as statistics are concerned. But am I fulfilled? Apparently not.
How growing up without parents continues to impact my adult life.
This episode of “Modern Love” showed me that I’ve suppressed some of my feelings. It also shed light on the fact that I’m living with a daily disadvantage compared to most other people my age.
My husband is one of the lucky ones who is an adult with two parents who are a huge part of his daily life. Whenever he has good news, he calls them to share. Whenever he doesn’t feel well, he lets them know. They are there for him through small and large milestones and regrets.
Perhaps more importantly, they are proud of him. They have seen him through his entire life, have seen his growth, and are in awe. They love him so much.
I’m lucky to be close to my in-laws; however, it’s not the same. It’s not the same as his relationship with them, nor is it the same as any relationship I would have with my parents (if I had parents).
My poor husband is my only real, consistent person. What a big responsibility for him to bear.
You see, growing up without parents means that you get left out of a lot of things. I have to invite myself to holiday gatherings. I learn about family vacations on social media. I also don’t have anyone checking in on me… ever.
I have eight aunts and uncles and two living grandparents, and I’m certain that none of them could tell you what I do for a living. They may be able to tell you where I work, but they certainly couldn’t tell you what I do there.
My Harsh Realization
I didn’t realize it until I watched Episode 6 of Modern Love, but I crave that parental relationship. I want what Maddy wants… what my husband has. I want someone to call and talk to about the good, bad, and ugly… someone who has been with me since day 1, and who is invested in me on a deep, inexplicable level. I want a constant—someone who has loved me since before I even took my first breath.
I want someone who can look me in the eyes and tell me they are proud of the woman I have become. Someone who knows what I’ve been through and can actually say that and mean it.
So, why am I telling you this?
Because as a stepmom, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day. Sometimes as a stepmom, your day is consumed by one text message your husband received with a false accusation. Sometimes, you work so hard to be the “perfect parent” that you become robotic.
It’s easy to let your mood ruin your evening for the whole family. Likewise, it’s easy to become so wrapped up trying to “prove your worth” as a stepmom that you’re all business all the time, or you force bonding instead of letting it happen organically.
I’m here today to tell you to stop that—right now. Stop thinking about the day-to-day, and start thinking about the end game.
Do your stepchildren care that an email upset you today? NO. They care about how your mood is making them feel.
When they grow up and think back on their childhood, do you want them to remember you as always high-strung and uptight? Or always angry? Do you want them to remember you as a wet blanket? NO!
Think about the end game, and prioritize it. What happened to Maddy (and to me) could happen to anyone, even if they have living parents.
Your relationship with your stepchild is more important than arguing with your partner in front of them about screen time.
Stop filing screenshots of petty conversations that a judge really won’t care about, and go sit down on the couch with your family and watch a movie.
When your stepchild becomes a young adult—arguably the most challenging time in life—do you want them to call you when they are struggling with something? Of course you do!
Be present. Be aware. Be genuine.
Growing up without parents has a tremendous impact on a person over the course of their lifetime. Don’t let your stepchild feel like they grew up without you.
P.S. If you dove headfirst into stepparenting but now feel like you’re drowning, it’s not too late to save yourself. It’s okay to take up space.