Growing up, I never pictured marrying a man whose past involved a previous marriage. I never imagined my first daughter having grown in my heart, but not in my womb. I never thought the first time someone called me “Mom” would be from the lips of a girl who was also so scared that she would receive backlash from her “real mom.”
But here I am, six years into raising a beautiful and smart young lady, who is now a teenager coming into her own. And despite all the challenges I never saw myself enduring through, she is worth every single moment.
And yet—now knee-deep into another court battle with her mom—I find myself crying silent tears as I ask God:
Why do I feel like I’m always picking up the broken pieces?
And then the still, small voice in reply, Because that’s what I’ve asked you to do.
You see, I married a man who felt broken and felt like he had failed. Deployments overseas had taken a toll on his first marriage, and there he was hoping against all hope that I would not give up on him, but feeling the pain of having been given up on already. And there I was, picking up the broken pieces of his heart and mind, showing him that this commitment called love was truly possible.
And with him came a bright-eyed, talkative, and warm-hearted little 8-year-old girl who embraced me fully, but quickly learned that in loving me, she had to tiptoe around her mom’s bitterness. My stepdaughter did not fully understand her circumstances at the time, but she often sought me out with late-night talks to pour out her feelings and doubts.
And I found myself each time, picking up the broken pieces of her heart, and helping her put them back together in her new reality.
In truth, I have done my very best to overcome harsh feelings and rocky beginnings with my stepdaughter’s mother. Indeed, when we gained primary physical custody, I determined the past would remain in the past, and that as “lead mom” I would do everything I could to encourage a healthy bond between my stepdaughter and her mom even if they weren’t living together anymore. I would do everything I could to not just inform her mom on what our daughter was doing, but how she was doing. I had these ideals that her mom and I, together, could be a stronger team in raising our teenage girl.
But, several years later, I have had to finally come to the conclusion that I cannot force co-parenting. Phone calls and text messages are ignored, I have planned each birthday party by myself, and the sticky situations of teenage life have been solely mine to carry and sort through. During the short period of time this year when I thought excitedly that her mom and I were finally working together, I found out later this fake front was masking lies, including asking my stepdaughter to lie to her father and me for months.
So there I was, crying silent tears. Feeling alone in the world of stepmoms.
Desperately wishing I could save my stepdaughter from her mom’s broken promises. Wanting to just unleash the truth on my stepdaughter, but holding back because it just wasn’t my place . . . so, instead, I prayed truth would win. I thought back on the weekend visitations my stepdaughter has had with her mom, and how many of those weekends I’d have to fix stained clothing, soothe disappointments from plans not followed through on, and even wash the smell of marijuana from her hair.
And as that still, small voice spoke to me, I remembered that I have been tasked with being her mom—the mom who helps put back together the broken pieces. Every weekend visitation. Every unreturned phone call. Every absent memory. Every sticky teenage situation. I will step up where her mom has chosen to step down.
Very recently, my stepdaughter opened up for the first time since the revealing of this year’s lies that unfolded. I was surprised—and relieved—to hear her essentially state that she has learned she cannot control her mom. That she has no expectations of her mom because if she did, she would continue to be disappointed. And that even though she loves her mom, and wanted to continue seeing her, her mom’s life was separate from her own, and she would not follow her mother’s example. My stepdaughter made it clear she sees the truth.
She knows her home is here. And she knows that no matter what happens, she can come back to us to lean on.
And so, my fellow stepmoms—and stepdads!—the years of silent tears, of self-doubts, of countless battles for a child you didn’t create are so, so worth it. You may think she’s not listening. I have had so many moments where I have been met with an empty stare from my stepdaughter, and even angry, confused tears. But your interceding prayers are powerful. The truth does eventually come out. Your efforts are seen.
Keep picking up those broken pieces. Because it will all come together—in due time.
*Published with my stepdaughter’s permission, who stated that perhaps other stepparents can be edified by our story.*