In our house, we don’t say the “step” word. There is no step-daughter or step-mom. The children almost consider it a bad word. Usually in the case of step parents the tension arises because the children don’t take too kindly to the new addition in the family. This isn’t the case with us.
I met my husband Nate four years ago, when I was 20 and he was 30. He had three daughters ages 3, 4 (same mom), and 13 (different mom). I was the preschool teacher for the two younger ones. Fast forward two years and Nate and I are going on our first date, five months later we’re engaged, twelve months after that we’re married, and four months ago God blessed us with a baby of our own.
Here’s where things get complicated. Unlike 99% of custody cases here in Michigan, and in most of the country, Nate has custody of his daughters; he “won” custody of them where they were 16 months and 3 months. His oldest daughter comes and goes equally between both parents. The younger ones, A and M, live with us approximately 26 days of the month, only visiting their birth mom, BM, every other weekend, when she allows it.
When Nate and I first began dating, A and M were not visiting their BM. She was going through another of her “I don’t feel like having kids today” phases. After a few months of hanging out at our houses with the little ones, who were now 6 and 5, M (5) called me Mom. Nate and I heard it but ignored it, thinking it was a slip of the tongue, but soon that became her name from me. A took a bit longer before she called me Mom, but we made sure to talk with them and explain that they didn’t need to call me that, but they would always tell us they wanted to, explaining that I take care of them like a mom should so that’s my name. The day after our wedding both girls cornered us and said I can no longer refer to them as my “step daughters” because I married their daddy and now we are a family. Again, we discussed with them that it’s not necessary and to not feel pressured to call me that, but they are wise beyond their years and stuck with their new name for me.
Once BM got word of another woman spending time with her children she became angry, but it also made her want to resume her visitations with the girls. As you can imagine she was not too fond of this new arrangement, some 22 year old raising her daughters. Unfortunately the girls took the wrath of that and witnessed a plethora of nasty behaviors on their BM’s part. She has threatened to find me and kick my butt, kill me, come to where I work, swim, exercise, called me multiple three and four letter words, all in the presence of A and M. But I just sit there and listen. I never want the girls to see or hear me speak ill of their BM. Regardless of the circumstances she is still their mother and they will figure things out on their own. This, my friends, is no easy feat!
As any step parent knows, there are many trying times within the households. Many of the arguments between Nate and I stem from things concerning the girls’ BM. I won’t get into details, mainly because you’d be reading a novel, but the two households are extremely different when it comes to almost everything: eating, sleeping, hygiene, discipline, just to give you an idea. Now that the girls are older, 8 and 7, they are starting to notice these differences and bring them to our attention. They come home talking about not having beds or showers and we spin it to reflect positively on their home with us, reminding them that Daddy works so they can stay clean and get a good night’s rest. We try to teach them to be grateful for what they have at either home, which is a test when we know the truth. I obviously consider A and M my own children and only want the best for them, as does their dad, it just gets hard when all parties don’t have the same priorities.
I’ve been there for all of M’s first and last days of school. I’m the one who taught A about training bras. I’ll be the one to have the puberty talk, or cry with them when their first boyfriends break their hearts, yet I can’t even take them to the doctor (although I do), or sign a permission slip for school. I have NO. LEGAL. RIGHTS. to them, and I often cry about this, as I am right now. I work so hard caring for them and they can be taken away at the sound of a judge’s gavel. I’m lucky to have such great daughters, and a husband who let me come into their life and be an equal with him. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My MIL is constantly telling me how much the girls have changed for the better since I’ve been around and what a positive impact I’m having on them. I never had the intention of stepping into this family and becoming the mom, it was something that just happened. These 2 beautiful children saw something in me that I didn’t and took it upon themselves to invite me to stay. Everyday is a battle between the three parents, yet at the end of it all Nate and I are kissing the girls goodnight and worrying about the next day’s events. It’s a beautiful life we have.