Everyday Voices: It’s Not Just About the Kids

Guest post: by Jennifer Shepherd

I have been a stepmother to two amazing teenage boys for the past 23.5 months. Having had a stepmother of my own for the past 20 years, I already knew that it was a thankless, terrible job with few to no benefits and a lot of stress. Although my stepsons and I had a great relationship before my husband and I got married, I still worried that something might change once I married their dad. The chances of their parents getting back together, for example, would diminish even further once he had a new wife.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about with the kids. They have been a parent’s, much less stepparent’s, dream. My son and I moved from our home into theirs, and he had to transition to sharing a room for the first time.  Likewise, my younger stepson had to go from having his own room to sharing with someone else. I worried about the adjustment, but the boys made it work without fuss. I was so proud of all three of them.

My stepsons live with my husband and I full-time. A little over three years ago, he was awarded custody in his divorce, and the boys’ mother declined her visitation time with them (every other weekend and every Wednesday). The boys were crushed by the abandonment, and it got worse when she and her boyfriend announced that she was pregnant. They felt as though she had chosen her new family over them.

She did come to sporting events (as long as they took place in our town). Aside from that, however, the boys didn’t see her. They told us it was what they wanted, and that they were happier this way, but I knew they still loved their mom.

Again and again throughout that time, the boys amazed me with their resiliency. It was a tough spot as a stepmother to be in, but they were so easy to love I just tried to do the best I could to make sure they realized that they would always have a stable home environment with me and their dad.

Then I wrote the paper.

For a Communication Research course I was taking in college, our project was to research a topic and write a 20-30 page paper about it. Because the topic was near and dear to my heart, I chose stepmothers. It was a great choice, because it led me to several stepmother support groups online. Reading their stories, and subsequently interviewing them, led me to realize all over again how blessed my family was. But one topic that came up time and time again was the relationship with the biological mother.

I completed the paper three months later and, at the urging of my new stepmother friends, posted it online in my Facebook notes to avoid the hassle of emailing it to so many different people (I had surveyed 100 stepmothers). I wasn’t worried about the boys’ mother at this point for two reasons: first, other than a couple of sentences in the intro identifying my situation as a stepmother, she was not a part of the paper. Second, she had told the boys time and time again that she had blocked me on Facebook, in her phone, and in her email so that she would never have to communicate with me in any way.

I was wrong to have believed that. She did block me, yes, but then accessed my account through other means. She read the paper, and everything changed.

She reacted badly, and said a lot of negative things to all of us.

All of that was standard with her personality type. But then something unexpected happened: she actually started trying to be involved with the boys’ lives. 

She started traveling to out of town games and tournaments. She stopped cropping them out of her Facebook pictures. She started contacting them and actually talking to them. They started to rekindle their relationship. They became more receptive to her. They actually started seeing her for an hour or two here and there.

At first, my younger stepson didn’t know how to handle it. He felt that he had to hate one of us at all times.

Once I sat him down and explained to him that we would both love him no matter what, and that he could love both of us without upsetting us (I hoped I was speaking for her, too), he got better.

My purpose in writing this is because I know there are so many more stepmothers like me out there: stepmothers whose major obstacle in their journey isn’t their relationship with their stepchildren, but instead dealing with the biological mother of those stepchildren.

While it is still a long road ahead of us, the important thing, to me, is that she has a relationship with the boys again. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to scream, but I keep reminding myself to breathe and let it go.

Maybe someday she will, too.

© 2012 Jennifer Shepherd    All Rights Reserved
(photo credit:FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Jennifer Shepherd is a lifelong Midwesterner, though if asked she can’t say how this happened.  She has a great son, two amazing stepsons and an awesome husband. She loves to read, write, and laugh at everyday craziness. She also likes to laugh at pretty much everything else. She got married in 2010, got cancer the same year, beat it the next year, and finally got her bachelor’s degree the year after that. Master’s in progress!

Everyday Voices: Freakonomics – Nannies and Stepmoms: One and the Same?

It was a hard day for me when I had to let my nanny go (I know, Veuve Clicquot problems!).  My daughter, Zemrie was turning four and heading to preschool.  I also have a fabulous stepson, Zac who is nine.  Julie has been a life saver, assisting our family since my daughter was born.  She has even watched and played games with Zac, the Zman, on a few occasions.

I was busy doing some work, housecleaning, planning, etc… and as Julie left one day, I said nonchalantly, “Well, you know the little lady is heading to school, so we will be seeing a lot less of you in a couple months.” I gave a little pouty-lip frown and head tilt, then as I went onto writing the grocery list, I looked up and noticed her crying.  I thought, dear God woman, I am not sending you back to Honduras!  We live in LA, you will find a new job in a week!  My other thought was that of guilt…I will get online and put my attanae out and help her with a new gig.

Man, was I so off with my thinking.

She looked up with watery eyes and spilled, “I will miss Zemrie so much, I have been with your family for four years.”  I stopped in my tracks, what??  This isn’t about a job or cash flow??  You love children that are not yours??

She continued on as I stood there dumfounded.  “This is the hardest part of this job.  Leaving the kids I love, teach and adore.”  My chin started to quiver… I hadn’t felt a tear over something like this in so long… I thought this was a duty for her… an obligation.

Duty and obligation?  Sounds so familiar to me.  Most people believe stepmoms are parents out of obligation…something you must do, based on the situation, which is only part of it.

I stood there and looked at Julie and thought to myself, I feel a connection and empathy (or is it sympathy…I always forget).  If anything happens to my husband or we decide to separate, I will also be “let go” from Zac’s life, a boy I have been raising since he was four…most courts would make you really fight for even slight visitation and most likely there would be none…and would fade overtime.  No biological connection is really a doozie, but it doesn’t make the love any less, as I also realize even with Julie.

I began to watch Julie while she was with my daughter, something I have never done through her eyes… only mine… judging, making sure she was teaching correctly, giving my daughter the utmost attention and the right amount of hugs and guidance…something that I am sure most do when watching stepmoms, including our spouses, in-laws, friends, biomoms, teachers and complete strangers.

I noticed so many things Julie did that I never knew before… the truly selfless behaviors, everyday, many hours of the day… she certainly did not get the payment, monetary or other-wise that she deserves.  It’s priceless to find a gem like that.

My negativity started coming out again… will she pull away?  Will she become flaky?  Ugh, I want to slap myself, but I just put on some really good face cream I ordered from Ole Henriksen….

None of that happened over her last months.  It seemed like she was even more attentive and caring, because it was genuine.  Hand me the tissues and waterproof mascara!

I talked to another mother who works with Julie and she told me she had a waitlist for her services!  People that lived closer to her than I do and would even pay her more than what I was paying.  I couldn’t believe this.  She loved our family and chose the less desirable route for her…a difficult choice to say the least.  Something most of us stepmoms can certainly relate to…not that I would even put myself on the pedestal I now put our Julie on…she makes me want to have another baby so she can come back!

Then I come to my senses… hell no, I’m not that crazy, pass me the Malbec and I will just sit back and remember how lucky I am to know someone else who loves children that she shares no dna with… we were a lot more similar than I ever thought we would be.

Cheers to you and people like you Julie!  You make me know the term ‘biological’ is truly just a technical one.  Visit anytime, it’s a court order!

(photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

© 2012 Sara Stanley   All Rights Reserved

Sara Stanley is a biomom, stepmom, stepdaughter and an audacious stand up comedian and writer who has been featured on The Style Network and E! Entertainment Television.  She has also written copy for National Campaign ads.  Sara is a business woman and telecommutes from home for a successful finance company as well (gotta pay the bills!)  info@sarastanley.com