My dad married my stepmom when I was eight. When the officiate asked me if I would welcome her into our family, my mouth said “yes,” while my whole body screamed “no.”
That was before I even had any idea of what it would be like. I just knew that everything that I held dear to me would change. My dad and I were an inseparable pair, and their marriage would separate it. To an eight-year-old, it seemed like the end of the world.
Nothing could have prepared me for the worst part of having a stepmom.
It wasn’t the jealousy and competition for my dad’s attention.
It wasn’t how frustrated she was with me. How she always walked ahead of me because she was in a hurry and I was slow and daydreamy.
It wasn’t how she didn’t want me in the kitchen while she was cooking because I would just be in the way.
It wasn’t how uncomfortable it was when store clerks would tell me that I looked exactly like her, assuming she was my mother.
It wasn’t how we barely talked or how little we had in common.
It wasn’t being called names or being teased.
It wasn’t how she turned her face away when I tried to kiss her goodnight.
It wasn’t even feeling like a 3rd, 4th, or even 5th wheel when the kids came along.
No, what hurt the most was how much she loved her own children.
I saw how she snuggled them. And smiled at them. And touched them. And crafted handmade toys for them. And knit tiny sweaters with matching booties for them. And sewed amazing miniature Halloween costumes for them as they grew. Art and projects and endless attention. I noticed it all.
The irony of this life is that I’ve come full circle.
Boy, did she love them.
Her deep love for them was the mirror that reflected my own empty heart. I couldn’t have described it back then because I didn’t have the words. I only knew how it felt. I was so lonely. I felt invisible, cast off to the side, somewhere in the background. I knew that there was something wrong with me. Clearly, I possessed some deep-rooted flaw that made me undeserving of love.
I felt unlovable.
Maybe it wasn’t all her fault. Maybe she couldn’t rise above her own painful childhood. Maybe it was magnified by the fact that my mom wasn’t around. That her absence had left its own mark on my heart. And my dad was off to work providing for our family, caught up in a whole new family. Even though I was always right there.
The irony of this life is that I’ve come full circle. Today, I have a stepdaughter, who was the exact same age when I married her father. And the same age when each of our children were born
This is both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because I am better equipped to be sensitive to my stepdaughter’s feelings and help her integrate as much as possible into our family. I encourage her to continue her loving relationships with both her mother and her father. I realize that our young children take up a ton of our time and attention, but I make a conscious effort to include her. I talk to her and show an interest in her life. I let her know that I am proud of her and that I love her.
The curse is that mirror that I can’t quite seem to break. I understand now how hard it is to love someone else’s child. I never knew love the way I know it with my own children. But all children deserved to be loved. And, looking back, I can see now how just a little more effort may have helped to ease my pain. I get it, she never could have loved me the way she loved her own babies. But maybe she could have loved me a little.
Sara Mann is both a stepdaughter and a stepmom, desperately trying to keep the peace in a household of five on overdrive. She writes about her strategies for keeping sane (mostly) at The Sanity Plan and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.