Stepping Up


Desert Color

This weekend I attended a women’s retreat in the woods of northern Arizona. (I have several posts in mind after participating in the intensely emotional getaway.) One of the greatest gems I took away from the weekend was hearing a woman describe her struggle to daily pour love unconditionally into her family — and how she knew she was called to do so anyway.

This has been my unexpected struggle. Let’s have a real, honest talk about being a parent. Whether you birthed, adopted — or in my case, inherited your kid(s) through a relationship — being a parent is every stupid Hallmark cliche. It is the most rewarding job. It is the most thankless job. It is hard. It is sweet. It is agonizing. And you really do feel like your heart is living outside of your body when you watch a 16 year old drive away for the first time and you can’t catch your breath.

(Or I was just having a panic attack. Either way, I still say countless prayers that kid is safe, and everyone else around him is safe, and they are all wearing seat belts and no one is texting or distracting the driver and on, and on, and on.)

Being a “step” parent has not come naturally. Actually, it has been a really difficult. I came into these kids’ lives in their early teens, when our brains return to the selfishness of toddlers, only now demanding spending money and independence, not bedtime stories and candy.

We’re all in this for the long ride of being a modern family — where at events we sit with their mom, her husband, their step-brother and collectively work to entertain his two-year-old adorable daughter. I love these two kids, and yet I’m hesitant to call them mine. This weekend, I was asked 100 times by other women, “Do you have kids?” Sometimes I said, “Yep. Two teenage step-kids.” And other times I stumbled along with “Uh, I’m helping my boyfriend raise his teenagers.” Or “My boyfriend has kids.” I want to claim them. I want to tell everyone who asks that yes, these kids are mine. I do their laundry and pack their lunches and cheer for them at soccer. I tutor in Spanish and bake their birthday cakes and know their favorite bands and how to make small talk about Nickelodeon programs and Disney stars. I know they love Bernie Sanders, so I pay attention to his speeches.

What I don’t want to do is have their mom somehow overhear me calling these kids my kids. That’s what stops me. She birthed them. She is co-parenting them. She is a good mom and I don’t want to step on her toes. I feel like an interloper claiming territory that isn’t rightfully mine.

And when they are in the throws of being teenagers — it is “stupid” to make a bed, and “stupid” to be on time and “stupid” to practice piano — I want to put on my running shoes, grab my dog and walk away as quickly as possible before muttering how they aren’t mine. They are both wholly lovable and entirely annoying on any given day — which I’m fairly certain is the definition of “teenager.”

In those moments of sheer frustration when I know they would be listening to me if I was their mom, anger takes over my control panel and my emotions boil over in hurry. And in those sweet times when they give me a hug unexpectedly or want to spend time together, joy rules. I beam and nearly fall over from patting myself on the back and how well I got this. 

It is a parenting roller coaster. It can be scary and make me scream and my stomach hurt, and I just want to be let off the ride. And it can also be the most thrilling, awe-inducing, joyous ticket in town — which, I am now fairly certain is the definition of “parenting.”



7 Replies to “Stepping Up”

  1. Oh my dear, sweet friend…you have claimed them in so many ways. It takes a village to raise children and you have stepped up in the most eloquent way, even if your anger sometimes boils over…you are, of course, imperfectly perfect for them. There is no boundary to how much a child is loved and they are fortunate to have you in their lives!

  2. You are absolutely doing it right! And don’t think that they *listen* to their Mom either!! Loving them is what it takes. Standing by them, supporting them. In the end they will see how incredibly lucky they are to have 2 moms.

  3. You’re loving them and that’s all you can do. With my 3 step-kids (we’ve been together 8 years), their Mother and I “share” them. She did a GREAT job, although not always what I would have done. But I understand their Mom and their Dad did the best they could. Their Mom has always been generous with me, understanding that I love them and and only wanted the best for them. And, on Mother’s Day, we text each other. Goofy, but true.

    You’re doing a great job. Hang in there! They grow up and as they see your actions and hear you, even if they act like they didn’t!

  4. I got to start with my 16-year-old step-daughter when she was two. Step-parenting is a whole different animal. I love her exactly as she is my own. But, with her I am sort of extra person that is only there because of this terrible thing (divorce, separation). I’ve always wondered how that was going to work out. Where do I fit in between the mother and father? We aren’t like an aunt, friend or a sister. We still have to parent.

    When she was little she couldn’t say my whole first name so she would call me Sami. Eventually, I became “my Sami”, which was a take from my mom that she came up with all on her own. Ultimately, I have just made the best of it that I can by loving her, spending time with her, texting her (it is the language of the teenager). Recently she texted me and said she loved me and that I am her mom. Now, she loves her mom very much and I will NEVER replace her mom. But, she said I wasn’t just some extra woman in her life, something different. This was a dream come true.

    I do think we have to be sensitive the biological mother of course, but when they are old enough as your are, they can decide what they are. Her and I decided a long time ago, most of the time it is just easier to refer to her as my daughter and her refer to me as her mom. Every now and then I refer to her as my step-daughter but only because it would be confusing otherwise, like when I say she isn’t with us or something like that. But, in my heart she is mine. That of course doesn’t mean she is only mine, but that I love her and take responsibility for her to that degree.

    So hang in there, it will be in the time they decide and the way they decide, but I bet they will find a way to take ownership of you. You already have become a very integral part of their life. They just have to figure out the perfect word that describes that.

  5. Nothing in my life has made me boil over like my own kids. No jerk from work, no rudeness from a stranger, no idiot driver, not *other people’s kids.*. I always congratulated myself on my patience…until these jokers came into my life. It’s humble of you to not want to step on toes, but if you have taken these kids so to heart that they infuriate you, I think you’ve earned the credit you’re trying to deflect. You do have kids in your life. You understand the whole mixed bag of it. That’s all people are asking, isn’t it?

  6. They probably wouldn’t listen to if you were “their mom” either. I am constantly running away and mine are mine lol. It is all just too much to take sometimes and you just need some breathers.

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