When I was younger I remember hoping I would never have any “step kids”. That probably sounds awful but think about the input from TV and movies in the 70s and 80s ( a million years ago when I was a kid).
“Step-mother” sounded naked without the ever-present “Wicked” to go along with it. I grew up assuming that all step parents were atrocious human beings and their step-kids hated them. Based on my real life experience with a step-dad or two I figured I had nailed that theory and it was fact!
By the time I was 21, I was approaching my second marriage (more about all that another day) to a man who had the cutest little daughter. K was truly a cutie BUT…. Let me back up and fill in some details for you so you can build a really good picture.
1993 Las Vegas, I had bailed to my mom’s house, out of South Dakota with my daughter and away from my first marriage. Roughly 6 months later when my divorce was final, I had lost custody of my daughter, no job, no friends, no social life and very depressed. My “step-dad” of the moment hooked me up with someone he worked with. He told me that he was talking about me at work and the guy was kind enough to offer to take me out and show me around town. I later learned that what good ole step-dad had said was “Who wants to take my wife’s kid out? She really needs to get laid.” Score one point for asshole step dads everywhere. Anyway me and the ‘hook up’ are setting up our first date and he called to ask if it’s ok if he brings his daughter. Sure, I thought, that will be a great distraction if I can’t stand you.
I opened the door to this beautiful little blonde 4-year-old holding flowers. Wow! She was all dressed up “for OUR date” wearing a little black velvet dress with satin bows and black patent leather shoes, all smiles and polite conversation. Drop dead cute!!! So we were about to pile into dad’s SUV when she called shotgun… WHAT!? Dad looked at me, shrugged and said, “she called it” K was beaming at daddy. Grumbling to myself, I climbed into the backseat of my “dates” car and talked myself out of just ending it there.
I must have REALLY needed to get out! Shotgun? Really!! ugghhh! Daddy had to stop for gas, getting out he asked if I need anything. I’m thinking, Valium… a stiff drink… “No thank you” I said quietly. K pipes up, “Daddy, would you please get me a slurpie?” batting her 5 foot long eyelashes at him. “Of course” He walked into the store and as soon as he was out of ear shot Satan turned, looked at me and said, “My daddy is getting ME a slurpie and he’s not getting YOU anything!” I was mortified… Mentally calculating how long it would take me to walk home if I left right then. Being the fighter I am, Nope I’m not giving up yet! I’m doing this if it kills me! So we took Princess Satan downtown for a few hours and then dropped her off with Grandma. After she was gone and sleeping in some coffin somewhere, we actually had a great time.
Throughout the following year or two with her dad during her visits to our house I went through, “You can’t tell me what to do you’re not my mom.” “I hate you” “I’m telling my mom on you” all with no support from Dad. During one nasty conflict having something to do with whether it was time to get out of the pool he actually said, “She’s right, you aren’t her Mother”. I was furious and embarrassed and K had a big smile and her little chin was jutting out with pride. After that particularly rough visit I was SO glad to send her home to ‘mommy’. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass you little brat. I was falling right into the role I thought a step-mom was, but I kept trying to get close to her. Smiling when I wanted to cry, nurturing and hugging all the times I was supposed to, coloring with her on the floor, singing songs etc. The next visit was looming and I was dreading it! Grandma and Grandpa had picked her up from the airport and we were to meet at their place for swimming and a BBQ. K heard the truck, came running out of the house, jumped right into MY arms and squealed, “I’ve missed you SO MUCH! I love you!” Everyone just stood there with their mouths gaping, myself included. We were stunned. From that moment my relationship with K changed. Something inside that little girl switched, I had finally paid my dues. I was approved! We went through a few rough patches as anyone with kids does but it was night and day from the “step-mother boot camp” that kid had inflicted upon me. We became very close, I fell in love with her.
When K was nine her dad, (who had shown his true colors of drug and alcohol addiction as well as verbal and physical abuse) and I were splitting. K had lived with us for a few years, her mom was at our house packing up her room with her, ready to move her home to Alaska. I was heartbroken both for my marriage and the thought that I would never get to see K again. Her dad was very jealous of how close we had become. He had made it very clear he was going to cut me off from any access to her. When her mom’s car was all packed up she came into my room to say good-bye. I was sobbing, she took my face in her hands and made me look into her very wise, grown up nine-year old eyes and said, “You have to take care of you. Get out of here, get away from him. I promise I’ll see you again, I’ll make my mom understand I need to see you. I love you.”
Her mom was very kind about letting us stay in contact, we wrote to each other and sent pictures, report cards, Christmas and birthday presents over the years. About 5 years after the split with her dad, I was able to fly her down to join my daughter and I on a “girls vacation” to Disney World and then on a cruise. We spent nine days together laughing and hugging like not one moment had passed. I go see her every chance I get, we text, Facebook and we still send cards and gifts. I unfailingly get a Mother’s Day card from her. She attended my family reunion with me last summer, more than 10 years after her dad and I divorced. I love K as if she were my own daughter. The kind of love that no matter what she does, whether I am disappointed in her decision-making process (or lack thereof), or she calls to share good news or just to say hi my heart is still filled with love and I know the feeling is mutual.
This summer my K turns 21, I’m hoping to fly out to see her and celebrate with her.
For all the struggling step-moms out there, there is hope for the children to accept you and to love you and more importantly for you to love them. With or without the support of their biological parents.