September 16th is National Stepfamily Day.
When I was 21 and getting married in 2004, I never would have imagined that one day my little family would divide into two. I certainly never imagined that another woman would share a part in raising my children.
But despite years of trying to make things work and after three precious babes were welcomed into our lives, we made the difficult decision to divorce.
I knew the day would come when my ex would remarry and possibly have children with his new wife. I was fairly certain as a young mom in my mid-twenties with three kids under the age of 5, that I would be alone forever. What kind of man would want to take on three kids and the baggage of a bitter ex-husband? (Keep reading to find out).
The New Woman
I remember the day I picked my kids up from a weekend with their dad and they told me they had met his new girlfriend. I immediately hated her. I was threatened by her existence, and protective of their sweet little hearts because of all they had already been through.
I prayed that things would not work out for them. I wished she would come to her senses and determine this was too much for her to take on. She had never been married and had no kids of her own. I just wanted her to go away. But she never did.
I’m sure marrying a man with three kids and a crazy ex-wife was not what she pictured when she imagined someday starting a family. I’m sure meeting the mother of her future stepchildren was just as tough for her as it was for me. I certainly didn’t make things easy for her for a long time. But she stuck around.
Once I met the man who is now my husband, my heart softened a little bit.
Divorced and with no children of his own, he never blinked an eye when he learned I had three kids and a jerk ex-husband.
We like to say he went “zero to hero” because helping to raise three kids that are not your own comes with it’s challenges. Seeing how he handled certain situations helped me to realize that a stepparent is more than just a new man or woman in mom or dad’s life.
A stepparent is an extra set of eyes, ears, shoulders to cry on, and an abundance of love and support for a child when needed.
I knew after divorcing that there were would be times when my children needed me and I wouldn’t be there. This is why I am grateful for the woman who stepped in as a stepmother to my kids. She is a sounding board for my teenage daughters when they are emotional and just need a hug. She is a disciplinarian and guardian when they are out of line.
She has had very special experiences with each of them that they treasure and I would never want to take that away from them. Many times she is the voice of reason for my ex-husband when he and I are not seeing eye to eye. My kids have welcomed her into their lives and though it took a while, I am so thankful that she loves them and cares for them in my absence.
Being a stepparent doesn’t come without struggles. Though I am not a stepparent myself, I see firsthand how difficult it can be for my husband to sometimes have to sit back and watch as my ex and I try to make decisions that are best for our children. That’s not to say that his opinion or input is not important, but ultimately he respects that the kids’ dad and I have the final say, even when he doesn’t agree.
He loves the kids as his own.
Sometimes I think they might actually like him better than they like me! He has never tried to take their dad’s place but he certainly has gone above and beyond what I ever would expect of him.
He bought my oldest daughter her first car. He takes time off work to watch my daughter play softball out of state, even when her own father won’t. He attends father’s day events at school when their dad can’t. He never misses a band concert.
The New Norm
My kids are from a broken home. No parent ever dreams of that for their children. Kids seek security, stability, and love. From a less than ideal situation, my children were given two homes with an abundance of all of the above. They have four parents to guide them through life instead of just two. Co-parenting is not always easy but somehow we make it work.
They have been taught to respect the rules set between each household and have adapted to what is now their new “normal”. They have been welcomed into their stepparents’ extended families and they certainly don’t complain when they get to have two separate birthday parties and twice as many gifts!
When asked to draw a picture of his family for a school project, my son never hesitated to draw mom, stepdad, dad, stepmom, and all of his half-siblings. In the middle of both sets of parents and half-siblings, he drew a heart around himself and his two sisters.
This is how I know my kids have adapted to their new norm. This is how I know they feel loved, supported, and safe. This is more than I ever could have hoped would come from the sadness of becoming a broken family; to know my children are loved by not only their parents but also by some of the strongest people I know, their stepmom and stepdad.