The day I stood before my husband and said, “I do,” was the day I became a stepmom to a 12-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy who looked at me with a mixture of interest, confusion, and skepticism. With the ink of my signature on the marriage certificate barely dry, I was confronted with the responsibility of not only learning how to be a wife but how to be a mother figure.
Dating my husband had been easy. It meant getting to know him and having fun with his children over pizza and ice cream, bowling, and games. We joked and laughed. It was a carefree time of dreaming about a life together when we would be one happy family. The dating period meant me watching from the sidelines as my husband handled parenting issues or dealt with his ex during custody exchanges.
But now that my husband and I were married and living under one roof, suddenly things looked quite different.
Now we had real-life stuff to deal with, like homework, discipline issues, mealtime drama, and bedtime routines. We still had plenty of sweet moments together, but suddenly it was all more complicated. Each of us was facing our own set of unexpected emotions about how our lives had just merged.
Boundary lines, which had been so clear and legible before the marriage, were getting less reliable by the day as I committed to taking care of the kids but understanding they already had a mother.
Questions flooded my mind at every turn. Should I attend parent-teacher conferences or would that be over-stepping? Should I discipline for rude behavior or should I wait till Dad comes home? Should I smile and wave to their biological mom when we pick the kids up from her house or will that annoy her? Am I being loving enough to my stepkids? Will they ever love me back or will they always see me as an intruder? Will my husband truly support me when I need it most?
With each question came the fear of losing control.
Each question drew me away from a place of confidence in my husband, my new little family, and myself. I even questioned God because anytime I felt anything that resembled rejection from my stepkids, I questioned God’s purpose and plan for me as a stepmom.
All I had ever wanted was to be a mother someday. Yet now I had a title with “mother” in it, but I didn’t have the freedom to raise them or make decisions that a biological, or even an adoptive mother, would have. My parenting choices were subject to scrutiny by their real mom, and they were up for debate by the kids who weren’t quite sure if I was someone they could trust yet.
Furthermore, I was learning how much of an effect others were allowed to have on our marriage, and I wasn’t sure I was OK with that. I decided I needed to figure out how I could control myself and my response or I was going to be living an anxious, bitter life.
Learning to let go of what we cannot control is never a fun lesson, but now as a stepmom—even though I loved my stepkids—I was finding this letting go thing harder than anything I had ever done.
Truth be told, it was not an overnight process.
When I became pregnant with our first ours baby, I watched other moms announce their pregnancies with jubilation. Yet, when we shared our news with my stepkids, their response was tears of sadness. So instead of openly showing the excitement I was feeling, I felt the need to contain my joy out of respect to my stepkids. In the process, I found myself daydreaming about a less complicated life that just included my husband, me, and our baby—one in which I held on to the familiarity of control over my circumstances.
I would catch my gaze lingering on happy little families pushing strollers or holding a toddler’s hand. I thought about how my baby would be sharing her daddy with siblings that were more than 10 years older than her, and who may never have the desire to accept her as their sister. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them in my life—I did, and I was willing to do anything for them. But as I imagined my little ours baby entering the world, the enormity of unpredictability weighed heavily on my mind.
And yet, with each question or doubt, God was growing me.
Just as with any trial we face in life, we are always faced with a choice: Instead of allowing my mind to dwell on fantasies about a life that simply wasn’t my reality, I chose to dismiss those thoughts as unproductive and damaging to the unique life God had blessed me with.
After all, my life was not up for comparison with anyone else’s.
Slowly, letting go of the things I couldn’t control allowed me to experience the freedom that carried over into our day-to-day stepfamily life.
I began to surrender my preconceived expectations about marriage and motherhood to God, and I subsequently began to experience joy in my unique situation. By handing the control over to God and allowing Him to walk me through my fears and frustrations, I was able to more lovingly extend His grace and patience to my family and others around me.
I began to find fulfillment in knowing that God had a special job for me of nurturing my stepkids and investing in their spiritual walk even if they would never view me as a mom.
For the first time, it was OK if things didn’t get done exactly the way I thought they should.
Issues that had seemed so vitally important at the beginning started to decrease in their importance. And instead of being devastated when my stepkids weren’t excited about the upcoming birth of their sister, I found my own ways to revel in the joy I was feeling. Lo and behold, by the time she was born, I got to watch the beauty of my stepdaughter and stepson fall in love with their new baby sister.
Whether children have entered your life by biology, marriage, or adoption, God is ready to meet the deepest needs and desires of every mother. As a stepmom, I have learned just how much lies beyond my control. There have been unfair and complicated situations that will probably never make sense to me. I have experienced emotions I never knew I’d feel and issues I never knew would overwhelm me.
And yet, each time I come to the point of surrendering my control to God, I am truly able to appreciate and cherish the beautifully unique life He has blessed me with—even in the challenging moments. By choosing to dismiss irrelevant thoughts instead of dwelling on them, I have seen the power of God to change my perspective and expand my heart for those He has graciously placed in my care.