When I married my husband 10 years ago, I officially became a stepmom to his four children, who are now all grown up and out on their own. I have always taken the role seriously and have been a very present part of their lives for the past 16 years.
Quite some time ago, before I had kids of my own, a woman I didn’t know asked if I had any kids right in the middle of a round of introductions. I responded no but that I did have four stepkids. She promptly followed up her first nosy question with an even more invasive and even offensive question: “Why do you call them your stepkids? You should call them your kids.”
Unfortunately, I was too taken aback by the audacity of what she said to respond in the moment. I just stared at her in shock and then finally mustered up a pursed smile and “hmmm” before turning away from her. The truth is, I love my stepkids as much as I love the kids I gave birth to, but at the end of the day, I am not their mom.
Don’t get me wrong, I am there for my stepkids in any way that they need me. I have provided them with motherly advice, cared for them when they were sick and disciplined them when they needed it. I have sat through comical basketball games and endured never-ending plays. I have given many ignored lectures and worried when they were not home by curfew. I have driven for hours with girls whose voices reached decibels that only dogs should hear, felt the wrath of teen angst with a single eye roll and been made to feel like I might quite possibly be as old and crazy as they think I am. However, they have a mother, and I would never dream of replacing her. She is the one that carried each of them through difficult pregnancies and knows the stories of every scar on all their knees. She gets the credit for being their mom.
Everyone knows raising kids is a complicated, messy process with just two parents involved. So when new girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands get added to the mix, it only makes things harder to navigate for all involved but most of all the kids. Being a product of divorced parents, I know what it is like to be a kid feeling caught in the middle and feeling protective of a parent and the need to be loyal to them. It is not a fun place to be, and I have always tried to be super mindful that my stepkids never felt like they had to pick a side. And I am by no means claiming to have it all figured out because stepparenting is not easy to navigate, and I have had my share of missteps. The lines can be very muddled, things are ever evolving and each situation has its own challenges. I personally have very strong opinions about parenting, and I have often had to remind myself to “stay in my lane.”
On the other hand, I can only begin to imagine what it could possibly feel like to have to share raising my kids with another woman that I had no say in choosing. I was lucky enough that my husband’s ex-wife respected my role as a stepmom and gave me the time and the space I needed to build that relationship with my stepkids. That could not have been an easy task. Nowadays, I am happy to call her my friend... yes, my actual, true friend. She is one of the few people I trust to care for my own kids, and even though her kids are all grown up, she is still a daily part of our lives. I know that isn’t the norm, and I am not trying to say that is how it should be, because not every situation makes that possible. I admit that even though we have had our ups and downs, our situation is about as ideal as a divorce and blended family can be thanks in large part to her.
In this day and age, families come in all shapes and sizes and being a part of a blended family is quite common. To make all the complications that come with being a blended family easier, the first thing I believe you should start with is respect for all involved. To walk around claiming my stepkids as my own is disrespectful their mother. I don’t say this to discount the role of stepparents in any way. Many of us play significant roles in our stepkids’ lives and cherish the relationships we have with them while not necessarily getting much recognition outside of our families. And there are even some stepparents that legitimately deserve the title of mom or dad. Nevertheless, I would never consider myself my stepkids’ mom… I am their stepmom, but it is a title I take with great responsibility and privilege.
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