I come from what many refer to as a broken home; a home without both mother and father. My mother raised me, my parents split when I about 3 months old. I only saw my father on the sporadic weekends he remembered I existed and decided to pick me up for a few hours; forget about holidays, birthdays, or Father’s Days. On those special occasions, I was left staring out the window waiting for him to pass by as promised, but those promises were never kept. As I got older I dreaded his weekend visits because of his distasteful and irresponsible behavior and my rocky relationship with my stepmother (she and I made peace later in life, but as a child there was a lot of tension – I was the Cinderella in the story – a thorn in my stepmother’s side reminding her that my father was previously married with a child. I was taking away the attention that belonged to her and my sisters). Eventually, I was old enough to decline the weekend visitations. I was extremely relieved to no longer visit someone who biologically is my father, but at the same time felt like an absolute stranger who wanted to play pretend that we were a family when he picked me up. He didn’t understand or respect the barriers I tried to place to remain in my safe place. A consequence of not visiting him was that I would no longer see my stepsisters, which in all honesty they were the highlight of my visit. Thankfully as young adults, we reunited and our relationship feels as if we were never separated.
These experiences caused me to dread marriage for a good portion of my life. Seeing firsthand the toll divorce takes on the parents, the ex-spouse, the new spouse, and the children made me fearful that I would cause my children this pain. When a spouse remarries and creates a new family an identity crisis may result for the children involved. The remarried parent might be pressured to identify which children and marriage are more important. It’s a lose – lose situation unless the parent understands this and works with the children to ensure everyone feels loved and important.
Along my journey of life, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the relationship department. I tried hard to make Mr. Oh So Wrong into Mr. Right. During those times I absorbed the blame, pinned the failure of the relationship on myself – too picky, too childish, not physically fit enough, not quirky enough, not flexible enough, not transparent enough, not desirable, and not fun enough. I deemed myself unqualified for landing a successful relationship. I looked at myself for the blame as to why the relationships with Mr. Wrong didn’t work out. In my pain, I failed to see that they weren’t a right fit for me. I was consumed with being right for them; I needed to be validated and accepted to confirm that I was marriage material. I never stopped to properly evaluate if those relationships were a good fit for me (had I done that I would’ve counted my losses earlier on). My heart and lifestyle did not align with these men. Those relationships were toxic. Those relationships would’ve never helped me evolve spiritually nor would they have led me towards a path of peace and holiness. I wasn’t receiving the love that I should have despite all of my attempts to give it, and I tried to save the relationships longer than was necessary. Reflecting on those relationships, I believe that if I would’ve stayed I would’ve been a relationship martyr; I would’ve believed I was making a grand sacrifice by staying in an unhealthy relationship in the name of love (wrong!). My life would’ve been devoted to fixing them and my identity lost. I would’ve swallowed the pain, accepted the toxic lifestyles and behavior, and never fully loved myself.
It was later in life that I decided to break the cycle of poor decision making in the dating department and focus on loving myself. I dedicated the next few years to defining myself, loving myself, and identifying my expectations from a partner; what behavior would be acceptable and how I would ensure that I would walk away rather than trying to save a toxic relationship.
Relationships are challenging. They’re harder when we don’t have a good relationship with the one who should be at the top of that list, ourselves. That is how my amazing husband I came to be. We took things slow; we were friends for 1 ½ year before dating, dated 2 years before getting engaged, and were engaged 1 year before getting married. We were upfront about what we expected and wanted in a relationship. We took our time to get past the masquerade ball and see what we were truly dealing with. We stopped certain behaviors in their tracks making it clear where the boundaries were.
We are a family of 5. I have a 6-year-old daughter and my husband has 2 daughters, a 21-year-old and a 16-year-old. I explained it in a “mine and his” format because I’m going to discuss our blended family situation, however, in person, we always say we have 3 children – never separating the children by the parent because we are one family.
From the moment I met my husband all he would do was gush about his amazing two girls who were the light of his life. I met them and I could see what the fuss was about. They are funny down to earth girls who are deeply loved by their father. He opened my eyes to something I didn’t believe existed; I saw him love his girls the way my mother loved me. He made sacrifices for his girls just as my mother did for me. He was at every sports event, every celebration, every school event, rain or shine, sick or healthy, tired or energized, he was there front row cheering them on. I didn’t think it was possible for a father to offer this type of love to his children. Imagine my shock to not only see a man do it, but do it by his own accord.
Our coming together seemed easy at first. My daughter and his daughters have a big age gap so my daughter got to be the little sister and thankfully there wasn’t the usual competition for attention that exists in kids that are of similar age. However, tension started rising as our relationship progressed and we spent more time together because of our different parenting styles (still hadn’t moved in). I never considered that one day we would have a supreme new parenting style that would be the main one in our household – I was accustomed to making decisions on my own for my daughter, as was he – now we had to consult someone else? We had a second opinion on matters (solicited and unsolicited) ? We couldn’t always have the final say? At times our kids would look towards the other parent for shelter? Awkward reality check!
As we got closer to getting married I was fearful that our family dynamic would not function. I haven’t been trained on raising a teenager and I’m not in touch with the things that teenagers say and do now. He has two young adults in his home, he’s not fresh on normal kid misbehavior. I finally have my feet on the ground, I graduated, I don’t have to balance school, work and raising my daughter, I finally have the time to dive head first into this parenting thing, but now I have to jump from parenting a 6-year-old, to parenting a 6-year-old, building a relationship with two young adults, and sharing the power with my soon to be spouse. I was confused, one minute I felt I was loved and accepted, another minute the wrong look made me feel as if I was an intruder. I was trying to make this new place “our home,” but we still have two different sets of rules and styles for handling our children. This divided us for some time. We would take turns siding with our blood children and then our stepchildren, no one was a true ally. Our weakness was exposed and it was milked, perhaps unintentionally, but even my 6 year old milked our flaw (she probably milked it the most). Rather than pausing and discussing things as many parenting articles recommend, we attacked and ridiculed the other’s approach creating a temporary division. It was challenging! I downloaded many step-parenting books and read on-line articles. I was sad to find that most advised me to run for my life! Few expressed success stories, most made me feel as if there was no hope. No hope for either one of us since we both have children; I would be looked in the same manner these articles were asking me to look at him and his girls.
Quitting was not an option because of the love in my heart. His girls are good, these are just normal parenting struggles that are made more challenging when a stepparent enters without knowing the established rules and doesn’t have the authority to address certain things. What is my place? Again, most articles said I had none. Lovely.
Then one day I had a moment of discernment. I feel that God spoke to my soul that day and opened my heart to love my family, the good, bad, and ugly because this is my family and I love it! He reminded me of what it felt like to be a child adjusting to a new family dynamic. I didn’t want our kids to going through that.
Orly’s youngest told me one day, “we are family, we are supposed to be able to say things and not worry that the other is going to take it wrong, we just love each other no matter what, it is what it is.” Amazing! That same day I was frustrated because I had organized something and when I came home things were messy again. I would normally have a bad attitude about picking it up when I just organized it, but this time I paused and asked myself what would I do if my daughter were the one who caused the mess. How would I approach the situation? Would I pick things up with love and look the other way because I cut my daughter some slack? Would I point it out to her lovingly? Would I decide that this wasn’t a big deal and I would save my words for a matter worthy of attention? Would I look at the mess and thank God that I was blessed with a child ? That is when I started loving my stepdaughters with the love of a mother, knowing I wouldn’t be nor ever desiring to be a mother role model, only to be a friend who loves them dearly and will be there for them as I would for my own daughter. I learned to stop feeling guilty when I mention certain things, I now ask myself how I would approach the situation if my biological daughter were the one being addressed, if my response is I’d handle it the same way as I was intending to approach it, then I know my heart’s intention is pure. It’s taken time, but the relationship has flourished, and this weekend I had the privilege of driving our middle daughter around to do her hair and makeup for her homecoming. She thanked me for helping her because it was a full day affair, but she has no idea the gift given to me – being a part of creating this important memory, an important part of her life because soon she’ll go off into adulthood and start her own life in college. I got to be there for her, even if for a little bit of time, and I got to give her my love as I would for my own.
When families fall apart everyone involved is affected. I wish we learned to do this family thing a little better so that fewer children suffered the consequences of hopping from home to home and no longer having stability. However, we can try to make best of the situations we face, and that’s what my husband and I have done. We didn’t ask to be in this position, but here we are with children deserving of much love who have been affected enough by the separation of their parents to now adapt to the new family we have formed. As stepparents, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our children and stepchildren and see the situation through their eyes. They didn’t ask for this, and it might be harder on them than it is for us. Have compassion , find a way to love your family, seek to counsel if needed, the reward of a loving home will be worth it.
I’m glad I followed my heart and not the advice of those parenting books. I weathered the storm we faced and it was worth it!
I’m glad I gave my heart a chance to know a different kind of love.
Being loved by your biological child is heartwarming and amazing. However, being loved and accepted by a stepchild who doesn’t have to love or accept you is indescribable.
Thank you, God for making me a mother and a stepmother.