My stepdaughters were two and four when I met them. I married their dad two years after that.The youngest has no memory of a time when her dad and I hadn’t been together. Unfortunately, that is not the case with oldest. She remembered. She didn’t bring it up often, but she remembered her mom and dad living together and loving each other.
One day as I was helping the then 6-year-old pick out pajamas before bed, she said to me, “I wish my mommy and daddy still lived together.”
I ran out of the room screaming and crying, got in my car, and never looked back for fear of bearing that pain again.
Okay, I actually did not do that, but I certainly wanted too. I was devastated. Here was this little girl – one I had come to love and adore – who had just told me she’d rather me not be in her life. She didn’t say that, and she didn’t mean that either, but at that moment it sure felt that way.
It’s probably a good thing she was behind me because I know there were tears in my eyes. My hands went ice cold and I just couldn’t move as I let it soak in. She sat down on her bed and sighed, and I used that moment to take a nice deep breath, and think. I didn’t know whether or not I should say anything. I could pretend I didn’t hear her and keep talking about bedtime or change the subject and bring up how kindergarten was going for her, but that just didn’t seem right. This was something I, as her new stepmom, as someone who was going to be in her life for the long run would eventually need to address, and now was the time.
So I pulled myself together, turned around to her, and put my arms out for a hug. She graciously accepted, and I knew she didn’t mean that she hated me or that she didn’t want me in her life. She just missed having a whole family. I grew up with two families. I accepted that and loved my stepparents, but there were passing times I did wonder what life would be like if my parents were still together. Sometime around middle school I realized having two loving families was much better than having one fighting family. So I knew what she was feeling now wouldn’t last forever, and I couldn’t take it personally.
“I love you and your sister very much,” I told her taking another breath to plan out my next words carefully. “So does your mommy, and so does daddy. We all do. and we all want you to be happy.” I knew I could explain to her how I got over my sadness, how her parents fought a lot, or tell her that feeling will go away when she is older, but I just didn’t feel like that was the right answer. I also felt like true explaining would be something that her mom would probably want to do. So instead I told her, “Your mom will be able to tell you better than I can, but she and daddy weren’t very happy when they lived together and it’s no fun to not be happy right?” She nodded in agreement. I then reminded her how lucky she is to have so many people that do love her. Then I joked with her about how I was so very jealous, that she is just so darn cute and sweet that everybody can’t help but think she is the coolest kid ever. She laughed and agreed with me wholeheartedly.
Three years after the conversation and I still remember it clearly. I still feel a pain in my heart when it comes to mind, I still wonder if I said the right words. I hope that I did and I feel that I did. It might not have been a perfect answer, and it might have been laced with kiddie humor so much that she took nothing from it, but I could have gotten upset, I could have gotten mad, or I could have just kept ignoring it. By facing that talk, I made the decision to accept that stepparenting was going to be a very hard job. That because I loved her and her sister, I wouldn’t be able to just sit back and let their mom and dad raise them through the tough times. I accepted that sometimes they would come to me, and I would have to be there to help them with anything at any time, even when I didn’t have the right answer. And I am okay with that. I have gotten much more comfortable with dealing with these moments of being unsure through time and experience, but it will never be an easy thing.
When my stepdaughters come home after school I smile with pride as they show me their latest art projects, the oldest shows off her math test, or the youngest explains how Maddie is mad at her for sitting with someone else on the bus. (Oh how I miss having first-grade problems) I can’t help but feel a sense of pure joy in being a part of their lives. I’m not their mom, they have a pretty awesome mom, but I am their stepmom and that bond is so very special and unique.