My step-mom stepped in after my mom died and helped me find my life again

September 16 | Guest post by Christina Simon
Christina and her step-mom, Anne.

I never expected to call anyone my step-mom. To have a step-mom means your dad got divorced and he remarried or his wife died. In my case, it was the latter. My mom died when I was nineteen, meaning that my dad would likely remarry at some point. About two years after my mom's death he met a woman who would become my step-mom. Two years may sound like a long time, but in "grief time" it might as well have been two months. Is anybody truly ever ready to accept the person who might try to replace her mom?

The circumstances under which my step-mom, Anne, joined our family were highly unusual. We weren't acquiring a step-mom because our parents were divorced. We had lost our mom after her long battle with breast cancer and were living in a suspended state of permanent grief. When my step-mom arrived, my younger sister was angry and hostile in her misery. I was withdrawn and anti-social. Neither of us was able to see through our blinding sadness to understand the remarkable woman who would later marry our dad.

I didn't know what to expect when my dad introduced us to Anne. Naturally, I assumed the worst. Still reeling from the turmoil and loss of my mom, I was hesitant about this new woman. My feelings were unsettled. I was suspicious of her motives, despite reassurances by my dad that she had no intention of trying to fill the enormous void left by my mom's death.

It takes courage to marry a man whose wife has died and whose two teenage daughters are distraught over her death, especially when you have your own two teenagers who never wanted you to relocate to a new city to be with a new man. It was an uncomfortable situation to say the least. We made small talk at dinner and pretended things were normal, but they weren't.

Every so often there is a rare person whose kindness is so remarkable it impacts your life in ways you can't possibly know until many years later. Somehow, with grace and dignity beyond her barely 40 years, Anne saw me for who I was, despite my despair and feelings of unworthiness. With patience and warmth, she helped me pick up the pieces of a shattered life, which I assumed would never be possible. Slowly, she helped guide me back to a life worth living, a life filled with the things I wanted to achieve like college, graduate school, marriage, kids, but couldn't possibly imagine without my mom.

Our house had stuffy air of stillness. It was devoid of happiness or laughter. Nobody visited because we were so checked out, we wouldn't have known who to invite over. It didn't matter that it was a pretty house in a beautiful neighborhood. It had no life left in it, despite the fact that two teen girls and a dad lived there. The reason the house felt as if somebody had died there was because our mom died in the upstairs bedroom. The day before she died, my dad sent me to my boyfriend's house. My dad called me the following day, on a Monday morning, to tell me she'd died. He instructed me to wait until the coroner had removed her body. I did. We all knew it was coming. Cancer had ravished her body and she was blind, paralyzed and in a coma. Still, the shock of losing my mom at age nineteen was more than I could bear.

After my mom died, none of us had the strength to make any changes to the house, so it remained the house where Mama died. We didn't talk about moving out the old furniture or getting a new sofa or table to brighten the house or make it more cheerful. Dinner was a sandwich in front of the TV. To move even a single piece of furniture would have been too painful. So we lived in the house and it stayed just the way it was the day she died. A year passed, then two. The house remained the same.

When my dad decided to get rid of some things, he made the unforgivable mistake of selling my mom's clothes at a garage sale, without telling my sister or me. We found out when we drove by the garage sale. It was heartbreaking. Ignoring people sorting through my mom's clothes, her favorite dresses, her shoes, we grabbed armfuls of stuff and began loading it in the back of our car. Infuriated, we yelled at people staring at us that the garage sale was over. We couldn't contain our rage and tears and we didn't try. We stopped speaking to our dad for a while.

Anne joined our grim mess of a family. Once she moved in, Anne rightly decided to update the furniture, to make the house a home. My sister and I rebelled fiercely, accusing her of trying to destroy our mom's memory. Somehow, we came to an agreement as to which pieces of my mom's furniture could go and those that had to stay. My mom's favorite purple velvet couch was a point of huge contention. It stayed for a while and then we replaced it.

I knew she never intended to replace my mom for that would be impossible. She was there only because she loved my dad.

My dad married Anne. My sister and I attended the wedding, grateful that my dad was happy again, but still uneasy about Anne and her kids. I was nicer to our new step-mom than my sister was. I tried hard to show her respect and make her feel welcome. I knew she never intended to replace my mom for that would be impossible. She was there only because she loved my dad. She still does. They just celebrated their 25th anniversary.

Anne never tried to replace my mom. Instead, over time she became the friend and mother figure I desperately needed. She was the first call I made when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. During my very long labor, Anne held my hand and coached me through it, never leaving my side. When the nurse was slow to refill my drink, after 30 hours of labor, Anne let her know it better not happen again.

For the first week with my new baby, she stayed with my husband and me and taught me how to take care of my daughter in the most loving way a mother would teach her own daughter. Putting the baby in the car to drive home from the hospital, Anne sat in the back seat with the baby and me because I was so nervous.

When we got home with my baby daughter, Anne never left my side.

She'd say, "Wrap her like this to calm her down."

Or, "Want me to hold her for a few minutes?" she'd ask, taking her and rocking her back and forth in her arms.

I think those first days secured a bond between her and my daughter that is still profound. After five days, Anne reluctantly admitted she was tired and went to her parents' to get some rest.

By definition, Anne is my step-mom. But I know the word doesn't do justice to our relationship. Whenever I refer to Anne as my step-mom, I don't think it conveys who she truly is to me. She's not my mom, but she's more than the image the word 'step-mom' conveys.

Looking back, it couldn't have been easy for Anne to create a blended family. When she married a widower with two grieving teenage daughters, she took on a family whose future was uncertain, who was breaking apart, slowly. Her entrance into our family is what has kept us together all these years.

Anne is my kids' grandmother. My kids don't call her a step-grandmother. She's their "Nana." Although my daughter knows Anne isn't my biological mom, my daughter often says she gets her hazel eyes from Nana Anne. I cherish the connection they have — that we have.

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  1. This. So much This.

    My grandfather died when my mom and her twin were 6. My grandmother met a sweet man in a widow/widowers group and 5 years later, they were married. To me, he was always my grandfather. Although I wish I had met my biological grandfather, Phil was the best grandfather a girl could ask for.

    Even though Phil has passed, our families are still intertwined; he brought 5 kids to the family and with my grandmother they made a real-life Brady Bunch. Their kids are my cousins, not my step-cousins. They're my family. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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  2. Oh no, I'm crying at work! Step parents can be so special. "Step dad" doesn't feel like the right term for my step dad.– but my dad is still in the picture too (he's my dad! we're close). But each Dad has taught me something so different (and yet, they share a sense of humor). I'm one of three (my dad has four, but my step dad only has us three) and we all value my step dad so much, he's been with us since I was 8- i was practically a baby. And since my baby brother was 4. We all cried when both my dads walked my sister down the aisle, because that's exactly what they are- my dads. One is biological and one stepped in right when we needed him and I could not feel more blessed.

    I get very defensive when people say he's not my stepdad because my parents (mom and stepdad, in this occurrence) were never married. He raised me, he picked me up from prom, he moved me into college, taught me how to cook, taught me how to drive, taught me how to compare prices. He is my parent. He is my Pat.

    And now I feel sort of bad for making him drive me to the train tonight! Maybe I'll bring him home something special for Step Parents day!

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  3. You've made me cry. Or get misty at least. I envy your relationship with your step-awesome-mom. I'm so glad you have a special relationship with her.

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  4. This brought a tear to my eye.

    My nana was lucky enough to marry a widower with grown children. She developed a particularly close relationship with my Aunt J. My nana always introduced her as "my daughter" because that it what their relationship felt like.

    Families are a wonderful thing, no matter how they come about.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  5. What a heart-warming story, thank you for sharing.

    The French phrase for "step-mother" is "belle mere". Literally it means "beautiful mother" (the term is also used for "mother-in-law").

    Your Anne is a "belle mere" if there ever was one.

  6. Thank you so very much, your words have rang incredibly true to me. My mother passed away from a nasty battle with cancer this past June, and now I am pregnant with my first. Hard to imagine doing this without her, but your story has given me hope. Thank you and God Bless.

  7. Hi Everyone, thank you so much for your amazing comments. I'm incredibly lucky to have Anne. I love Offbeat Mama because it's such a supportive community. To Lindsy, I too am a motherless mother and it's been hard at times, but more than anything, the best thing I could do to honor my mom. You'll be a great mom who will make your own mother proud. Xo christina

  8. Thank you for sharing.

    I also lost my mother to cancer several years ago. My father has also met someone else. I think she's wonderful for him and I am grateful that he has an equal companion. I knew there was no way that I could fill my mother's shoes in that respect.

    However, the person that has lessened the sadness gap left in my heart of being a motherless child has been my soon-to-be mother-in-law. She never tries to be my mom, which I really appreciate. She is a special motherly figure in my life. She has taught me how to cook, gripes with me about how annoying men can be, and supports me in every way possible.

    "Mother-in-law" also doesn't do her justice, and I instead plan to call her "Mother" in the language of her nationality, which is different from what I called my mother in my own language. I find that will be a happy medium for me.

  9. This was beautiful. My Dad died 2 1/2 years ago and the babe in my belly will be his namesake. I want my Mom to be happy but I cringe when she tells me she's dating. She doesn't know because I don't want her to feel guilty. I know it doesn't bring my Dad back if she is alone but it's the feeling in my gut. I feel like she'll never meet anyone that will compare to his epicness. I hope one day if she finds the right guy I'll be as excepting as you were.

  10. This is beautiful. My step-mom is much more than a step-mom to me, too – even though my mother is still alive. It was hard for a long time to recognize that I could love them both. It sounds like your family is very lucky to have come to include Anne.

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  11. This is exactly what I needed to hear. My mom passed away 4 years ago and my dad is getting re-married this weekend, couldn't have been a better time for me to read this and calm my nerves. Thanks for sharing!

  12. This made me cry reading it because I can relate so much to this.

    When I was 18 my dad was killed in a freak helicopter crash. We had no time to prepare for what was to happen. One moment he was as healthy as could be and the next he was just..gone. My sister didn't live in the same state as us and 2 weeks after all the family had gone back to their home state my brother left for basic training. It was just my mom and I and all of my dads belongings. He was a musician and had his peddles and guitar stuff set up so perfectly, we didn't even want to touch it because that was how HE left it. Everything in the house had changed but that was the one thing that was his that was untouched. My mom couldn't stand being in our house so she was off in Tennessee looking for a new house to buy while I was still mourning and alone in that house. She met a man who would become my step-dad. I hated him at first, couldn't get over the fact that he was with my mom and my dad wasn't.

    But as you said, he's not trying to replace my dad. He's there because he loves my mom. You can see it in his eyes when she walks past him. He's done a lot for my family and mended it slightly. My brother and sister still aren't entirely used to him but we're getting there.

    Tomorrow would have been my dads 50th birthday.

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  13. This was so lovely. I wish desperately That I had positive experiences with step parents. My parents separated when I was young and both of my step parents are/were abusive. To this day, we aren't allowed n my father's house if she is home and he has never had his grand kids over unless it was for my grandparent's funeral. It's always nice to know it doesn't have to be that way.

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  14. My parents divorced when I was 12 and my mother re-married when I was 15. I was close to my dad growing up but haven't been since not long after the divorce. To no fault of my mothers, mind you. My dad had/has a lot of problems, one being addiction. When my mom married my "step"dad him and I bonded over video games pretty much immediately. We played Grand Theft Auto together until we beat the game. He helped me get my first car and my first job. He's made my mom happier than I have ever seen her. He has been such a wonderful part of my life in the last 7+ years. I wouldn't say he replaced my father, despite the poor relationship that he and I now have, he was a monumental part of my life growing up and I do have many good memories. But my step-dad, whom I do now call "dad," picked up a huge role in my life that was missing at the time and has done an amazing job in that role.

    I became a step-parent as well 2 years ago. I understand now how difficult it must've been for him to jump in that role to 2 teenage girls (I was 15 my sister was 17) when his only experience in a parenting role was to a then-11 year old boy. It's made me respect him that much more. But more so than anything, it's made me want to be that for my step-children.

  15. I'm a stepmom, and it is so hard for me to remember the big picture, that my stepdaughter & I have a lifetime to build this relationship. This post really helped me today. Thanks 🙂

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  16. My Dad's parents divorced shortly after my dad (the baby) graduated high school. My brother was 2 years old and I was 2 months pre-birth when my grandma re-married, and I remember clearly the day in the furniture store when my dad explained why I had 3 sets of grandparents. I ran crying across the entire store and declared, "I don't care what anyone says, you're still my grandpa." (It apparently made everyone cry because I was 4 and totally adorable about it, but he was my favorite grandpa and I was decidedly his favorite granddaughter.)

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this. Absolutely beautiful. I hope you printed out a copy for Anne. 🙂

  18. Damn you for making me all teary at work!!! This was so beautiful. Further proof that families are made by love, not necessarily by blood.

    My significant other was raised by his mother and his stepfather. In his case, his biological father is alive, but completely non-present in his life. His stepfather was, in every way except for blood, his father. They talked to each other on the phone every day, hung out together constantly, and loved each other more than anything. He died last year, and my SO was completely devastated. He gave a beautiful speech at the funeral about the fact that nature didn't give him the best father, but Fate eventually brought in the right man for the job.

    Amazing piece. Thank you for sharing with us.

  19. Well I was 38 when I finally found my true love. He had a beautiful 5 year old girl and I was very excited for our life to begin. We were just starting to get to know each other for about a year after being married when his mom moved in with us. The dynamics changed between his daughter who lost her mother and my mother in law. I'm having a very hard time in my marriage as I don' feel a strong bond to my step daughter I feel there is a strong dislike to me that she resents that I took her moms place. She is a very hard child to love and I have grown farther apart with her in the years we have been married. She is now 12 and I'm scared to death it's going to get worse. What can I do to help our relationship

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