The world was asleep last night when I held her.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth we rocked.
Her face was snuggled into the curve of my collar bone and her hand was twisted in my hair. She sniffled, scared after a bad dream, and the sliver of moonlight peeking in on us from the curtains fell perfectly on her little toes. Perfect little toes.
It was 2:45 in the morning. I was exhausted to say the least.
But back and forth we rocked. Back and forth. Back and forth. And I closed my eyes and listened to her breathing.
It was the happiest I’ve been in a while. Even while exhausted.
I want to tell you why.
There are lots of books about parenting. Lots of stories handed down through the ages about the ups and downs of rearing children. Everyone talks about how it is to be a mom or a dad—every parent in a way bands together and shares common stories, common goals—common woes.
But no one really talks about how it’s going to be as a step parent.
Maybe it’s taboo, or maybe it’s because the step parent is the one person in the equation that gets overlooked because—why would anything be hard on them when they CHOSE to be part of things? Why should we look deeply into the feelings of someone who willingly sewed themselves into the fabric of a family? Isn’t it those who are blood related that really are impacted the most anyway? Sometimes society even labels us as the “step-monsters”, weaving stories of jealousy and anger and women who pit themselves against the kids. So many negative connotations. So much silence.
Even I didn’t think it would be hard or that it had any depth at all. I should have, though.
Growing up, my Dad had a daughter from his first marriage who spent her time bobbing between our two families, although we saw her much less than what is average because of difficulties and bitterness and resentments that my dad dealt with without letting us in on it until much later on in life. I’m a product of seeing a blended family first hand—yet I still didn’t think it would be hard. In a way I felt puffed up and prideful about it—like I had this handled, no sweat. How hard could it be?
Falling in love with her dad was easy.
He’s been my best friend for years, my go-to—my person. Choosing him took a matter of seconds and my heart wouldn’t let me choose otherwise. The way he loves me back is indescribable.
Falling in love with her was just as easy.
She instantly became my little sunshine, running to me after a hard day at work and making it melt away. Hugging me around the neck and kissing my lips with her ducky face—or soaking me at bathtime and laughing her deep belly laugh as my mascara runs. Loving her was a cinch.
The hard part was feeling like I had a right to.
The hard part—every single day—is resisting the temptation to back against a wall and believe the shadows that tell you that you don’t REALLY belong. That you’re not DNA. You’re not the original. You’re just the “other” woman. The visitor.
I suppose these feelings aren’t just restricted to step parents. It can apply to anyone who may be in a situation that isn’t the “norm”. I suppose it can relate to those suffering from depression who have a hard time feeling like they fit in or belong anywhere anymore—or to those who are adopted, or have been abandoned by a parent. The list can go on and on and I know it’s not just the suffering of a bonus mom or dad.
For me, the feelings that came with adjusting to a blended family were uncomfortable.
I got mad at myself often for things I would think, and feel guilty for…feelings. Strange, but true.
Why do I sometimes feel so cast out? Why did I subconsciously sit on the far end of the couch, not wanting to intrude on their time together, as if I didn’t fit into the equation at all? Why did I get anxiety all of a sudden in normal situations and feel resentment that I came later on, and haven’t been the one to start it all with him?
The feelings—some rather ugly—are normal, I’ve learned. But they still suck.
And I write this not as a way to vent or to journal, but to hopefully shed light on a very common practice and a common person within a family unit that just doesn’t get discussed.
The “other” one.
I’ve begun reading and talking and attending support groups with women—and sometimes men too—in similar situations and it shocks me how despite how different we all are, we have all had to learn the same things, feel the same things, and overcome the same things on a daily basis. We’re not reinventing the wheel here—but boy, it can sure feel like it.
Maybe you’re a step mama with no biological children of your own, like me. Maybe you’re a mom to both biological kids and step kids. Maybe you’re a dad who just married a woman with children or you both have children and you’re trying to blend everyone together. Maybe you’re in a same-sex relationship with a new little one added to your crew. Whatever the situation may be—it’s hard, isn’t it?
Love can be hard.
But I learned recently what makes that loving easier.
And that is loving—full-heartedly—without any expectation as to how it will be returned.
I’ve begun to practice expressing all my love in every way I can simply because I love them, without the irrational fear of it not being given back. I’ll try to face the silly fear of being rejected and join in when my body screams to just sit on the other end of the room. I’ll express my opinions on child rearing and take my equal partnership seriously by disciplining equally, loving equally, playing equally, and giving just as many kisses.
I made a choice to be here. They made the choice to let me.
That’s stronger than DNA.
How often we can forget that whether it is through adoption or foster care or remarriage or whatever way our lives may blend the relationships in our lives, love is love. And that’s all there is to it. All this life is about is to give of ourselves, of our time, of our souls—and to love so unceasingly that there isn’t time to wonder about anything else.
So back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth we rocked.
And all the while, all these thoughts were coming and going through my head as I held her and listened as she eventually fell back to sleep, twitching every so often and gripping my hand as she did. I didn’t let her go right away.
I didn’t give birth to her. I didn’t carry her for nine months or give her her name. That’s her mother’s sacred right and bond. Not mine.
But I chose to love her as soon as I chose to love her daddy.
To step up and be someone else she can trust in the middle of the night when the bad dreams come. To be the one that gets out my camera equipment and laughs as she strikes a pose because she knows I’m her personal paparazzi. To be her tea party guest along with Mr. Bear. Her good night story. Her second mama figure who kisses her way too much and prays for her every night.
I chose to love her. Maybe not from the beginning, that’s true.
And as I was there in the moment and heard her say, “I love you, Kayla” as I laid her back down in her pink covers—I was suddenly overwhelmingly grateful that I was here now.
My feelings are valid, of course. So are yours, no matter what situation you are in. And they’ll come and go and there will be obstacles and set backs and hills to climb. Step parents and blended families are so misunderstood that I can fill the pages of ten books to talk about it. It’s hard, especially when the majority of the world doesn’t even realize there’s any suffering to be had.
But the greatest feeling out of all the feelings that come is the love. That’s what makes it worth it.
Despite everything, despite what society says or whatever title I’m given or not given—right here, right now is where I belong.
It’ll always be them. Maybe not by blood, but by every beat of my heart. From the get go, I’ve always known it.
There’s a place for you in the now. Just like there’s a place for me.
So choose it. And love it fiercely.
Because at 2:45 am in the moonlight—ten perfect toes, a goodnight kiss, and the sound of a squeaking rocking chair is all it took to remind me where I should be.