I love my stepson. He was the first kid to call me, “Mom,” in an embarassing moment that made us both blush and stammer and turn away. He was about 9 at the time, and I’d been in his life for a year or so. We were loading our bikes in the car and he shouted, “Hey, Mom, can you grab my helmet?”
He didn’t mean me. He meant his real mom, who wasn’t there. I was, and I grabbed his bike helmet and threw it quickly in the car.
A year later, my new husband and I had a baby, who grew up to call me mom and really mean it. But I’ve never forgotten that moment. The boy in question is 16 now, and calls me by my first name. We play board games and share music collections and get into fierce late night conversations about our favorite TV shows and world politics and everything in between.
He’s a kid in my family, and in some sense my kid, is what I’m trying to say. I love him.
Apparently, my love for my stepson is a pretty rare gift. Salon offers up an essay today on the legions of guilty stepmoms who loathe, or at best politely tolerate, the little monsters their husbands brought into the household by way of a previous marriage.
I frankly can’t imagine I’d have married someone who had kids I wasn’t crazy about. My husband and his son were so clearly a package deal. On our first date, he brought his kid along and I had to ride in the back seat. For our first Valentine’s Day, I got a bouquet of roses from my guy and a handmade card from his kid.
Also: I love kids. I love my kids and my husband’s kid and my friends’ kids and the kids in my neighborhood. There are some kids I don’t get on with, but I’m never tempted to fall in love with their parents and move in with them. Usually those bad apples haven’t fallen very far from their trees.
My struggle as a stepmom isn’t to love my stepchild enough. It’s to contain that love. I worry about loving him too much.
I’m a stepkid myself, and my relationship with my stepfather has been at times warm and at times awkward. I never expected my stepson to love me, and I’ve struggled to stay out of his hair as a stepmom. We get along beautifully, but I’m not his mom and I’ve never tried to be.
That’s meant keeping my own heart in check. I try to be supportive without being overly affectionate, to hide my grief when he’s gone for months to his mom’s house in another state and be politely joyful when he comes home. He’s not mine to love uncontrollably, even though I’m responsible for parenting him when he’s here.
I think I’ve walked a pretty good line there, and I love the relationship I have this amazing young man I’m fortunate enough to share my home with. It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow and have a small hand in raising him.
As I said above, I can’t imagine doing all the hard work of parenting for a child I didn’t love, or being willing to marry someone whose kids I didn’t like.
Can you love your stepkids like your own? Should you?
Photo: Tony Crider