“I am woman. Hear me roar!” I looked up to see my soon-to-be stepmom confidently claim those words as we concluded setting up the fresh Christmas tree. I recall my young self being in awe of her strength, of her kindness, of her persistence… of her.
As someone who had mostly grown up with a single dad, after losing my mother at the ripe age of six (you can read about my experience with that here), I was pretty used to a lot of seemingly odd things for a young girl. For instance, I wore more cargo pants than any dance crew on America’s Got Talent, and I was even on a first-name basis with security guards at local sporting events.
To my young self, though, I had everything I ever could want or need.
Or so I thought.
To me, it’s funny that we call them “step-parents,” you know? Because, in my opinion, there are steps involved in the whole ordeal. With that being said, the path to what is now the relationship between my (step)mom and me has been anything but simple, yet it certainly has been an invaluable one at that.
It’s funny because one would be surprised to find out that this was the stage that most closely resembled the ending to Stepmom, that late 90s cinematic classic starring Julia Roberts.
At first, getting a stepmom did not seem like a huge ordeal to me. It was nothing more than a label. We had “girls day” trips to the mall; we laughed at romantic comedies while sharing a bowl of popcorn. I still called her by her first name. My dad still called “the shots.” Life was good because it didn’t seem all that different.
As time went on, though, we all settled back into the normalcy of daily life – of our new everyday life. She picked me up from extracurriculars; we had family dinners each night. Eventually, the monotony of reality takes over, and before you know it, you are just going through the motions. None of this is “bad,” necessarily, but it certainly makes you stop and think, especially as a young person trying to find who she is in this big crazy world.
Teenage years are hard on parents — or so I’m told. However, for every ounce of angst a normal teenager has, I seemed to have had four. My poor parents. Sure, it “could’ve been worse,” but honestly, it didn’t have to be. I made it way harder on them than it had to be.
At this point, I referred to my stepmom as “S-mom.” She was more than a stepmom, but I still struggled with the full-on “mom” label at no fault of hers. Internally, I struggled with that word after having not said it out of the “she passed when I was younger” context in over a decade. My s-mom was there. Always. She was a staple in my life at that point, and I think, deep down, I knew that called for more than just the label of “stepmom.”
Every adolescent outburst, she was there. Every time my heart was broken, she consoled me. Every tennis match, she was in the stands. She picked me up from one practice only to drive me to another. She helped me pick out dresses for dances, a comforter for my first dorm room. She scheduled all my appointments; she found me help for my anxiety before I even knew I needed it.
The point being: She was there.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that I seemingly didn’t appreciate it at that point. She stuck around through the hurtful words I uttered and the eye rolls I gave. In retrospect, I now realize she deserved much more than just the label (as creative as it was) of “s-mom.” Yet, I didn’t quite understand that.
I’m not exactly sure when I started calling her “my mom,” but I can definitely tell you when I began to feel it.
The day I left for college, my dad claimed he couldn’t say “see ya!” fast enough. Although I knew it was all in good fun, my heart sank at the thought of my parents driving away with me as nothing more than a view in the rearview mirror. I looked over and saw her thoughtfully making my lofted bed. “My parents,” I thought. “My parents.”
From then on, there were many phone calls seeking advice on basic household tasks, twice as many “I miss you” text messages, and a great deal of inside jokes at my dad’s expense.
Through my years of “adulthood” to my now actual adulthood, we’ve created a bond that is unlike any other. Is it perfect? Of course not. Does it replace the one I had with my biological mom? Of course not. Do either of those things negate the value of our relationship? Of course not.
With all this being said, the road to “step” love is usually anything but easy – regardless if you’re the child or parent. Although this post is written mostly from a daughter’s perspective, it was not until I became a mother myself that I realized just how much that word truly encompasses. Throw the word “step” in front of it, and you are in for a wild, yet worth it, ride.