Love is a choice Julia made—a choice to love her stepchildren wholeheartedly. Luckily, despite some typical blended-family bumps along the road, love came easily.
I’m a step mom, a mom and a soon-to-be foster mom.
For me, the concept of “family” starts with basic belief that you try to love those who come through your door. Easy to say perhaps, but harder in practice. For me, my sense of family is deeply shaped by being a mom or a reasonable facsimile of one.
My “mom” experience began abruptly when I started dating a guy with two kids in elementary school. This was eleven years ago and they were eight and 10—and terrifyingly present in his life. One of the things I loved about my guy was that he was/is a dedicated and committed father, but I am not sure I really understood what that fully encompassed. He adored his kids and, in fact wouldn’t agree to divorce without 50 percent custody and visitation. He was in for the whole “kit and caboodle” and his awesome father-candidacy held huge appeal. He was the go-to parent for coaching sport teams, sporting events and every field trip. In short, I quickly realized that if I was going to love this fellow—and share my life with him—I’d better learn to like his kids too. But, I soon realized that I couldn’t merely “like” people I was going to share my life with. So, without forethought, I set out to love them… and have them love me back. Luckily that wasn’t too hard, and although we did have a few experiences of, “Well… my mom makes better cookies,” “I’ve seen way nicer sunsets with my mom,” and “Daddy, why do you need a girlfriend? You have me to love you,” we somehow made it through. Some times were rough and there was more than one night in the beginning when I returned to my apartment at 3 a.m. in tears.
And while many of my friends either commented about how tolerant I was to date a guy with kids or that they’d never do it, I have to say they got it wrong. Go back to the philosophy of loving those who come through your door: yes my step kids aren’t biologically “mine,” but after helping them with homework, taking them to emerg for middle-of-the-night-accidents, guiding them through school friend drama and everything in between (first kiss, first hangover, first time driving), these kids are mine and I love them dearly. I have learned far more from them than they have from me, and they’ve enriched my life immeasurably.
Being a step mom for me was an active choice—otherwise I’d be simply their dad’s wife/girlfriend. I chose to fall in love with them. I chose to open my heart to them while recognizing that I will never be their mom, they do (and should) love her and have a relationship with her. I actively chose to be always the bronze medalist and—in time—I’ve even started to understand why. I am always the third parent, but I am the ONLY bonus parent, a position I relish with glee. I am honoured to be on the podium at all—these are awesome kids.
Three years into our fun new family (read: white water rafting trips, hang-gliding, camping and travelling), my guy—now husband, succumbed to my constant and persistent requests for another child. I honestly wasn’t looking for a child “of my own,” but I did want to experience pregnancy and the early childhood years. My beautiful Riley was born and the older kids (a.k.a. “The Bigs”) were smitten. Three years later our biological brood was complete with our final daughter, Quinn, and soon I was on two ends of the parenting spectrum: I had one child starting solids and one child starting university! Was my family of six traditional? Nope. Were they wonderful? Absolutely!
I often hear from people that I must love my own birth kids more, that I must “understand how it is” now that I have my “own” children. This riles me to no end. Do I love all four kids differently? Absolutely! They are different people. I also didn’t get to be with my bigs when they were wee so I have different experiences and beginnings with them, but I love the same in that my heart swells with pride and joy when I see them. I love all four of my kids differently, but as fully and as wholly as I can. And I’ll do the same with whomever graces our front door next—baby, toddler, tween or teen—through fostering. In my mind family is all about love, and as I tell all my kids, it is an unending reservoir that gives more and more—there’s always enough to go around.
This is #1000families post number 160. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.