My three kids—oh man, they are my greatest teachers.
Each brings a little something special, makes me think a little harder and love a little deeper.
My oldest is 16, with bounding hair and a huge, friendly smile. I met her when she was five. She was the same then. I’m a much better mom to the younger ones because of her (and I’m a better stepmom to her because of them).
I never thought I’d be a stepmom. I had never actually thought about it at all before I met my partner.
On the blended family end, I have no doubt each child and relationship is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all model (is there really one for anything in life?). I know I’m not her “real” mom—she has a great one. I’m her stepmom—it’s a different role, but I don’t take it lightly. I’m appreciative of the chance to be another person adding love and support to her life.
I don’t think it’s possible to have too much of either.
I think the biggest and most unexpected gift has been how much I learn about myself and my life with being in hers.
Sometimes something will rise up in me unexpectedly that seems to be in relation to her (teen choices can be different than my own!). I’ll feel an eyebrow raising or a sudden lip-pursing “I would never!” I previously would have sided with my opinions and choices without much thought (because obviously they’d be right). Today, I’m (slowly) getting clear that 99 percent of whatever comes up is about me and my stuff, not them.
And I’m getting a chance to work on it.
A neighbor recently wondered if my stepdaughter would be interested in participating in a local teen pageant. My first reaction was “Yeah, no, bad idea…I don’t like pageants” (which I managed to not say out loud).
My thought process went something like this: Pageants are degrading to women, and besides, what about body image and the sort of messages about beauty that are surely doled out? (Note: I’ve never participated in a pageant or had dealings with one. But I thought I qualified as an expert that they were most likely bad news.)
I like to think my listening skills have improved over the years, so I tried hard to be open-minded and listen to my neighbor rather than automatically agree with the chorus of “no way!” in my head. I asked some questions and voiced my hesitations and fears. My neighbor offered some food for thought. (Imagine, pageants may have some self-redeeming aspects: confidence building and learning to carry oneself, interview practice, camaraderie and scholarship opportunities!) On the body image end, yes—some people choose to go an unhealthy route. However, many others do not and even strengthen the message to young girls of healthy bodies and minds, and the beauty in our differences.
Oh, the discomfort of an expanding mind.
I mentioned it to my stepdaughter. Several interesting conversations followed. Then it hit me. My “no” wasn’t about her at all—nor was it about other participants. It was my stuff, things I had somehow decided along the way I “shouldn’t do” and that were somehow “bad.” Things I didn’t think I was supposed to do, even if I was interested.
Realizing I was on the brink of urging my stepdaughter to remain small because it was an area where I had kept myself small? Not cool.
Who knows what will come of it all, if she’ll want to participate or not—but that’s not the point.
I’m appreciative of the chance to be in my stepdaughter’s life and participate. I appreciate the chance to learn what she likes to do for fun, the kinds of books she likes to read, the meals she likes to eat and hearing about her daily goings-on. She is a patient big sister to all of her younger siblings, and she is kind to those she meets.
If I was 16, I’d want a friend like her.
I am incredibly grateful for the unexpected opportunity to learn so much about myself (complete with proverbial slaps in face to get my attention in the areas where I need to clean up my stuff). I’m getting to be a kinder, more open, and loving person because I’m in her life.
Being a stepmom? I never thought I’d learn so much. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.
Author: Robin Massey
Photos: author’s own
Editor: Renée Picard