76: Step by Stepmom

76: Step by Stepmom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Step by Stepmom

It’s not the blood you share that makes you a mother… It’s the heart you share with one another.

~Patty Rase Hopson

My wife, Diana, didn’t know what she was signing up for when she married me eleven years ago at the age of forty-one. She knew she was getting three stepchildren, but she had no idea how much being a stepmother was going to test her patience and stretch her wisdom.

Diana had met my children, accidentally, on our second date. We were to meet at my house before going to the drive-in. However, my kids’ mother was late picking them up, so they were still in the driveway when Diana arrived. Diana would have been content to drive around the block a time or two, but it was too late. She had been spotted.

My two boys — Anthony, then ten, and Gregory, then eight — politely shook her hand. However, my daughter Kimberly, who was only two, just gave Diana the lizard-eye from the car seat in her mother’s car and didn’t say a word.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Kim to warm up to Diana. Oddly enough, their first real bonding experience was potty training. Kim was proving difficult to train, which was frustrating me because the boys had been so easy. Like most little girls, Kim was all about the Disney princesses, so Diana had the brilliant idea of buying Disney princess underwear for Kim.

The first time Kim peed on Cinderella, she was upset, but soon got over it. However, when she pooped on Sleeping Beauty, her “MOST FAVORITEST” princess, she was absolutely distraught. Potty training problem solved!

Our wedding in June of 2005 was as festive as we could hope for. Anthony and Greg (then twelve and almost ten) stood up with me at the wedding, looking all manly in their junior-size tuxedos. And Kimberly, my princess, was our flower girl, three weeks shy of her fourth birthday. Despite being so small, Kim knew what was going on, because immediately following the conclusion of the ceremony, Kim shouted, “Now I have two mommies!”

Kim tried to call Diana “Mommy” once a few days later. By the dubious look on her face though, we could tell that she didn’t think it sounded right. Without a word being spoken by anyone, it was understood that the kids would just call Diana by her first name, which they still do to this day. Diana approved of this, mainly for the reason that their mother was still very much in the picture, and Diana had no intention of taking her place.

To say that living the life of a stepmother was an adjustment for Diana was an understatement. Though this was my second marriage, it was her first, and she had been single for a long time. She was used to a quiet house, an active social life, coming and going as she pleased, and eating cereal for dinner at least three nights a week. Now she had to make the whiplash transition to things like sibling conflict, parent-teacher conferences, picky eaters, and being home on the weekends when I had the kids.

Any joint custody situation is going to involve different parenting styles between the two households. Children, like rivers, will take the path of least resistance. Therefore, if one parent doesn’t push them to do chores or to behave a certain way, they won’t. Then, when the other parent does expect these things, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Diana grew up in a very traditional country home, where kids did their chores, respected their parents, went to church every Sunday and didn’t expect to get anything without working hard for it. While I grew up with similar values, the splintering of my first marriage made it impractical, if not impossible, for me to pass those values along to my own kids during their formative years. Diana didn’t give up though. Even if it didn’t bother the kids that their rooms were messy, or their homework wasn’t done, or the dishwasher needed emptying, or they smelled because they hadn’t showered in three days, if it bothered Diana, she would let them hear about it, early and often, until the problem was corrected.

Naturally, the kids resented all of this nagging and correction, since they didn’t get it at their mom’s house. Over the years, though, they learned to appreciate other things about Diana. One of these things was Diana’s love of vacations.

Diana decided that we should take a major vacation with the kids every other year. These trips have included Cedar Point, New Orleans, Disney World, Gatlinburg, Gulf Shores, and even a cruise to Mexico. As much as she enjoys the traveling, what Diana really cherishes is making memories with the kids. She was there for Anthony’s first roller coaster ride, Greg’s first ocean swim, and Kimberly’s thirteenth birthday in Cozumel, just to name a few.

The boys each ended up moving in with us when they reached college age, and Kim joined us full-time at the age of fourteen. Despite the fact that Diana still nagged about little things like chores, as well as big things like who they were dating, the kids grew to appreciate her wisdom in these matters.

Through all of this, though, I find it strange that Diana still does not consider herself a mother, since the kids still have their mother. The kids see it differently, though. The year that Anthony turned eighteen, he got Diana a very nice card for Mother’s Day. He told her, “You didn’t give birth to me, but you did raise me, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.”

That’s the truth. Anthony is married now and finishing college. Greg is also finishing his degree. He lives with us, and although he used to be a slob, his room is now the neatest in the house.

Kim is now a sophomore in high school. Being the rebel of the family, she has had the most conflict with Diana by far, be it about her clothes, her hair, her taste in music, her boyfriends, her unusual eating habits, or her addiction to social media. Diana stays the course, though, and refuses to give up on her. Little by little, as Kim grows, we can see Diana’s patience and wisdom beginning to pay dividends.

All stepmoms should get a medal, but when I think about how my kids might have turned out without Diana’s influence in their lives, I think my wife deserves three.

~M. Scott Coffman

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