I was well into my 30’s before I started thinking about being a parent. My twenties had afforded me a lot of fun and travel. I didn’t give a lot of thought to anything besides where I was going next or where the next adventure was taking place. I was also a late bloomer. I went back to college in my 30’s. After a couple of relationships that were miserable failures and graduating with my bachelor’s degree, something incredible happened. I met my wife.
Along with the woman of my dreams, I gained three beautiful stepdaughters. My wife had traveled to Guatemala some years before and adopted three siblings and brought them home. I had a ready made family. These sweet darlings immediately became the lights of my life. I wanted to show them everything good about life. Between movies and music that I loved as a child to places I wanted to take them, the lists of things I wanted to share with them was a mile long. I settled in right away to being a parent. I was a natural. Three young girls kept me mighty busy. The meals, the homework, the LAUNDRY! I loved it. I loved them. There was nothing that could stop me from having the idyllic family life that a gal like me might have dreamed of. Oh, except her. Their “other mom”.
When my wife adopted our girls, she was in a long term relationship with another woman. Despite the fact that they split up shortly after the adoption, they continued to co-parent in a joint custody arrangement and they did it beautifully. I blissfully tucked away the fact that I was just a stepmother and saw these lovely pumpkins as my own from the beginning. This was extremely easy to do in the beginning, as I was living three hours away from the other mother and never had any run-ins with her. Before we were married, my wife and I lived in two separate cities for a while and traveled back and forth. The exchange of the children between my wife, Brandi, and the other mother, Lori, usually happened when I wasn’t present. For quite some time I was able to pretend that we were a complete family “as is.”
Reality soon set in that we weren’t a nuclear family unit. I would have great ideas for birthday surprises, only to find that the birthday in question fell on the day the kids were with Lori. I loved sharing the girls with my parents who became close with the them right away. Often I would want to plan a trip with my side of the family and the girls, before I realized it was on Lori’s weekend. This was not going as well as I had hoped.
Being a stepparent can be sobering. If you are worth your salt, you will treat your stepchildren like your own kids. I know I do. There isn’t any other way. I couldn’t love them anymore if I had birthed them. I put 100 percent into taking care of them and since my wife runs the operations of our company, the majority of their care is in my hands. I cook for them, prepare lunches, wash their clothes, choose many of their Christmas and birthday gifts, help with homework, patch up scrapes and cuts, administer medications and plan activities. Oh and I love. I love hard. I do all these things not because its expected but because they are my world. The sobering part is that no matter how much I adore them, they have two amazing mothers, and I am not one of them.
I can make forty thousand sandwiches but mom’s are always just a bit better. No matter how many memories I make, their roots are with their mother. She was there from the beginning and I have had to prove myself. What I have figured out through this whole experience, though, is that if I really love them, I will find a way to love their other parent. When I see their faces light up when they see her, I am reminded how sacred their bond is with her.
Lori isn’t just my wife’s ex-partner. In fact, that part of her persona isn’t even relevant anymore. What’s important is that she is an amazing parent. What’s important is that we all do whatever it may take to parent as effectively and smoothly as possible. What’s important is that she is always, always there for them. Of course there are things that irritate me. While I used to get annoyed when they constantly talked about how Mom Lori does things, now I listen. She has raised three wonderful girls, so she has to know what she is doing. What changed all that?
Well, there was a day when Brandi and I went to visit Lori and her current partner at their home. The day we visited was a day that the girls were with Lori on her scheduled week of custody. We had never actually gone to her house and sat down to talk. Our trips to Lori’s had always been strictly to pick up or drop off, so this was different. We were discussing our future plans with the kids and possibly relocating one day to a different city. The visit was fairly short. We sat outside and had a beer with them and watched the kids play. When we left to go home, the girls went on and on about how happy they were that we were all together. They had smiles from ear to ear. The youngest one said it was the best night of her life.
That day really resonated with me. The kids were so happy that the people they love more than anything and depend on for their safety and security were all in the same place, sharing some conversation and laughs. They don’t see things the way we do. They don’t think about who used to be involved with who or who is the ex and who is the current. They just see us as their parents. They are the happiest when we are all getting along. Not that Lori and I had ever had any real problems. But from that day on, I made it a point to cultivate their relationship with their other mother. We talked about things they did at her house and how much fun they had on weekends. I began to mention her a lot in passing and speak of her fondly, just to see them smile. On Mother’s Day last year, I took some photos of them and put them in frames for them to give to her as a gift. They were so excited and it seemed to really make her day.
Last October, Brandi and I adopted a baby girl. I am now “mom.” She may be my first baby, but she is my fourth child. One of the best things about being a new mom is seeing my first three girls with their baby sister. She has brought so much joy to their lives, and they make her laugh and smile every day. There is so much love in our house. One day after we brought our new daughter home, we had to attend a function at the elementary school that two of our girls attend. Lori was there as well and saw the baby for the first time. For several years I had been holding her daughters, now she was holding mine. It was kind of a neat moment, and I don’t think it slipped past the girls. Knowing they can openly share their love for their new sister with their other mother means the world to them.
Being in this blended family has taught me more than I learned in four years of college courses; maybe in my entire school career. I have learned patience (still working on that), tolerance, humility, and how to put the needs of others above my own. I have learned about love; real love, unconditional love. It’s a matter of decision. It’s an action. Most of all, I have learned we are absolutely the perfect family. My wife and children, the “other mother”, and me.