I believe that stepparents have the second-hardest job there is, second only—this is a close second—to parenting.
It’s hard to say when I became a stepparent. Was it the time when I, not Dad, was nudged awake at 3:00 am by the youngest when she felt nauseous? Was it the first time I was called “Mom” by “accident”? Or was it just a few weeks ago, when my husband and I officially married? It wasn’t the latter; I was Stepmom long before that. But the exact moment can’t be pinpointed. Stepparents don’t have the miraculous day of childbirth. Instead, they have the initial awkward meeting, where the kids avoid eye contact and stare all at the same time, and friends call immediately afterward to ask, “How’d it go?”
People say my situation is lucky, but I think that’s a response to the stereotype of stepparents as selfish, uninterested, and threatened, or stepkids as hostile and sullen. I have a great relationship with my stepdaughters, who call me both Tina and Mom, and we’ve decided that whatever name comes out first is okay. I have a warm relationship with their mother, who is always Mommy, but who respects the importance of my role. She calls us a team; together with my husband, we say we coparent.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s weird sometimes. When my husband went out of town on a weekend that was “ours,” I wondered, do I still have the kids? Then I wondered, if he dies, what happens to me? What happens to Stepmom? Questions like these affirm my belief that stepparenting is extraordinarily difficult. Stepparenting’s role and expectations are amorphous. I constantly wonder about the intensity of my feelings—love, fear, anger, frustration—and I ask myself, what if these girls were biologically mine? How intense would my feelings be then? Sometimes, I question if I don’t feel enough. I’ve decided to accept that these questions don’t have answers. And in the end, I did have the kids that weekend.
I wipe away snot, worry about calcium intake, buy them new shoes every other week. I call in sick when the youngest has the flu again. I raise my voice and make them fold their laundry. I get annoyed at too many questions and wish they’d go away, and five minutes later, smile at the energy they give our home with the silly dances they choreograph and the extraordinarily strange ways they put clothes together.
I may not know just when I became a stepparent, but I do know that I will be one for the rest of my life. I am forever changed. I believe that my role as Stepmom is ill-defined and important and that the teenage years, just two years away, will try my patience in ways I can’t yet imagine.
Bring it on.