I’ve stepparented for over six years; long enough for six children in a vehicle, around a table, and as a part of everyday life to feel “normal.” It’s hard to recall a time when my life only included my two children. I’ve seen these kids, his and mine, grow from little ones missing a few teeth and anxious to start first days in primary school evolve into young adults, ready to drive and discuss college.
Although the routines of bedtime, grocery shopping, and organizing the troops to prepare to go on an outing have become typical, I still find myself struggling to adapt to often feeling like an outsider in my own home, the high-conflict relationship with my stepchildren’s mother, and the attitude, which has been steadily on the upswing since the children have begun to enter their teens.
I love my stepfamily but, at the same time, I often feel overwhelmed by the emotions of children who are still struggling to heal from their parent’s divorce and accept a new way of life, even six years after the fact. I have often considered throwing in the towel, and regret that I sometimes find myself mentally calculating how many years we have left until the youngest has graduated.
How many years until we have peace?
Counting away the days of one’s likes, and feeling like an uninvited guest is certainly no way to live.
Recently, however; two interactions have made me step back and wonder if I am too close to my situation to recognize the good that is happening right before me. Two conversations with people outside my own home now make me question if things are as bad as they often feel, and if, perhaps, it is time for me to evaluate my situation with fresh eyes.
It all started when a co-worker of mine, Brenda, a fellow stepmom with a very large family who are all grown and starting their own families, approached me quite unexpectedly to compliment the way I have blended my family. True, she has known my family as a casual by-stander but, one with expert goggles, so to speak. She said “Audrey, the way you have blended your family is nothing short of amazing! You are a rock star!”
I was touched by her sincerity and the fact that she went out of her way to praise a sister stepmother. She knows how hard the road can be for a stepfamily, and all of the extra dynamics at play. She saw something beautiful in the way my husband and I go out of our way to put our children first, show them unconditional love, and give them a beautiful childhood full of great experiences and memories.
In the same moment, I felt slightly ashamed. If only she knew! If only she knew how many times I had been lied about, stolen from or blatantly disrespected. I have always been completely committed to my husband and his children but, my heart has been broken so many times!
Brenda has not been in my home to personally see the height of our stepfamily struggles; but, she gets the stepparent experience and what a badge of honor it is to succeed! Affirmation from someone like her means everything because only someone like her knows what it’s really like to walk in my shoes!
A couple of months since my exchange with Brenda, and I was feeling pretty low about the regularity of arguments and other drama in my life related to stepkids. Once again, the universe sensed my need for a reality check in the form of running into my children’s coach in the grocery store. Connie must have sensed the exhaustion in my eyes as she met them with hers, filled with tears.
“Thank you,” she said through her attempts to compose herself “for showing me what a blended family can be! You and your husband have done an amazing job bringing your family together! Your kids are incredible, and you and he were clearly meant to be together so that you could raise this family together!”
I was stunned by the emotional effect that my family had on her. I was brought to tears to hear the depth of her statement and to hear the perspective of someone who is able to view us from a few steps back. Connie and Brenda were able to see the results of unconditional love, security, and us not giving up on them as they learned, grew, and healed into our new life.
They see the progress in these kids. They see the deep and loving bonds that have formed between our children. They see that our kids are, overall, good kids who may sometimes crumble under the weight of surviving divorce and who are still finding their way!
I realized at this moment that I had been too harsh on my family and myself! I live in the situation day-after-day. I see every eye roll, hear every snarky comment, and feel every shot to the heart. I have to recognize that my family is not just his and her children brought together through marriage, but also teens and tweens who are struggling with their identities as individuals and who are, by nature difficult to parent.
Yes, we will continue to have moments that will exasperate and hurt me but, we will also continue to have infinitely more incredible moments together, as a real family! I cannot let the moments of frustration overshadow the beautiful memories we have from many holidays and adventures together, nor the undeniable connection we have formed!
Stepparents, I urge you to step back, in your darkest moments, and not be consumed by the depths of negativity that exist in our world! Take time to recognize that you are doing amazing work and, even if no one stops to say so, you are a rock star!
Audrey Cade, author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision, is a matriarch of a stepfamily of six children and an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage. She is a featured blogger for DivorcedMoms, contributor for DivorceForce, Worthy Living and has been published in The Divorce Magazine, The Good Men Project, StepMom Magazine, and others. Her professional experience is as a case manager social worker for developmentally-disabled children, and she holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. Follow Audrey on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Listen each Wednesday to her weekly Divorce Warrior Dialog podcast on her website.