Monday 16 June 2014

The truth about being a stepmother

It was the year 2003. I had been with him only for a few months, and knew the little ones for the same amount of time. We were invited to a party of his friends. There were furtive glances towards me; outwardly, everybody was very nice, but I could see them sizing me up; wondering, judging.
Then the littlest one climbed onto my lap and I put my arms around her. I could feel the softening in the judging eyes, the warming of their attitude towards me. I had just scored a point.  

Thanksgiving 2003

School parking lot. A cluster of mothers all huddled together. I used to pick the two little ones up from school a few times a week, and I dreaded it. I was scared of the other mothers. Maybe it was just in my head (it certainly felt real), but I felt daggers flying in my direction. If looks could kill...   

Spring 2005. We went to a horse tournament of one of the older ones. After the first awkward year, they had warmed up to me as well. We had gotten married a few months previously, so I was officially a member of the family now. As we were walking towards her and her friends, I had the familiar nervous flutter in my stomach. It never failed. But then, something wonderful happened: she introduced me to her friends as her stepmom. I walked on clouds for the rest of the day. 

Summer 2007. One of the older ones and I worked at the same place. Something happened, and we both decided to quit. I stuck up for her. To celebrate, her and her twin sister took me out clubbing, introducing me along the way as their stepmom over and over again. I was beyond happy. 

Wedding reception 2012

I was 22 years old when I met Richard; 23 when I moved to Canada to be with him. I knew he had four daughters, but I didn't mind. I had been lost and lonely for a long time. Now I was smitten, full of romantic dreams of a ready-made family, and totally clueless. Thank God for that. 
I'm convinced that my cluelessness and young age were vital for the success of our daring adventure. I didn't worry; I didn't think too much about it; I didn't listen to my family. All I did was fall head over heels in love with a man, and trust him that "everything would be all right". Strangely enough, he turned out to be right.  

I have been in this family for eleven years now. My official - and true - short version of our story is always the same: The kids were, and still are, great; the ex was, and is, always decent towards us; everything is going smoothly. And it is; I'm not lying when I say this. 
But what I usually leave out are all the oh-so complicated feelings that come with being a stepmom. The doubts, the hurt, the deep ache that sometimes appears. 

I never wanted to talk about it. Rich knows; nobody else really does. Why write about it here? 
I hesitated for a long, long time. 
But, as I was stating recently in my manifesto, I want to be honest and real. And as much as I sometimes think I'm the only one in this situation, of course that's not true. Divorce is at an all-time high, and with divorces come new step-parents at some point. Also, more importantly, this is not about the kids' behaviour, or Rich or his ex-wife. This is about my point of view of what it is really like being a stepmother. 

My story is an overwhelmingly positive one. No major dramas have happened, and for that I'm so grateful. Hollywood movies like to portray divorced families as cesspools of hate, door slamming and huge fights, but that was never our reality.

Summer party 2012

But is it always easy? Hell, no.
If you let it, you will get all the guilt, but not all of the rewards. You will feel like you are not doing enough, are not good enough, are a terrible (step-)parent and not measuring up. But where real parents get the reassuring "I love you"s more or less regularly, as a step-parent, you don't. 
Mother's Day is hell, despite one of your sweet girls always thinking of you and getting you flowers - you will still enviously look at their declarations of love for their mom on FB, and feel jealous. And then you feel even shittier, because how fucked up is it that you feel jealousy for kids declaring their love for their own mother?

There are times when you feel deeply out of place. Graduations, weddings, moving-into-new-places. Basically any milestone that involves the parents, will make you feel like you shouldn't really be there.
Again, this has nothing to do with the kids making me feel that way. They don't. It's me feeling that way despite their behaviour. I hate it, but I can't help it.
The kids getting ready at their mom's house for a special event? I wish it was at our place.
Everybody going on a day trip (during that one vacation where everybody was present, ex-wife and all 4 kids) and you sort of want to join? Your husband refuses and you feel too insecure to go on your own. 

Then there is the weirdness of where you fit in. Age-wise, you sort of fit in with the kids' friends. They are about the same age, or just slightly younger. But you are the stepmother. Wife to the dad who is, well, the dad, seemingly scary and unapproachable, and the whole situation is kinda weird, so they always stay clear.
(Or do they stay clear because I'm uncool? Too strange, boring, weird?) Oh hi there insecurity, you were not invited to the party, but you showed up anyway.

For years, I thought I should have kids of my own because of the kids. I was on the fence for quite some time, but I never wanted them to feel that my decision not to have kids had anything to do with them. (As in, "you were so horrible, I've had enough of children".) Crazy? Yup, clearly.
As you have probably gathered by now, I'm an overthinker in the worst way. But then again, all parents are.
And even though these girls aren't my own blood, I still feel a strong bond to them.

I feel it, but I don't show it. Not enough. I think. Or do I? Do they know? Should I do more? Try harder? I don't want to be annoying. Seriously, after 11+ years, you would think I would have gotten the hang of it by now. Truth is, I haven't. Not entirely.

I need these photos to have something tangible to remind me of all the good times. Because sometimes I feel like they could disappear at any moment, just dissolve into wisps of thin smoke. Poof, gone they are. Did it all really happen? 

That's what's been going on in my head/life in the last couple of weeks. Whenever there is a big event in the girls' lives, I go through these emotions.

It's sort of like being on a long road: once in a while, you will hit a tunnel you have to get through. I'm out of that tunnel now. The road is clear, with blue sky stretching above it and the sun shining brightly.
It may be bumpy at times, but it's my road. And I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.   

Lots of love, Miriam
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  1. Such a truly candid post.. maybe it's pms, but I got a little choked up reading this. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. If I had a step mom I would want her to be just like you Miriam. ♥♡♥

  3. Awesome perspective you have there. And thanks for sharing your experience!! Truth is, divorce is so common & anyone of us could be step parents. You really are blessed to be in such an accepting family situation :)

  4. This is a great share and I'm sure someone will benefit from your honesty :) I can't believe how young you look in the first really look like you could be their mom. I think you handled your situation remarkably, do you think maybe that there was less drama b/c you did take a step back. You didn't push too hard for some of the things that some people would have, and you gave them space to accept you and fit you in, instead of trying to force the role? You did a great job and should be proud! I love all the pictures!

  5. I love that you have such an amazing relationship with your step-daughters! It's so refreshing to see! :D

  6. Thanks for sharing something so personal. I am sure it's hard sometimes, but I am glad you seem to have a good relationship with the girls!

  7. This candid, honest post is really touching. It sounds like you are a wonderful stepmom and they obviously adore you. I have a stepdad, who really raised me more than my biological dad did, and I have had stepmom's in the past but wasn't close to them (geographically primarily, which contributed to a lack of closeness on any other level). Your words actually made me stop and think - I always call my stepdad on fathers day, but I should be even more considerate and not necessarily emphasis that he is a STEPfather, because he really did kind of raise me. But I don't want to disrespect my dad, who passed away three years ago (on Father's Day, so that makes the day a little bitter anyway). A tough line to balance.

    Sorry for the novel - all this to say, it sounds like you are doing an excellent job of keeping things on the girls terms, giving them their space, but being supportive.


  8. Mariam dear, all I see are smiling faces from both you and your stepdaughters. Hugs and laughs and lots of love. Self doubt is a terrible thing, I know because it plagues me too from time to time :). There's no way these girls don't know you love them, but if ever in doubt just say those 3 special words. I never get tired of hearing them when they come from those I love. Xo


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