How step parenting healed my childhood wounds

love never fails
step parenting
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Becoming a mom was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Step parenting, however, took this to a whole other level.

Back when I first decided to assume “mothering” responsibilities for two children that were not blood related to me, I just knew that I would rock it out. After having lived through a rather turbulent step-family experience in my own teen years, I just knew that this would be my opportunity to set things straight…to prove that I hadn’t been broken. That my inner Mary Poppins would emerge and prevail, despite the faulty programming that dominated my internal dialogue on a daily basis.

So there I was, a perfectly content, young, single mama of two lovely little girls (ages 6 and 9 at the time). I had just received my teaching assignment in Germany. It was my dream to show my girls the world! I LOVED every minute of mommy life. Even though I had the help of an incredibly supportive mom, part of me also hoped that some dude would appear on the scene. Oddly, it didn’t take long to manifest this reality.

About 2 months after I wished it, it happened. I met a guy. He was nice. We had a great time together. But before we really had the chance to see if what we had had any staying power, he lost his contract assignment and had to go back to the States. Since I was going to be staying in Germany, we did the most logical thing two people that kinda dig each other do after knowing one another for 3 months do…we got engaged!

I figured…Why not? I’m turning 30. I’ve never done this marriage thing before. Let’s get hitched!

(Slight side note here: I may have a history of jumping blindly into BIG commitments. This is just one of those examples.)

So not only was I going to be marrying this man that I barely knew, but I would also be assuming step parenting responsibilities for his two teenagers.

Prior to the wedding, I really dug the kids. I just knew I was going to be the coolest step parent ever.

Before long, the whole clan moved in. The honeymoon period went great for pretty much everyone (so long as we were all wearing our rose-colored glasses). The kids seemed to get along just fine. All of them seemed to really dig my Mary Poppins impersonation…

…until I was f’n DONE with step parenting.

It’s like a switch went off in my head. One morning I was Mary Poppins, and the next morning I was Godzilla.

No warning. It just happened.

I was simply so angry ALL of the time. Even though I still really liked the guy, it became really clear that we were not working. What was worse was that my youngest daughter stopped talking. My oldest became extremely emotional and her self-esteem tanked. As a result, I began taking my frustration out on my husband’s kids.

I won’t go into detail here, but I will say that it got NASTY. I didn’t want them anywhere near my kids, tainting them with all of their n’er-do-well attitudes. I wasn’t hiding that fact. The scariest part is that I saw my own reflection in my stepdaughter.

I became the evil stepmother.

I was no fun to be around. I was MEAN. I hated who I was and whatever we were trying to do in this make-shift mockery of a family, and this poor girl became my scapegoat. It was completely unfair to her. As for me, I came to realize that I was entirely too immature to have taken on such a big responsibility. I had failed at step parenting.

The marriage lasted a year; every day becoming more and more toxic. I had become someone I didn’t recognize. I didn’t respect my husband either. Or myself. I wanted out, and he wouldn’t leave. I was the breadwinner, and in my mind, he and his kids just kept taking from me and my young daughters. I just wanted to go back to the way things were before he came.

I wondered why in the hell life would drag me into that mess. Why did I have to make that poor girl’s life such hell? Waves of blame and shame…engulfed me. I had no business being anybody’s stepmom. What made me believe that I could do it? I mean, I could barely hold it together as a mom for my own kids.

My husband went back to the States so that we could raise our children in peace.

Fast forward a few years later. I met my wife. When we got together, she was struggling with her oldest daughter who had experienced a rough go at life at the tender age of 14. She was also a highly empathic kid, struggling to manage her emotions…along with everybody else’s.

She was exactly who I was at that age. A carbon copy.

I helped my wife (then my friend) make sense of what was happening from her daughter’s perspective. She and her youngest daughter moved in with me and my girls in Germany. The honeymoon was understandably rocky, but we worked through it since we both approached it from a realistic point of view. We got married. Her youngest daughter went back to live with her father. Her older daughter then decided to move in with us.

Okay…the fact that my wife’s oldest daughter reminded me of a young me so much caused all of my bells and whistles to rattle and hiss. I just knew that I would be making her poor daughter’s life a living hell just like I had done with my previous step-daughter. I got REALLY scared.

Desperate to prevent the inevitable from happening, I asked my wife to go back to the States to finish raising her daughter. I’d wait for her there in Germany. Ya know…no big whoop.

This was when I witnessed my beloved wife practically grow 3 heads. She gave me a look that I’ll never forget, that made me tuck my tail between my legs for the first time with any partner. Ever.

I had to accept defeat. More importantly, I had to learn to heal for the sake of my family.

Even though I was scared to death to open my home to this teenager that had a rough past, out of love for my wife, I chose to open my heart to her. It wasn’t easy. Desperate to get it right this time, I started to dive into self-help books personal development programs. I worked on healing the wounded teenager within me…the girl that was hated and tossed aside…so that I could show up and be the step-mom that my wife’s daughter needed.

As a result, the relationship between my step-daughter and I grew pretty strong, particularly because I understood parts of her that not very many people did. By listening to and honoring her needs, I was able to nurture the hurting teen within me, and to show her love. To repair bits and pieces that were broken. To this day, our relationship is something that I cherish and value deeply.

There are very few things in life that I regret. I regret that I treated my first stepdaughter so terribly. I regret I had a role to play in her life, and it was not good. I also kick myself for missing out on being present for my youngest as she grew silent in the midst of all of the chaos of that year.

But I realized that these events were put in my path to shape me. I’ve learned that experiences are just experiences. Although we want to assign “good” or “bad” labels to them, that’s not necessarily what they are.

Humans are dynamic beings, and the universe is playing through us. We get to experience intense emotions on an incredibly colorful spectrum. Nobody is a saint, and nobody is a sinner. My experience with step parenting taught me this.

We just are spiritual beings having a human experience.

So we play. And sometimes play feels like pain.

For me, the job of my inner pilot light (the source of my inner guidance) is to lead me to whatever experiences I need to have in this lifetime so that I can learn what I need to know, and to clear whatever needs to be cleared (and dang, in this lifetime, it’s working overtime). Intuitive pings are the most helpful to keep me out of immediate danger. 

But I’ve learned that my inner pilot light’s job is not to help me make the “right” decisions. Sometimes there is no right and no wrong. I am so grateful for my step parenting experience.

And sometimes, life allows you to choose your own adventure on the path toward learning what you need to know.

step parenting

Do you have a story of failure and triumph like this? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment below or feel free to contact me HERE.

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