In a little over three months, I will officially be a stepmom. I have loved my fiancé’s two little boys since pretty much the day I met them, six months into my relationship with their dad, and the thought that I will now be part of their lives forever is both wonderful and daunting. How do I help raise two kids who are not “mine,” and whose first few years I missed? Will the day come when they scream at me, “You’re not my real mom!” after I try to tell them to do something they don’t want to do? Can I parent them as part of a quartet (mom and stepdad, dad and stepmom) without one or all of us ending up completely frustrated and confused? I searched for books, blogs, and other publications to help me answer these questions. There are a few out there, but none that sounded exactly like our situation. With pregnancy, there are some things that most women can reasonably expect to happen (or so I’ve heard). When you’re waiting to become a stepmom, it’s hard to know just what to expect.
I can’t tell anyone else what it will be like for them. I only know what it’s been like for me, so far. If I could, I’d send a letter to myself in the past, about two years ago when I was worrying that I would never have a family of my own. And my advice would go something like this:
Hello from your future self! Right now I know you’re worried that you’ll never find a good man and you’ll never fulfill your dream of being a mother. I remember that feeling, and all the tears that went with it. But I have some good news! As I write this, I am engaged to the man of our dreams. I promise you he is worth the wait. He is smart and kindhearted and creative and funny and gorgeous and a little geeky, and most importantly he respects and loves me for who I am. In just a few weeks, you’re going to meet him!
But I’m not really writing to you about him. I’m writing to you about becoming a mom. Well, a stepmom. He has two unbelievably cute sons. On your first date, you will eavesdrop on him saying bedtime prayers with them via FaceTime, and you’ll fall in love, hard. When you meet them, they will be 3 and 5 years old. I just wanted to try and prepare you for what the first couple of years with them will be like for you. There will be ups and downs, but at least so far, it’s been more good than bad. Here are a few things to expect.
Expect that it will take time for you to get used to one another. The first time their dad leaves the boys alone with you for a few minutes, the eldest will whisper to his brother, “Let’s not do anything she says.” They will try to test you, and you will have to stand firm. I know you’re sort of prepared for this after so many years of babysitting, but it will be different with them. The stakes are a lot higher. After a few months, you’ll think things are going beautifully. Then in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese, the 3-year-old will inexplicably start crying, and when you try to comfort him, he will run away from you to go find his dad. Your heart will break a little bit that day. But hold on; it gets better.
Expect to be overwhelmed by how much you love them. It is great big scary love, undeniably nurturing, mothering love. When the youngest goes in for minor surgery, you will drag yourself out of bed in the dark to be at the hospital with him and his other three parents at 6:00am. When you and his stepdad are not allowed to be with him in pre-op, you’ll sit in the waiting room holding back tears, and you’ll find your stomach tied in knots at the thought of his little body in any kind of pain or danger. And your heart will swell with joy when all he wants to do later that day is snuggle up with you on the couch, just like it does every time he says he can’t go to bed without a hug from you.
Expect to move very quickly into “mommy mode.” Seemingly overnight, your purse will be filled with baby wipes, hand sanitizer, cartoon character Band-Aids, random toys, snacks, Kleenexes, and Tide pens for blocking stains. You’ll be able to carry on a conversation with their dad while still keeping watch for them spilling their Gatorade or wiping ketchup on their shirts or punching each other in the crotch. You will load your new iPad with kids’ games, mostly educational. Then you’ll worry that they’re getting too much screen time and buy them a ton of new books. And you will actually look forward to helping the eldest with his reading homework, taking pride in every new word he learns.
Expect your patience to be tested over and over again. I know you consider yourself a pretty patient person. And the first few times you see their dad lose patience with the boys, you will wonder what his problem is. Then you will take a road trip with them to visit family, and after a couple of hours in the car, you will find yourself yelling the same kinds of things at them. Give yourself some grace. Every parent gets fed up with their kids from time to time. Parenting is exhausting, and kids are relentless. They have absolutely no sense of when you’re getting to the end of your rope, so they just keep going. Try to take a deep breath before you respond. And remember that they’re not doing this just to drive you crazy. They’re really good kids. You’ll joke with your fiancé’s sister that the kids have only broken you once, and the eldest will say innocently, “We could do it again, you know.” And they will. But you’ll all be okay.
Expect to be happy in your new family. Your future husband will tell you over and over again, “You’re so great with them.” “The boys love it when you’re here.” “You’re awesome.” When you snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie, with the boys between you or on top of you, he will look over at you from time to time with a smile that radiates love. You’ll be as happy as you’ve ever been in those moments. As much as you will love date nights alone with him, you’ll miss the boys sometimes when they’re with their other set of parents. And you’ll be glad that they miss you when you’re not there.
I can’t tell you yet what it’ll be like when you are there all the time. I’ll find out in a few months. I expect that the transition won’t be completely smooth and effortless. But I also fully expect our new life to be full of love and joy. I can hardly wait.