It’s an odd role – one that I didn’t necessarily want, but didn’t go out of my way to avoid it. When I first starting dating Marc, the girls weren’t really a factor – spending time with them was something done by him on the weekends. It didn’t influence me much more than I knew that Saturdays were my days to do stuff with other people, because Marc would be at Lisa’s house with them. Even after I had Jessie, Lisa still wouldn’t let the girls see her, and in fact, for the first eight months of her life, Jess was an only child in every sense of the world. I knew Marc had the girls, knew we were paying child support, but they were HIS girls, they weren’t mine, and I didn’t see that changing. Ever.
Eventually, Lisa caved, and started letting us see them, but it was sporadic, and we certainly couldn’t be trusted to watch them on our own. Then we moved out of Marc’s parent’s house, and started taking them most Saturdays. Somehow it’s grown so that we now have them all day, both days, every weekend. They’ve even started sleeping over, and I expect that’ll continue and probably pick up in frequency.
And I’ve had a hard time adjusting. I think so, anyway. I have higher expectations of myself – I feel like it’s a role that’s a constant challenge to me, and that I’m nowhere near as good at it as I should be. Being a stepmother isn’t something you can really prepare yourself for – despite all my efforts, reading books about it doesn’t help, being an actual parent doesn’t really help either, because you’re not a parent to them. At least in this situation – I always feel so aware of the fact that I’m not their mother. I don’t know their teachers, their friends, their doctor’s. But I know what they like, what they don’t like, their best and worst qualities, I know that Sarah won’t eat sauce and Lilli will eat junk food until she throws up. I know that Sarah is less affectionate with Marc, but more cuddly with Sam, Lilli is the exact opposite.
Once I accepted the fact that they are a consistent presense – that the expectation is that we WILL have them, of course, all weekend, both days, all day – it’s got a little easier. Before, I kept being surprised that we had them. Kept getting confused by Marc’s insistence that they be here, because for such a long time, we didn’t have them, or could only have them under controlled circumstances. I didn’t switch gears quickly enough, and sometimes I resented all the togetherness.
When you have a child, it’s instant, immediate. You just fall in love when you first hold that baby – and it just grows from there. When you have a stepchild, it’s a whole different ball game. You’re dealing with someone else’s child, someone else’s rules and odd little hang-ups. When they start whining and yelling and fighting, you don’t have that instinctive love and understanding under it to cushion it. And it’s hard – sometimes, it’s so hard. To be fair, to be loving, to be the kind of stepmother I want to be, the kind I’d want my own children to have. And I still struggle with it.
But it is getting better. It really is. We’ve been together for six years, and for the girls, they’ve never known any different. I think it’s easier for them than for me – they’ve got that bond with Jess and Sam and just sort of accept me as part of the package. We’ve started to get identified as a family, at the Chabad, at the YMCA, when we’re out to dinner, etc. I’ve started saying just a blanket ‘yes’ when I’m asked if all four are mine – because they ARE. I may not have been there from the beginning, I may not know if they’re up to date on their vaccines or when their next dentist appt is, but they are mine.
For better or worse, and when you marry a guy with kids, you marry them too. And for a long time, I didn’t understand that. But the girls are mine too – and I chose it, maybe not with a lot of forethought, maybe not really understanding what I was doing – but I chose them as much as I chose Marc. And they are mine. Maybe not with the same intensity and strength as Jess and Sam, but enough. I mother them too – when they are with me, they are my kids.