As many others, becoming a stepmom has forced me to face a number of my inner demons. I’ve discovered insecurities I never thought I had, I’ve been surprised by the things that have made me jealous, and I’ve been forced to work on healing past hurt that I had managed to ignore for a long time.
The process, yet challenging at times, has been beautiful and rewarding. I have grown so much as a person in the few years that I have been a stepmom.
Still, nothing really prepares you for the incessant and encompassing reminders of your partner’s past life when you become a stepmom.
Reminders of their Past Life
The necessary frequent interactions with their ex, the kids bringing up stories from family vacations pre-divorce, and the wedding photos your new in-laws may still have hanging in their home.
These are all expected realities of stepfamily life, but the lack of blended family support can create an overwhelming sense of isolation for a new stepmom who doesn’t yet understand the normality of these experiences.
In the early stages of my stepmom journey, I began to notice a trend when my husband would show me baby pictures of my stepson. He’d stumble across a newborn picture in his phone, and excitedly share it with me, beaming with a reminiscent smile that only proud parents can display.
I would immediately tense up, feel a pit in my stomach, would comment “Aww so cute,” but turn away as quickly as I could before changing the subject.
This would happen again and again, and each time I would berate myself for feeling so uncomfortable. “What is wrong with you?!” I would ask myself, ashamed of my reaction, ashamed for feeling… jealous? insecure? …to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling.
In unpacking these feelings with my husband, I came to realize that the baby pictures of my stepson were not what was making me uncomfortable. It was what they represented.
It’s not that I had no interest in looking at them, hearing stories about him as a baby, or allowing my husband to reminisce over that stage of his son’s life. It’s that they were an emotional trigger for me.
They triggered feelings of sadness. Sadness that I didn’t get to experience infancy with my stepson whom I love and care for as though he came from me. Sadness that I missed out on that part of his life, since I was now such a major part of it.
They triggered feelings of jealousy. Jealousy that my husband experienced pregnancy, birth and caring for a baby with someone else.
They triggered feelings of insecurity. Insecurity and worry that the experience wouldn’t be as special for my husband when we have a baby of our own.
What it Symbolizes
The baby pictures symbolized my husband’s life before me. The fact that he’d already had a wife, a first child, and experienced the joy and celebration that surrounds those events.
They symbolized my stepson’s life before me. They served as a reminder that “they” were a family before “we” were a family, that was a really difficult truth for me to swallow.
The idea that I had in my mind about what starting a family would look like was never going to come to be a reality for me, and I hadn’t let myself mourn that yet.
This isn’t to say that I was unhappy about any aspect of my life with my boys, but I had this ache for us to be a nuclear family. An ache for me to be the one who shared those memories of my stepson’s early life with the both of them.
This is a loss that I had to allow myself to grieve in order to overcome those feelings of envy and disappointment.
The baby photos magnified my experience feeling like an outsider, and it was easier for me to pretend that there were no memories before I came into picture, rather than accept this as a reality of our family.
A Shift of Perspective
Everyone’s stepfamily situation is different, but a turning point for me was recognizing my triggers, and processing the emotions at the root of those triggers.
I now feel joy when I look at baby pictures of my stepson, because that’s how I CHOOSE to feel.
I wasn’t around at that point in his life, and that’s OKAY.
That’s how the stars aligned for us.
If anything had gone any differently, I would not have found the love of my life when I did, and would not have my bonus baby whom I love to death.
I choose to be thankful for how our story unfolded.
I wasn’t there for his birth, first steps, or first words, but I get to see him through all of the other milestones throughout his life.
I may not have been my husband’s “first” but I get to be his “last”. And for me, that’s a thousand times better!
P.S. It’s okay to feel all of the feelings you experience as a stepmom. Just don’t let yourself camp out in that space; process them and move forward. Also, stop feeling guilty for your emotions!