It has been a long time since I wrote openly about my step-parenting role. You see, I am challenged by my role now; and I am not sure if I am still a “stepmom”. The worst experience that could happen to families did occur, and my husband was killed in a motorcycle accident last May. A woman made a left-hand turn in front of him; and within seconds he was gone. Since then, our life has been upside down in a million different ways.
Have you ever thought about this occurrence stepmoms? Have you ever sat and wondered how your life would change if your spouse died? As a 33-year-old, I can tell you that death was not on my radar. Everything else was. We were planning an “ours” baby, we were making plans and goals, and my family was busy adjusting to a new life.
My life came to a crashing halt; suddenly I lost more than my husband, my best friend. I lost my hopes, dreams; my family was split in half. I also lost my stepchild as a result of my husband’s death. I will not go into details about how or when I realized that very moment, but I can tell you how painful it was. Someone once told my husband “she only has the title of stepmother because she is married to you”. That person was implying that my very existence did not matter to my stepchild.
Over the years, I tried like hell to refute that very statement. My stepchild and I had our own developing relationship, just like my husband had a unique relationship with my biological child. I loved and financially provided for my stepchild for five years. I had checked homework, cleaned up after, cooked for and did a thousand different “mom” duties for that child. I dedicated five years to developing a relationship. Does that mean nothing now? Did it mean nothing then? I don’t know. Could that person have been right? Did my husband’s child only “tolerate” my existence because I was married to his father? A million questions go unanswered, and I do not feel it right to corner him in order to get my answers. I do not know what is truly in the heart of my stepchild, and I may never know.
What I do know is this; I have NO legal rights to my stepchild. Unfortunately, unless stepchildren are adopted by their stepparents, they generally have no right to custody. It is very rare when a compassionate judge offers some visitation to stepparents, stepsiblings, and half-siblings after a death or a second divorce. What that means is that five years of my dedication, heart-felt attempts at a relationship and our family life, does not count for anything in the eyes of family court system. To be quite honest, I would not even try. Not because I do not love that child, but because I am so tired of family law that I could scream. Most of us know how much the family law system needs reformed, but that is another topic altogether.
So, stepmoms, I am left to pick up a million pieces. For the record, I have not spoken with or seen my stepchild in months. It is not my style to put a child in the middle in very adult situations (especially those that occur financially or emotionally after a death), therefore I have chosen to pull back and let him heal properly from his father’s death. I chose this route based on the experiences we had before my husband’s death as well. I choose not to inflict any more emotional distress than what is already present.
I can tell you this; I grieve for that person as much as I do my husband. I love him still, and I miss him that much more. I pray each day that he comes after his 18th birthday, and is able to love his stepbrother as it once was before. I pray that he is curious to know about his new half-sister as well. I will always welcome him with open arms, as I did for the past several years. Until then, I am grieving the loss of my stepchild, along with the loss of his father. I am still left wondering; am I still a stepmother, or am I some woman that his father married?
Please feel free to chime in with your experiences if you have gone through something similar.
Lenee Kehnt is a M.A./Ph.D Trainee, soon-to-be Clinical Psychologist from sunny Southern California. She is currently employed as a Counselor who administers individual and couple’s therapy. Lenee is a biological mother and stepmother to 14-year old and 15-year old boys.