When my husband fell in love with me, he knew I was a buy one, get two more deal. I was a single mom with two very young kids. He was quite a bit older and had grown children. Did he want to start over? I made him think long and hard about what he was getting into. He had a life-changing decision to make.
And he chose us. He chose to become a husband and a stepfather.
Since he is a counselor, he had many years of experience dealing with blended families. He had heard horror stories and heartfelt stories about many dos and don’ts. He decided from the very beginning that his role in the family was to be a fun-giver, not a caregiver. When it came to parenting choices and disciplining, these would fall on me, their mother. All responsibilities and duties were also mine. He would be there to hold them, read to them, make them laugh, and tease them.
But a mere month into our marriage, there he was at 3 a.m., holding and comforting my puking 3-year-old son. Chewed up food was being splattered onto every surface faster than I could clean it up. My little boy was crying and hurling, but there was my new husband. He calmly rocked, and shushed, and soothed that little boy the whole time. Even with the smell of vomit in the air, I stopped and took in such a precious moment.
Before we knew it, he was driving them to school. Talking them through tantrums. Listening to them tell about their bad dreams. Engaging with me at parent-teacher conferences.
He had an instinct to protect, to comfort, and to commit. Day or night. Biological or not.
For the most part, disciplining, feeding, washing, and those 9 p.m. I need green Styrofoam for school tomorrow runs were up to me. But in exchange, he took good care of me. He had to sacrifice the way other fathers did, too. Did he have to give up space in the garage for sports equipment and take cold showers after my daughter used up all of the hot water? Like a “real father,” yes, he did. Did he have dirty shoe prints on the back of his car seat? Like a “real father,” yes, he did. Did he have to teach my son to pee in the woods because I couldn’t? Like a “real father,” yes, he did.
And I cannot go without including the financial aspect. These two kids were never his financial responsibility, but never once has he not made sure they had everything they wanted and needed. Sports equipment, clothing, summer vacations, and vehicles. It took both of us to financially support them, and he worked many extra hours because of this.
He was still the fun-provider he set out to be. Shrieks of laughter, joke-playing, storytelling, horse-playing, and teasing all came from him. My daughter was his first little girl, but he jumped right into playing with dolls and My Little Pony memory games, and singing and dancing. He played ball, any and every kind of ball, with my son all the time. Rounds of rowdy nerf gun wars were usually instigated by him.
As they grew, he attended every choir performance, awards assembly, and sporting event. He coached my son’s little league baseball team. He watched every play in which my daughter performed. He even held her on her bedroom floor when she sobbed about not getting a role in a high school play she had desperately wanted. He attended meetings with school administrators. He whooped and hollered when my son scored a goal. He cried when my daughter graduated.
He stepped up in every sense of the word stepdad.
Yet, even with as many stepfamilies that exist in the world, I can never find a Father’s Day card for a stepfather. Using a card with the word “Father” on it doesn’t apply. That’s for a different man in a different situation. Stepfather is a word of honor. It’s its own category. In some ways, it deserves a higher regard. Although mothers and fathers often, not always, choose to become parents, stepparents have an even more substantial choice to make. Similar to choosing a spouse, they are choosing to love, care, and support someone who is not blood-related, through good and bad times, and for forever. Why aren’t those with this title even more celebrated and honored?
Not only that, in many situations, stepparents are not given any rights. He wasn’t allowed to help with driver’s education required hours. He had to get specific permission to pick them up from school. Stepparents might not be able to help make medical decisions or vice versa. My daughter, now an adult, may not be allowed to visit the man, who raised her and is her father in every way, in a hospital. The prefix, step-, seems to carry a subpar, less than, connotation. The total opposite of the heroes they can be.
I am not naive to the fact that not every blended family and step-parenting situation is as peaceful and bonded as ours. I understand why the rules are the way they are. I understand not everyone wants to celebrate a stepparent on a holiday or have them make medical decisions. It’s just not the case with us.
So, unlike Cinderella’s situation, phenomenal stepparents do exist.
T-shirts, coffee mugs, and even freaking greeting cards should recognize these incredible human beings. My children would not have become who they are today without having him as their stepdad. He helped shape and direct them every bit as much as I did. In fact, my son is so much like him, he’d be a great case study for nature versus nurture.
My husband is so proud of these two bonus kids that he deemed himself the World’s Greatest Stepfather, WGSF for short. And boy, do they love him. They wholeheartedly buy gifts for him for birthdays, Christmases, and Stepdad’s Day (in our house). They love spending time with him and know deep down how blessed they are that he chose them. Although I am close to both kids, they have a special, unconditional connection with him, and they can even communicate with him differently.
I just think it’s time to recognize this category of incredible citizens. They step up to the challenge. They step into the muddy trenches of parenting. They step out of their comfort zones. They sidestep when the situation warrants. They step back when those kids become adults. But they should never be considered a step down.