I have avoided doing a nitty gritty step mom post because, quite frankly, it intimidates me. But with step parenting being such a big part of my life, I felt like I would be remiss not to write about it specifically. I love being a stepmom. I really, truly do. I understand that 99% of step parenting situations are not like mine and while I hurt for those who struggle in their step parenting journey, I also feel ever so blessed to have such a strong relationship with Daniela. Disclaimer: Nothing here is a “how to” guide for having a great step relationship because I know next to nothing about it. Daniela was 2 years old when I met her and we clicked from day 1 — I never really had to build a relationship because 2 year olds are pretty accepting of anyone who smiles. To me, being a step mom is broken down into 3 parts. 1) Daniela and me. 2) Marco and me. and 3) Other parents and me.
1) Daniela & Me
Daniela and I share a special bond that I could never justify in mere words. I always waited for that “He’s MY papi!” moment but it never came. Instead, the opposite happened. One night when Daniela was 3, Marco and I were in our tiny apartment kitchen slow dancing while dinner cooked. Daniela was at the table coloring. As soon as she saw our googley eyes, she ran over and wedged her little body in between us. We laughed and Marco picked her up, but she reached for me and said “MY mommy!” I was shocked. While it wasn’t the first time she called me mommy, it was the first time she expressed jealousy over Marco’s and my relationship — and it wasn’t jealousy over Marco’s attentions; it was jealousy over mine! The stepmom! That has yet to change either. Marco can do as he pleases, but Mama Christi is hers. Oh to know what goes on inside that little mind of hers. As Daniela gets older, one of my near constant worries is that she sees me as too much of a mom. She has a wonderful mom with whom she shares that sacred mother/daughter relationship and she certainly doesn’t need another one. However, it’s so easy to fall into that mom character because in our house, that’s my role. Not to impugn her own mom’s role in her life of course, but in our home I pick her up from school and check her homework and sign her forms and pack her lunches and bathe her and read to her and on (and on!) the list goes. Marco has the traditional dad role. He plays with her and distracts her from studying and makes up games and teaches her to ride her bike and throws her fully clothed into the pool. We are a traditional family when she’s at home and I suspect it’s the same at her moms house. However, I worry that because she sees me as another mom, I won’t be in that privileged “extra information” group reserved for older friends and cool aunts. I’m afraid I will be kept from all the things that daughters keep from their mothers because my role is so very similar to her moms. So far that has not been the case, and I thank God for it. Marco smiles that patient smile of his every time I bring it up and just says “Christi, she adores you. Not because you’re her stepmom, but because you listen and understand her.” And the truth of the matter is, nothing makes my heart leap more than when Daniela comes to me with questions and says “I was thinking about … and knew you would help” or “I don’t want anyone else to know, but…” That’s when I breathe a sigh of relief. That’s when I know I’ve entered the holy ground of step parenting.
2) Marco & Me
Marco and I are best friends. We balance each other out ridiculously well and despite coming from two very different countries and very different backgrounds, we share the same core values and morals. Marco encouraged my individual relationship with Daniela from the very get go and never pulled the “she’s my daughter” card. Never. Not once. I will forever love and admire him for that. We have always had this knowledge that him + me = forever & always. Next month we will celebrate our 7th anniversary and that blows my mind. BLOWS MY MIND! At the risk of sounding cheesy, I love him more now than I did on October 10, 2005 when we said to hell with tradition and eloped. When I look back on our whirlwind romance, I don’t know how it lasted. We we’re crazy and impulsive and so very much in love. But we have that x factor, that essence as Marco calls it, which still gives me butterflies when I unexpectedly see him. I can’t stress how important a strong marriage is to me. To Marco and me, that is the ultimate gift we can give to Daniela; the chance to grow up learning what a healthy marriage looks like. [Side note: Sometimes we role play disagreements just so she can see how to properly work through them. She may or may not know we're staging them. It's hard to tell.] We don’t have regular date nights, we don’t follow the 12 steps to a successful re-marriage. We go in spurts that include dancing every other weekend and then spend a month staying at home and going to bed early. We laugh, we tease, we flirt. We have an ongoing game of alternately hiding a water balloon around the house but never actually talking about it. Alas, we’ve read the statistics. We know that the likelihood of divorce for second marriages is astounding, but the thing is, we don’t care. We’re pretty damn pleased with the life we’ve built and the people in it. Please don’t get the impression that life’s just roses and we never disagree. We fight. Heavens, we fight. We say things we don’t mean. We act like spoiled children. We are human and marriage is hard, but we both knew that going into it. We expected the problems, handled them as they came, and we’ll just continue to do so because it’s worked for us. Although… right now he’s on the couch snoring like nobody’s business and I may just smother him. But if he lives through tonight, he’ll be my best friend in the morning. All joking aside, every night I lay down and find my spot snuggled up on his chest — the one where I can hear his heartbeat without feeling his hot breath in my ear. Without fail I sigh and thank God for bringing him into my life. Sometimes the prayer of thanks is longer, but most of the time it’s just those words. Marco will never truly grasp how radically he changed my life, but I am forever grateful for his love.
3) Other Parents & Me
To me, this is the hardest part about being a step mom. This is where the middle school girl inside me starts fine tuning insecurities and self doubts. Because let’s get real, I’m totally faking it. I’m a 27 year old step mom with a 10 year old daughter in a school where it seems like all the parents are older, sophisticated, and totally living their dream lives. Now, I know these parents well enough to know that this isn’t actually the case and I even count several of them among my closest friends. But there is nothing more nerve wracking than to be the step mom (with no children of her own, mind you) walking into a parent meeting at school. I feel like a fraud. It’s almost always the same conversation in the car on the way to these things too — Me: Why do I always get so nervous? Marco: I can’t believe you get nervous! You’re a social butterfly and you know these people! Me: I know, but still, I feel like I need to make a good impression for all the step parents out there. Marco: Christi, you’ve known these people for 6 years. YOU’RE FINE. [cut to parking lot where group of parents are walking out after meeting] Me: OMG that was so much FUN! So and So said that her daughter is going to do XYZ and we’re meeting for lunch tomorrow and blah blah blah!!! Marco: [holds my hand and smiles smugly]
As irrational as the insecurities are (which most insecurities are irrational anyway) they have a way of gripping me in this particular role of stepmom and not releasing their slimy little claws until that event’s first interaction with another parent. Very rarely am I judged unfairly strictly for being a stepmom. It’s happened once, but it gave Daniela and I the chance to have an incredible conversation about stereotypes and why this particular person assumed that Dani and I didn’t get along or even like each other. A conversation I never would have thought to have with Daniela without this person sparking it. Most parents are impressed with my love for Daniela (which always stings a little. Are step parents typically that cold?) Being a step mom has given me so many opportunities. I have been able to help girlfriends adjust when their own children may soon have a stepmom in their lives. I have seen the other side of that coin when friends become stepmoms themselves and I can be an experienced support for them. Being a stepmom is challenging in it’s own way and yet exponentially rewarding. It’s scraped knees and runny noses. Playing dress up, braiding hair and painting nails. It’s the choice to put another person’s needs ahead of your own. But that’s really just all of parenting, now isn’t it?