I Was A Bad Stepmom

by Kristen Thiele
Originally Published: 
A sad child on top of white stairs in a white jacket, red shirt, leopard print tights and a geometri...
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I don’t think there’s a more complicated relationship in this world than that between a mother and her child’s stepmother. It goes against societal norms to raise and mold another woman’s child, and for that woman to let you. I didn’t genuinely understand the intricacies of that dynamic when I began dating my now husband and became a part-time maternal figure to his daughter, of whom he shared custody with his ex-wife.

His daughter, who was 5 at the time, saw me as a buddy; a friend to plan fun day trips and art projects. It all seemed simple enough, really. His parents accepted me while wanting to remain in touch with his ex for their granddaughter’s sake. I loved Chad and his daughter (like my own, I told everyone). After all, we were living together. I picked her up from preschool, cooked her dinner, and tucked her in three nights a week. Those were all “Mom” things, right?

It wasn’t until I became pregnant six months into the relationship that my motherly feelings would be tested. I now had a piece of myself and Chad growing inside of my body. She or he could hear the sound of my heartbeat and must have already known how loved they were.

Chad’s daughter began exhibiting signs of jealousy, some of which were downright startling, and it gravely impacted the quality life for all 3.5 of us in that household.

I can’t emphasize enough what an amazing young lady my stepdaughter has become. She’s kind, intelligent and will make friends with anyone, especially if they seem left out. She’s an “includer” and gets rave reviews during parent-teacher conferences, when teachers say they’d love to have 30 of her.

She never was a bad kid. She was a little girl who was undergoing an enormous amount of change. Too much for her little mind to process, and understandably so.

But as the jealousy and subsequent outbursts grew staggeringly worse at home, we knew something had to change. Shortly after celebrating our daughter’s first birthday, we ended up agreeing to a custody arrangement in which we’d see Chad’s daughter less, and she’d be with her mother more.

I’ll forever regret and be simultaneously thankful for that decision. I’m regretful because we lost 10 months with the little girl I’d helped raise — Chad’s daughter and our daughter’s half-sister. On the other hand, I’m thankful because, now, at the ages of 3 and almost 10, those girls have the most beautiful sisterly bond I could have ever imagined.

We are back to the original 50/50 custody arrangement, sharing his daughter, my stepdaughter, equally with his ex.

The point is, we as a mixed family unit needed to get here on our own terms.

I wasn’t ready at the beginning of all this to share group text chains with Chad’s ex. I wasn’t mature enough to understand that the best thing for everyone, most importantly my stepdaughter, was for us to come together as a village and raise her as a team.

I was young, unintentionally selfish, and scared.

We now have a very good relationship with my husband’s ex. We share pictures of the beautiful child we co-parent via text. We plan parties and outings together. My stepdaughter gets to enjoy both of her half-siblings at the same time: a spirited 3-year-old little girl who insists she’s going to marry the quiet and shy 3.5-year-old boy.

We share experiences and make memories together.

Seeing those photos posted on Facebook, I’m sure people think we were assholes for not being friends with his ex right from the start, for the kids’ sake, right? But it took time. It took experience.

Look no further than any children’s movie to see the vilified, “wicked” stepmother. Evil, hateful women bent on destroying the lives of their stepchildren.

During our struggles with Chad’s daughter and the subsequent lifestyle changes, I’m sure many people painted me as the bitch whose mission was to tear Chad’s family apart. I was the problem. The monster. The bad guy in this story. Everyone needs someone to blame, I guess. But we all could have handled things better. No one was blameless.

The truth is, my (original) fairytale ending as a little girl imagining becoming a mommy never included a split family, mothering someone else’s child. And frankly, I’m sure Chad’s ex never dreamed or hoped a perfect stranger would be mothering her daughter. That fairytale has changed; they are my happily ever after.

Still, Chad’s daughter has a mom, and it’s not me. I need to respect that.

Four years ago, I fell for a guy who started being a grown-up years before meeting me.

He had been with his ex for 12 years, six of which were spent married. I was in my late twenties, he in his late thirties (as was his ex), and I had a great deal of life left to live, lessons to learn, and growing up to do before I could be the person everyone needed me to be in that situation. I needed to settle into my new role without the judgment.

I was trying. Failing, but trying. I was a bad stepmom.

The nights spent screaming, crying, fighting with every fiber of our beings to keep our family together were physically and mentally exhausting.

The time apart when custody changed was hard, but unfortunately, the time together had become daunting too.

The bond I have with my stepdaughter now is one which can’t be rivaled.

I know the face she makes when something is on her mind, and she readily opens up to me about anything and everything. We’re best friends. We quote movies and have inside jokes. Our current favorite film (which we watch on loop) is Pitch Perfect 3. We fondly call each other “Vanilla Tart” and respond to things with “Thanks, Babe!” in the same tone and cadence as the characters. We take long walks together. We’re never not laughing.

I’m sure as she enters her pre-teen and teenager years, I’ll be in for many, “You’re not my mom!” moments, and she’ll be right.

The bottom line in this: I’m trying. Chad is trying. His ex is trying. And the result is a happy, loving, and social not-quite-10-year-old girl.

I’ll probably never forgive myself for the 10 month gap in which I failed her. My husband will tell me differently, but it’s a fact: I was a bad stepmom.

I emphasize the word “was” because I know how far I’ve come. I have two daughters. Both equally loved, but only one I can take biological credit for.

If you’re a parent who loves their child, stepchild, adopted or fostered child, good for you, and please, be gentle in understanding we’re all human.

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