In my early 20’s, I dreamed about disappearing off into the sunset with the man of my dreams. I imagined how I would marry that man at the top of the mountain. And from then on, it would be just him and me.
I met the man of my dreams. But he came into my life with an addition; he had a 6-year-old daughter. At that time, we lived in different countries, and I did not think of myself as becoming a stepmom.
I wished only to be with him. I was in love with him. Soon, I decided to move abroad to be with him.
I will never forget that day when my father gave me a lift to the airport. He gave me a warning.
“My dear daughter, you know that being a parent is very hard. But being a stepparent is even tougher. Are you aware that you will never be a priority to this man? And that is quite normal…His child will always come first. I am not sure if that is what you want. Think about it…”
My father spoke from the experience.
He was married to another woman before my mother, and he has a daughter with her. My father’s ex was a source of many of my parent’s arguments.
I ignored my father’s warning and followed my heart and in no time, I became a stepmom.
It’s been over 4 years now since I’ve cared for another (bdp/npd) woman’s child. I have learned a lot. I had no idea what I was signing up for. I also underwent several tough stages of becoming a stepparent in my first years.
I was in denial.
I left my previous life, my friends and family, and followed the man of my dreams. I was optimistic. I felt terrific about my partner, I was positive his daughter will warm up to me and there won’t be any external issues.
At first, everything was new and exciting to me: picking up my partner’s daughter after school, playing with her, getting to know her and her routines. I believed I will feel that way about being a stepmom forever.
Somehow I forgot the fact that becoming a stepparent was a major life transition that includes major challenges— most of which I had no idea were coming till they hit me.
I’ve realized that this child won’t be troubleless forever; the envious ex will never simply vanish from my life. Life in a blended family will never be smooth sailing. But I had my pride, I wasn’t ready to give up.
The honeymoon phase started to wear off, and I began recognizing issues. I fought these concerns by trying harder, doing more, and providing more.
Unconsciously I was trying to prove to myself, my partner, his daughter, his ex, and my father that everything was perfect and that I am doing a remarkable job at stepparenting.
I bought presents for my stepdaughter. I cooked her favorite meals and scheduled fun and sometimes over-the-top family activities. I was trying to go from being a “Stepparent” to being a “Super Stepparent”.
By doing all these above-and-beyond things for my stepchild, I was just extending the denial stage of my stepparenting. There is not one single gift I could buy or action I could take that will ensure my success in a blended family. Soon my optimism and spirit faded and jealousy took over me.
I was jealous of the relationship between my partner and his child. I was jealous that my partner and his child already have a family, and I am on the outside. I often wondered why I am even here when it seemed that there was no place for me to fit in. What about the fact that my partner already experienced pregnancy and childbirth with someone else? I was upset that we will never have our firsts…
I even felt jealous of strangers who popped up on my Facebook feed with pictures of their completely normal, traditional “first comes marriage, then cute kids” life scripts. I deleted my Facebook profile. Why was it so simple for them and so hard for me?
My jealousy was indistinguishable from resentment, and I felt like oozing poison onto everything I touch. I was ashamed, humiliated, and furious with myself for not being able to rise above such a petty emotion as jealousy. But I knew that the pain of not sharing past experiences with my partner will start to matter less than the future we are building together.
I felt guilty.
The guilt I have felt as a stepparent goes beyond any guilt that I have known so far. Guilt that I have not done right by my stepdaughter. Guilt and fear that I am becoming the worst possible version of myself. That I am becoming someone else, trying so hard to fit into this new blended family.
I felt guilty because I knew how much easier life would be without the child around. But then, again, I knew very well what I was getting myself into, didn’t I? And my father did give me a warning. I imagined a peaceful, idyllic marriage and family life. Just us two. Driving into the sunset.
I replaced the guilt with anger.
At times I got furious, and livid. Canceling, rescheduling, adjusting, compromising…When will it all end? Many of our arguments used to arise just because of the fact that we are a blended family.
Who are “we” without all those problems? What do “we” wish for? What are “we” building for us?
And who am I?
I felt lonely.
I felt lonely and isolated as a “newbie” stepmom. I was not counting the major fact that I was living in a foreign country, far away from family and friends. I used to have a different lifestyle and routines back home. I used to have a dog. I left him with my family. I have changed my normal routines, my life and ultimately myself to make room for someone else’s normal routine and try to meet somewhere in the middle.
However hard I tried to blend in I still felt like an outsider. Sometimes I thought that the efforts I have put in went unthanked and unnoticed, even by my partner.
One day I stopped feeling angry, instead, I was tired and exhausted and I needed a recharge. I needed to step back, and so I did. And acknowledge everything that I have done so far for this little girl. But most importantly acknowledge what she has done for me.
I accepted the fact that life in a blended family is highly challenging.
Being a stepparent is one of the most difficult parenting roles to take on in a blended family. And I took it. Many great stepparents are not given enough credit for the work and love that they put into their stepchildren.
Behind a lot of great kids is a hidden figure of a stepparent, who stepped up, stepped in and gave a shit. And I cared and loved. The truth is stepparents are warriors.
I am a warrior.
I don’t share the child’s DNA. I will never have the same rights and privileges as her biological parents. But I still make a big difference.
I am physically and emotionally available when my stepchild needs me. Maybe it helped that my stepdaughter and I “clicked right away” as she likes to say. Maybe it’s because I didn’t feel the need to “mother” her and was patient about how our relationship developed.
I can unconditionally love a child that is not my own.
The love I feel for this quirky, energetic and resilient child only differs in that I haven’t had the pleasure of being there to see her grow up from the ages of 0–6.
There are lots of stories and funny experiences that I have to learn about through the retelling. I parent her differently from her biological parents. When she misbehaves, I step aside and let her dad handle it. When she gets stressed about anything her dad is the one who takes her for a walk and talks to her. If she has a complaint, I let her dad take that one too.
It has not only helped me strengthen our relationship but has also helped her see that although I parented her in many ways, I was not there to “replace” anyone.
I didn’t carry her for nine months and excitedly prepared for her to be born, picking out baby outfits and wondering what she would look like. I missed the joys of her first smile, her first word, her first steps.
Our relationship flourishes because we both know I’m not her biological mother. I’ve never tried to “replace” her biological mother nor have I ever suggested she calls me “mom”. I am too young for that… She turns to me when she wants to go swimming, shopping, drawing, learn new “cool” skills, and play video games.
This year we had to move with my partner back to my homeland. Unfortunately, my stepchild wasn’t able to relocate with us. My initial wish came true. It was me and my partner now. Just us two.
But soon I realized how much I miss her. I realized that our “family” was incomplete without her. And just perhaps it was perfect when it was “the three of us”. Now I see her less and I miss her so dearly. Now I know I was destined to become a stepmother.
It is so damn hard to establish normalcy while only seeing her once a month. Being O.K that anything I promote during her stay with me is forgotten when I don’t see her. It’s demanding trying to build memories during the visits I have and being excited for a vacation with her on scheduled dates.
I feel sad when she misses a special occasion for which she should be present. But I also have the opportunity to make special plans for the time when she is with me and give her all the attention she deserves.
I have chosen to love her, despite all the obstacles that life has put in my way. I choose to see her as a part of my family when she is not with me.
I hope that the little time I have with her will leave a lasting impression, and someday she will appreciate the value I have in their life, but not necessarily expect that to happen.
The amount of personal growth I’ve achieved in the last years has been astonishing.
I was not ready to be a parent when my stepchild came into my life. But it is what I needed the most.
Becoming her stepmom has taught me compassion. It has taught me the importance of honest, thoughtful, gentle communication and honoring myself and my own needs. To value and cherish and care for me above all else. To agree only when I want to. To not give a shit what other people think of me, because their opinions of me don’t define who I am as a person.
Sometimes I wonder that if it wasn’t for her, I would not be so proud of the woman I have become, not only in my personal life but professionally too.
She taught me how just one member of the family can bring positive energy to the household and overturn the mood. She has taught me that being yourself and taking care of yourself at all times is an important ingredient of a healthy blended family.
She has taught me to stop portraying myself as a perfect stepparent 24/7.
I stopped trying to impersonate what I thought she would like me to be. Instead, I became myself: insecure, resilient, anxious, caring, nurturing, obsessive, creative, honest, determined, and sometimes stubborn. The real me.
She taught me to prioritize myself, and my relationship with her father. She is the loveliest gift I was ever given and never asked for. She taught me what unconditional love is.
I love my stepchild through the good and the bad, through the highs and the lows because I know that one day when she is grown up with kids of her own, she will look back and remember what love is. Because I and her father will serve as an example.
My life truly began when I met her father and one of my greatest achievements was getting to know her, and helping to raise her. Knowing and loving her has made me a better person and has made me realize who I am.
Who am I?
“I am brave. I make a difference. I am fearless.”
I am the “Chosen One”. She wasn’t raised to love me. I am not her parent. She has chosen to love me. Just recently she sent me a drawing: she drew me as a “Wonder Woman”.
None of us chose our parents. We were born into whatever situation and the parents who gave us life made choices for us. But when it comes to stepparents a child always has a choice.
And she has chosen to love me, she picked me!
It is a wonderful feeling when I hear my stepdaughter tell me every day that she loves me. I know she means it. Because she doesn’t have to love me.
And when I tell her that I love her too — it’s not because I saw her take her first breath or feel her kick within me for nine months. My love for her was not injected into me.
It’s because I have gotten to know her, because I have shared many years of life growing together as a family, and I truly love her for the person she is. While she loves me for the person who I am.
Without her, her father would not be the man I love and will hopefully soon marry. Without her, I would not look forward to having children of my own with her dad; without her, I would not have learned how to unconditionally love another woman’s child.
Without her I would not be O.K to be me. Even though her mother is a full-blown narcissist.