At eighteen, I had a lot going for me. I was just starting to figure out what self esteem consisted of, was enjoying my college career, worked a bunch of jobs, and was blissfully single with a few close friends that staved off the random bouts of loneliness. I was young, responsible, and was just starting to figure out what I thought my future would look like.

Then, I met him.

He was tall, with dark hair, and nice eyes – the whole shah-bang. I was hooked, and falling fast. He was five years older but I never dated anyone my age anyway. Something about older guys knowing exactly what they wanted and not wasting my time with careless and meaningless flirtation drew me to them more than guys my age, who were more into quick flings and reckless one night stands. But anyway, this guy seemed perfect, and I’ll never forget when he pulled out his phone, and instead of asking for my cell phone number said: “Do you want to see a picture of my son?”

The baby in question was 9 months old, and ridiculously, unfathomably adorable. I stared at the photo for a long time, thinking that the rational part of me should promptly get up and say, “Well, good luck with single parenthood and baby momma drama!” and run for the hills. But I didn’t. Curious and maybe a bit naive, I wanted to see where this would go.

Ironically, it was the best decision I have ever made.

Fast forward to almost three years later and we’re a happy family. As I write this, I remember our story of how we became a family with happiness, love, and maybe a little heartbreak. Becoming a step parent is no easy task, and I commend anyone who, like me, took a giant leap of faith to help raise a child that was not their own, especially at such a young age.

So now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why in the hell I would, at 18 years old, decide that I want to help raise another woman’s 9 month old baby, and that answer is so simple yet irrevocably complicated at the same time.

I came from a broken home, but my home wasn’t officially broken until I was about 13. I understood what was happening, and despite some initial confusion in the very beginning, I eventually figured out that my parents hated each other, not me, and moved on with a little help of my stepmother.

This little boy, on the other hand, had no clue what was happening. He didn’t understand that the reason he was properly cared for at one home and neglected in another wasn’t his fault. He was going to grow up wondering what it was like to have a mother and father figure that actually loved each other almost as much as they loved him. There was (and still is) so much drama revolving around both households and I feared that despite everyone’s best efforts, he’d grow up like I did: feeling alone, unwanted, and at times unloved. I met this 9 month old baby shortly after I fell head over heels in love with his dad, and I realized this was exactly where I was meant to be. I looked into this little boy’s eyes and I saw someone that was so happy and innocent, and whose happiness and innocence I wanted to help preserve.

In retrospect, I know I’ll never be his “real” mom, but I’ll be damned if I don’t treat him like he’s my “real” son. Helping to raise another woman’s child has taught me so much about family, love, and selflessness that I sometimes wonder how lost I would have been had I not gone down this path. I would have missed out on so much happiness and fulfillment had I not stayed to watch him grow and learn. At 21 now, I wouldn’t trade a second of it all even despite those terrible two tantrums and predicted baby momma drama. The most important thing I’ve learned about helping to raise another woman’s child, after all, is that it is so, so worth it.

featured image source jamesAnn photography

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