The Joys and Challenges of Step-Parenthood: Embracing the 2nd Place Prize
In my early thirties, a five-foot, 90-pound teenage boy came into my life.
N was twelve years old, starting sixth grade and full of charisma. I had been dating his dad for awhile before we felt it was the right time for N and I to meet. I was excited and nervous to meet the boy that my now-husband talked so fondly about, recalling memories of them going to monster truck rallies and discovering new music together. The day we met, I looked and felt like I was going to the biggest job interview of my life. I was sweaty, changed outfits three times, practiced what I would say, and paced around the house.
As a former school counselor and from a blended family, I was very aware of the importance a healthy step-relationship is for the whole family and, most importantly, for the kiddo; the kid who not only suffered from their parents’ divorce, but now with the changing dynamics of their immediate family. Having this knowledge upfront was a huge advantage for me in navigating the ups and downs of being a step-mom. However, when it comes to intense emotions, knowledge can fly out the window real fast.
I highly recommend for anyone in my shoes that you research being a step-parent, talk with others who have been there, find a good therapist, and do your own self-care work. This way you will have a stable foundation for yourself (and your spouse and your kids) in facing the challenges that will eventually arise.
I was blessed to have a positive connection with N right away. We loved the same music, enjoyed similar movies and communicated easily. As a growing teen boy, I understood why he would withdraw to play video games or eat every item of food in the house. As he got older, being a step-mom became more challenging. I would get caught up in the conflicts he had with his dad and of course heard the all-too-familiar, "You can't tell me what to do, you’re not my mother!" He was right; I, indeed, was not his mother and would have never expected N to view me in this way. His mother was a caring, engaged woman, who was the apple of N's eye.
My hope was to be an additional female "go-to" who would do my best to provide a comfortable home, no matter when N was there, role model respectful communication, and give love to the best of my ability.
Along the way, I made mistakes. I got frustrated and took it out on my husband, I made judgments about his parenting decisions and I internalized my feelings of self-doubt into depression and anxiety. For awhile, I distanced myself from N so I would not say or do anything that would jeopardize our relationship; It meant too much to me.
In May, N graduated from college with a major in Mathematics. As I stood with all of the other family members, all I felt was pride and immense love. N is a compassionate, smart, insightful and creative young man, and I hope that I have had some impact in helping him to become who he is today. In turn, he has taught me so much about patience, understanding, and conflict resolution. I thank him with my whole heart and look forward to seeing him take on the world, one step at a time.
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