I have never given birth, and I’ve never adopted a child.
In fact, I didn’t even meet my daughter until she was 4; yet, I would jump in front of a bullet or a bus for her any minute of any day.
Blood doesn’t define our relationship—love does.
When I met Kevin, our relationship was straight out of a rom-com, y’all. Seriously. The stuff that dreams are made of. He was thoughtful, funny, driven, successful, and intelligent. Yet, I was afraid to fall too hard until I had met his daughter.
You don’t know a single dad until you’ve met his child(ren)—that’s a make or break in a relationship with a single parent. If you don’t like them or they don’t like you, it doesn’t matter how great you get along with your significant other.
Meeting my Stepdaughter
So, a couple of months into our relationship, I got to meet Kevin’s daughter, (we’ll call her K). We had a playdate at a trampoline park, and it was amazing. She was very shy at first, but she warmed up quickly.
After a couple more months, she found out I was Daddy’s girlfriend, and not just his friend Kristen. The three of us had weekly Wednesday Playdates, until I moved in with them about a year after our first date.
Making the decision to move in was a very difficult one for us, but we finally bit the bullet when I felt like home was no longer at my house.
At first, it was mostly making dinner, playing tickle monster, and answering homework questions, but has since turned into bedtime prayers and tucking in, snuggles in the early mornings, and “magic kisses” every time she scraped a knee or felt sick.
K and I make sure to have girls’ dates and playtime for just the two of us in addition to all of our family time, and I cherish every single snuggle (real talk: I use any excuse for snuggles these days, because I know that soon she’ll be “too cool” for snuggles).
Her daddy jokes that I love her more than I do him, but there’s a slight truth to it. Not that I love her more than him, of course, but that I’m surprised by how much I love his child. I always knew I would be a loving and devoted wife, but K showed me that what’s been missing this whole time – was being a mom.
Honestly, I would be lost without my daughter. Being her stepmom is more a part of my identity than my job, my volunteer work, or my education.
My experience with divorce and step-parenting is atypical, at best. When I was two, my parents divorced. I’ve had four stepparents (one stepdad and three stepmoms) in my mere 26 years.
A few years ago, I dated a single father who barely got to see his daughter and went through a series of interviews with his daughter’s mother before I could even meet her.
Alternatively, Kevin chose to wait a couple of months before introducing me to his daughter, and now I live with them. With my stepdaughter, I have the unique experience and opportunity to help tuck her into bed and say prayers with her three to five nights per week. I try to treat her how I wish I’d been treated growing up – without thinking growing up with divorced parents is wrong or disadvantageous for her in any way.
I remind her daily that she is more loved than normal (how amazing that you have four parents to love you instead of just two??) and that her parents’ divorce doesn’t diminish the love everyone has for her.
I’m not her mom or her dad, so she talks to me about some of the struggles that come with being a 7-year-old product of divorce who just wants to make everyone happy.
I’ve experienced step-parenting all across the spectrum, and I am here to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Being a stepmom is one of the most challenging, trying roles I’ve ever held, but it is also one of the very most rewarding.
Are you a Stepmom?
Here are a few things to remember when coming into your new role:
#1. You are not his only #1.
Eventually, you’ll probably be tied for #1, but you will begin as #2, no matter how incredible your relationship is. His child comes first. Always. Respect that. Before my mom married my (now) stepdad, she asked my sister and me if we liked her then-boyfriend and promised us that if either of her daughters didn’t like him, she wouldn’t marry him.
#2. Your job is to supplement, not replace.
Unless, God forbid, the child’s mother is out of the picture completely, your job is to add extra love to the child’s life—not to replace the birth mom.
Your stepchild should know that it’s okay to love both you and Mommy. In fact, one of the times that I’ve seen K the happiest and most relaxed was when I told her that Mommy and I were friends, and that we actually text about her and share photos of our time with her.
Now, I know it’s not totally realistic for all of you to become BFFs with your step’s birth mom. Totally get it. But don’t make the child pick – it won’t be you.
Which brings me to the next point…
#3. Do not. Ever. Under any circumstances. Ever even think about. Talking poorly about their mother in front of your stepchild. Ever.
Do not criticize her parenting. Do not criticize whom she is dating, her lifestyle, or what her latest hobby is. And do not talk about negative things that happened in the past. Just don’t do it.
I was the child who had to talk bad about Mommy when I was with Daddy to make Daddy happy, and I had to talk bad about Daddy when I was with Mommy to make Mommy happy. It’s not okay!
Let them be little, please. Chances are they’re too young to understand divorce, so just remind them that they’re loved by everyone.
#4. Remember that you are loved.
By your husband, by your stepchild, and probably by the other mom, if we’re being honest. You are helping to raise this child the best you can, and you love him or her as much as you can.
You are a superhero.
Stepparents are truly some of the greatest unsung heroes in the world. You love, grow, and support a child that isn’t biologically yours, with little to no recognition for your contributions.
It can be hard when your child comes home from school with a craft for Mommy or Daddy but never you.
Or when you see your child attending Muffins with Moms or Donuts with Dads with Mommy and Daddy (Pro tip: K and I go to Half Price Books and purchase some books to eat with homemade cinnamon rolls and call it “Cinnamons with Steps” around the same time as those events).
It might hurt when your child corrects someone that mistakenly calls you her mom.
But you are so loved. You play an invaluable role in that child’s life. Don’t forget it.
Being a stepmom is extraordinarily humbling, but it’s worth it, I promise. You’re changing a life.
#5. Just have fun!
Play with your child, read him or her stories, celebrate the child’s successes, cherish all of the snuggles, and cheer as loud as you can at all of the sporting events.
Don’t worry about Mommy or Daddy. Focus on your relationship with your child.
You have a unique, beautiful bond; you get to play a role that no one else can. How lucky are you?
It’s Worth It
My relationship with K sounds like a fairy tale, but I could go on for days about step-parenting horror stories I’ve heard.
I have a friend that sees her stepchildren a couple of days per week, and their mother doesn’t encourage healthy habits or cook healthy meals, doesn’t support their extracurricular activities, and talks poorly about Dad all of the time.
I have another friend whose stepmom was conniving and turned her father against her; we’re talking true “me or her” ultimatums.
I’ve witnessed rivalry, anger displacement on the child, abuse, abandonment, child support denial, brutal custody battles – the list goes on and on.
Divorce and step-parenting are messy, challenging, and exhausting. But I promise you, it’s worth it. All of the snuggles make all of the struggles worth it.
The first time your child looks at you and tells you she loves you, you forget all of the negative. The first time that you get to attend a school party and she looks at you as if you just made her whole day, your heart falls a little more. Every time you get to be there for her, you’ll know that this is your place in the world, your purpose. When you get so frustrated you’re not sure you can go on, remember that your child loves and needs you.
It gets easier, I promise.
You are killing it, Mama.
Still unconvinced about the role of stepparents? Check out The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting.