She was 4 years old when I met her, he 2.
I was 19. (Can that be, as she is now 23 and he 21?)
I often wondered what qualified me to be, or what could prepare me for being, their stepmom. I later realize that nothing qualified me and nothing could have prepared me for the role, which exists—and, personally, has grown into something beautiful—but was never intended. No two people have a baby together while daydreaming of who their child’s stepparents will be someday.
And yet, as some 1,300 stepfamilies form every day, according to the Stepfamily Foundation, stepparents must each learn to find their way through this unplanned, uncharted territory—much like parenting, and much not.
Likely these women and men who step into stepparenting with big hearts and little experience feel as I often did: unqualified and unprepared. Now at 38, and a stepmom for nearly 20 years, I know a bit more than a bit about the journey. Someday, I’d like to write a book for stepparents, the book that I longed for back when I was 19, back when I struggled to figure out who I was exactly to these two beautiful children who already had a loving dad and mom.
She’d fallen while playing in the yard.
“Mommy!” she yelled high pitched and shrill, “Mommy!”
Favoring her leg, she ran … to me.
I knelt down and wrapped my arms around her,
holding her as she cried out for her mom:
“Mommy, mommy, I want my mommy.”
In her cry, she was asking for her actual mom, and I remember thinking how much I wished I could somehow transport her mom there, how I literally wanted her mom there, too. Your daughter is hurt, you would know what to do here. I’m … not … I … don’t.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy,” she cried as I held her, trying to calm her down while also realizing that her cries were actually echoing my own, but it wasn’t her mom that I needed—I wanted my mom. She’d know what to do here, she’d have the right words to say.
But there we were: a 19-year-old and a 4-year-old in a driveway, a brand new stepmom and stepdaughter on our own, holding onto each other and craving not only our actual moms but the essence of a mom.
The comfort and safety.
The assurance and
The calm in the storm.
“Let’s take a look,” I said, wiping her cheek with the sleeve of my shirt.
Her little knee bloodied and scraped, her face hot with tears, I held her, smoothed her hair, and became very aware that while I was not her mom—I was holding someone else’s daughter in my arms and a little girl who never intended for me to be in her life—I could still help her, and comfort her, and be there for her in the best way I knew how.
And with that, I took her inside and bandaged my first scraped knee as her stepmom.
To the moms, the stepmoms, the birth moms, adoptive moms, grandma moms, dog moms, cat moms, auntie moms, pregnant moms, foster moms, grieving moms, multiple moms, second moms, moms-in-law, alive-in-spirit moms: Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms.
Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 … Breathe.