I see you, you know.
I see you watching my sixteen-year-old son, waiting for the right time to offer your help. He’s at our kitchen table, hands woven through his curly hair, struggling with an advanced math problem that would be easy for you. I see you carefully weighing the value of that help with the potential cost of making him feel, however irrationally, like he’s choosing you over his dad.
I see you walking with my daughter. You’re a little ahead of the rest of us as we walk the hills of our neighborhood after dinner. I can’t make out what she’s saying, but it looks like she’s telling you an elaborate, detailed third grade saga. I see you listening. I see your head nod, and she turns to you, face uplifted in the summer evening sun, basking in your full attention.
I see you folding our laundry and managing our mail on this particularly busy week with my children so that I might squeeze out every quality minute possible with them before they return to their father.
Thank you, Love.
Thank you for meeting my children where they are. Thank you for chatting casually in the kitchen with Simon about his exams, encouraging him as you unload the dishwasher. Thank you for boosting Lottie high on your shoulder as she squeals, begging for more. Thank you for shifting your plans and patiently untangling the lines when Caden asked to fish with you this weekend.
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for coordinating countless schedules so we could all attend Caden’s play. Thank you for sitting through 32 acts at Lottie’s dance recital, and whispering in my ear “she did so well!” as she scampered off stage. Thank you for volunteering to pick up Simon from his late night shenanigans and answering my sleepy questions about him as you return to me in bed.
Thank you for taking rejection on the chin. Thank you for overlooking the fact that these children often don’t greet you on transition days. Thank you for hearing a polite “no, thank you” every time you offer Caden a ride to the bus stop on your way to work and still waving cheerily as you pass him. Thank you for offering for the 27th time to drive with Simon, even after he turned you down the first 26.
Thank you for making space for their father. I watched as Lottie told you excitedly that Daddy surprised her as a volunteer in her classroom. I remember you did that first, and two more times after that, even if she seems to have forgotten. Thank you for welcoming Daddy into our home on pick ups and drop offs and special occasions. Thank you for keeping quiet when he’s late, and adjusting our schedule to fit his vacation plans. Thank you for sometimes answering questions with “your dad would know better than I do,” and meaning it.
Thank you for filling in the gaps. Their dad and I aren’t perfect parents. I am quick to judge and your quiet, balanced acceptance of others gives the children a better example of how to be. Their dad is a comedian, sometimes more focused on the children as an audience than as living breathing people; your attention gives them a different experience. I am forever running late; Lottie knows if she wants to get somewhere early she should ask you to take her. Their father doesn’t do plans and process, which I suspect is why you got the call from Simon asking for help filling out his first job application.
Thank you for sharing me. Thank you for accepting my hands are often claimed by little ones, leaving you to walk alongside us. When you come home to find us snuggled on the couch watching a movie, thank you for kissing me lightly on the cheek and sitting down in the chair rather than competing with the pile of kiddos on top of me. Thank you for accepting that our weekends together will often be interrupted by carpools and practices and forgotten trombones.
I know stepdads aren’t superheroes. This isn’t easy, for you or any other man in this position. I know this family and this life are not what you expected. I know you longed for a first family experience, with the dappled glow of sunlight and happy smiles and a much smaller cast of characters. I know some days are harder than others. Being a stepfather requires daily energy and lots of work.
Thank you for being a steward of hope. Thank you for getting up and trying again after a difficult night. Thank you for reminding me of all the good that we’ve witnessed together. Thank you for being a living, breathing example of an honorable man who was once an impulsive sixteen-year-old boy, and reminding me that this too, shall pass. Thank you for grabbing my hand in the chaos of our kitchen and whispering that you love me madly.
Thank you for proudly hanging our huge family portrait in your office. Thank you for referring to our tribe as “our children.” Thank you for making us yours.
Kate Chapman is a mom and stepmom to six children, ages 8-15. She writes about her modern-day Brady Bunch adventures at This Life in Progress. A widely-published blended family expert, Kate addresses the tricky topics of divorce, coparenting and stepfamily dynamics. When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the children and livestock, and turning off lights in empty rooms. Follow Kate on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for coaching, support and inspiration.