From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

The Stepmother

Since our amicable divorce a few years before, Eric and I had maintained a comfortable relationship, remaining good friends. We had agreed on consistent parenting rules and visiting schedules, and our son, Charley, enjoyed a nice balance between our two homes. He seemed well-adjusted and happy.

So when I first met Eric’s fiancée, the woman who was to become my son’s stepmother, I was bound to be a little nervous. There was no doubt that Bonny would have an influence on my child’s life. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was the effect she would have on mine.

At that first meeting, I was struck by how opposite we were. Her clothes had a “dress for success” look, while I wore “rumpled nonchalance.” She was attractive, composed and confident, while I was disheveled and nervous, prattling on about nothing. I was uncomfortable and suspicious, scrutinizing her every mannerism and inflection, sizing her up as my son’s future parent. My prevailing thought was: “What will she do to my precious baby?”

Before this moment, I’d had various fantasies about who my “ex” might someday marry. One was of a wicked witch, a raving shrew from whom my son would run screaming. He would, of course, be running to me, his real mom, who would supply endless patience and wisdom, as only a true mother can.

Another fantasy was scarier. In this one she was the rock, his bridge over troubled water, where he could find solace from his nagging mom, who never understood him. Or even worse, she was the fun one, as in, “I can’t come home tonight, Mom. Bonny got us the luxury suite for the Bulls championship.”

Unfortunately, the latter of my fantasies wasn’t a fantasy. This was a real person who was about to become my son’s other mother, and all I could do was watch and wait.

Over time, I grew less wary and more natural around Bonny. She grew less coolly professional and more familiar around me. We found an easy way of working through the routines of pick-up and drop-off times, school conferences and soccer games.

Then one night my new husband and I invited Eric and Bonny to our house for coffee after a school conference. Charley, who loved to have us all together, was delighted. Over the course of the evening, tensions and pretensions melted away. Bonny and I let our walls down a bit and spoke more frankly. Instead of a complicated configuration of “ex’s” and “steps,” we were now just friends.

A few months later, the four of us got together to talk about Charley’s grades. Instead of bringing her usual outlines, lists, data and literature—as if she were making a case before a committee—Bonny opened up and confessed her vulnerability. She talked about her insecurities and despair in dealing with Charley’s adolescence. Was she demanding too much or asking too little? Was she pushing him or coddling him?

My heart went out to her. These were the same thoughts and fears that kept me up at night. She was thinking, feeling and behaving just like a mother—which is what she had become.

So Charley’s second mom is neither an evil witch who would hurt my son, nor a fairy godmother who would steal him away. She’s a woman who loves my little boy. She will worry over him, fight for him and protect him from harm.

I’ve gone from dreading Bonny’s appearance to being grateful for her presence in Charley’s life and mine. I welcome her unique perspective, her ideas—and even her lists. I was wrong to want to hold my child to my chest, like a toy. I didn’t want to share. Maybe I was the first to love him, but that doesn’t mean I should be the last. Now there’s one more person in this world watching over him. And for that, I happily share the title Mom.

Jennifer Graham

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