*Warning: Do not read if you are engaged to a man who happens to have a few kids left over from a previous marriage. You might end up staying single for a long, long time.
Step parenting comes with unlimited challenges, not the least of which are our own emotions.
Following are some insights into step moms which may surprise you.
1) We get jealous.
When I moved in with my husband 15 years ago, I didn’t have any biological children of my own. He had five. And he had full custody. This meant that I, self centered 29 year old that I was, a woman used to being in one on one relationships, was now in a one on six relationship, with me somewhere on the outer edges trying to sneak in.
I asked my husband once, during this time, “If our house was burning down, who would you save? Me or the kids?” His answer, “The kids, of course!”
I was horrified! What about me? It’s pretty embarrassing to admit I felt that way now, but I was really hurt. Didn’t he love me?
When the kids piled on top of their dad on the bed, with me just sort of there trying not to get pushed off, I felt jealous. When the kids told me how beautiful their mom was (and she was—intensely beautiful), I felt jealous. When my husband and the kids reminisced about Christmas’s, vacations, and parties that happened before I joined the family, I felt jealous. When the girls got to dress up for dances and I was assigned to take their picture, I felt old and jealous; like Cinderella in reverse.
Ugh. It’s exhausting to think about. I grew out of it, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.
2) The way we feel about our step children is different than the way we feel about our biological children.
Before I had my biological son, I used to wonder; what is wrong with me? Why can’t I love my step kids as deeply and profoundly as their dad does? Am I missing some kid loving gene?
Nope, I am not. Because as soon as my son was born, it kicked in. My heart cracked open and now lays bare and vulnerable each and every minute of the day to the extent that I should probably invest in a bullet proof vest so just no one accidentally squishes it.
The great thing was, now I understood why my husband didn’t even pause before saying he’d leave me to die in a fire. To save my son, I’d leave him too.
But the shitty thing was, now that I knew about crazy parent love, I also knew I hadn’t been feeling it for the older kids. Which seemed like a terrible sin, because they are awesome kids who deserve to be loved that way.
Like the jealousy, that changed with time. I have a love for my step children now that surprises even me with its depth. But it’s still different on some molecular level from how I feel about my son. And if I could take a pill or get hypnotized to change that, I would. Which leads me to my next point.
3) We constantly feel guilty.
We know we are the usurpers. We are coming into damaged families, no matter how equitable the divorce was. You’d have to be awfully cold-hearted not to realize that you are building new lives on the wreckage of old ones.
Even though (presumably and hopefully) the divorce wasn’t your fault, you know if you were a kid, you wouldn’t want you around. There’s nothing you can do about it, but you feel guilty because you’re trespassing—emotionally breaking and entering.
4) We don’t know how to handle the question “Are these your kids?”
I don’t know. Are they? I mean, yes they are. Should I break it down for every cab driver, hair stylist and checkout girl who asks?
Here we go: These five are my step kids; I’ve been raising them for X number of years. This little one is my biological kid. We don’t use the words half-brother/sister or step brother/sister. We all live together; I cook for them, I clean for them, I do homework with them and everything else that moms do. Yes, I do look really young for having all these children. But I’m sure I won’t for long.
Since that seems a bit much, I always simply answer, yes, but then I feel guilty (see point 3).
Maybe the kids don’t want me saying I’m their mom. They claim they don’t care, but are they just trying to be nice?
5) We are afraid we won’t be accepted.
Not just by the kids, by the whole extended family. And not just that, the community.
When I first started going to school to pick up the children, I was regarded with suspicion by the ladies at the desk. Who exactly did I say I was? Why was I picking up the kids? Where was I taking them?
You’d think I’d driven up in a van with blacked out windows and was handing out dirty lollipops. It made me feel like an unpaid nanny with a criminal back ground, and it took years for that to change, even after I had a ring on it.
But don’t let me scare you.
I’m not saying step mothering can’t be amazing. It can be, and has been, ultimately, for me. But it takes a strong woman, decent kids, a good man and plenty of time. And a glass of wine at the end of the day won’t hurt either.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise / Catherine Monkman