It turns out I wear offbeat step-mama-hood well

Guest post by AJ Glasser
Little people rocking their village. Photo by goat_girl_photos, used under Creative Commons license.

Last year, I did something very terrifying: I began dating a man with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Naturally, one doesn’t spend a lot of thought on “the other woman” on the very first date with a single parent. But as our conversations deepened and our relationship evolved in that first month, I found that I was thinking about my boyfriend’s daughter an awful lot. I thought about what our first meeting would be like, when it should take place, where it should take place — what kind of entertainment should I bring, how should I do my hair. Should I dress pretty and expect to play princess, or dress in outdoor clothes and expect to get muddy?

I found, to my horror, I was putting more effort into my first “date” with her than I had with her father.

My boyfriend shrugged his shoulders at my anxiety, saying that, to his daughter, I would “just be another friend.” He didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be “just another friend,” and he took it as a rejection when I suggested that maybe we postpone my meeting with the child until she was a little older and I had more time to decide on that perfect first-date outfit. So, for his sake — and because I was dying with anticipation — I took the plunge and met her.

She was funny, she was smart, and a great conversationalist. She also wasn’t potty-trained yet, had tantrums and was a picky eater. She also had an obsession with being the princess, the baby, and the one whose birthday it was every single time she saw so much as a cupcake. She was a toddler… and I was in love.

Now I had to start thinking about being a step-mom. What kind of step-mom would I be? Would she call me by my first name? Would I have her in my wedding? When could I meet her mother and how much of the stuff that I’ve been saving to give to my future children should I set aside for her?

I was shocked to find that I wanted to be a step-mom almost more than I wanted to be a biological mom. I realize that step-moms get a bum rap as antagonists in all the best fairy tales. I also realize that blended families in modern America actually try to avoid the word entirely because of its negative associations (inventing friendlier names for step-moms like like “Bonus Mom” or “Mommy [First Name]”). I realize that I will never actually be her mother, even if it’s a role I sometimes play when she needs me to. I realize that as excited as I am to be her step-mom, my boyfriend’s daughter has a lot of people in her life that might be less than excited about the prospect. I realize that parenting — step, or otherwise — is a constant challenge with as much joy as there is sorrow and that you can’t just walk away from that kind of commitment once it’s made.

But to me, step-mom-hood was the chance to bring all my offbeat awesome to the table to share with someone who didn’t have to love me because of some biological tie. If she loved me, it’s because I was me, not because I was her mom. I earned her affection and I earned her respect through months of “dating” where I shared myself with her — from museum trips to visit couture dresses to dramatic re-tellings of DC Comics classics — and let her share her developing self with me. I also did the ugly “parent” things like time-outs, dealing with all-night tantrums, and holding her hair out of her face while she puked. And the first time she told me she loved me — six months after she and I started dating and eight months after her father and I started dating — I felt like someone had asked me to marry them.

I wish this story had a happy ending where her dad did ask me to marry him and I got to meet him and my stepdaughter at the altar. I wish I could tell you that she and I won over all the skeptics in her family with our bond. But our story is still being written — and as it happens, it has a few cliffhanger chapters in it. I now know for a fact, though, that the “stepmom” label suits me no matter what cultural stigmas are attached to it. I know that being an “offbeat stepmom” is as natural to me as breathing — and that there are step-children-to-be out there who will accept me as I am.

Comments on It turns out I wear offbeat step-mama-hood well

  1. my stepmother started dating my father when i was 5, they got married when i was 8 and have been married for 19 years. i could never tell my mother this, but i really look to my stepmom as a second mother. it’s nice when my mom doesn’t ‘get it’ that i have someone else to go to (and vice versa). i feel bad for my stepmom because my sister and i are all she has, i think she feels like she missed out on mommy/daughter bonding, but my bio mom feels that way too. like any parent/child relationship too many expectations can be harmful. good luck with the rest of your journey!

  2. I’m a proud offbeat stepmom since 2010 though I’ve considered my self as such long before that. My lil offbeat kiddo and I have a special relationship thats sometimes hard to define and as much as I feel connected to her in a motherly way I am always careful to pay my due respect to the woman who birthed her. It’s not always easy and since I have no biological children I feel truly blessed to have a wonderful little person to love in my life. Being a stepmom has allowed me to consider ideas and practices in parenting with the support of others who also care about this child’s well-being. That’s amazing if you ask me.

  3. I had an incredible offbeat “evil” stepmother as we liked to call her (even though she was anything but). Growing up, she was just as, if not more influential on me than my mother, because I found we shared a lot of the same values. I love her dearly and think back to all the awesome things we did as a kid because she prompted us to do as a family- like ski trips, trips to the zoo, heritage park, hikes, etc.. My dad would have been happy just to hang out and watch movies. She enriched my life in countless ways.

    Now I’m an offbeat evil stepmom, and I find I have the same roll… Enriching our family, and getting everyone out of the house and into some kind of occasional adventure.

    It’s so much fun!!! I love being a stepmom, and I love my step daughters family- her mom, dad, brother and sister as well! It’s neat to be engaged with all of them.

    Christmas was crazy with all kind of steps and halfs and who cares, we’re all family now!

  4. I really needed to read this, today. Dating a man with a three year old son has brought all sorts of joy to my life, and I couldn’t be happier. *:)

  5. I dated a man for 2.5yrs and he had 2 boys – to 2 different mums – so although it was sometimes challenging getting us all on he same page, I loved those kids, I only stayed in the relationship that long for those kids (crikey that sounds awful!) and even though it’s been 3yrs since I’ve seen them, I miss them all the time, luckily I’m still friends with the older sons mum, so I’m in regular contact! Having my own child has been amazing because of the lessons those boys taught me 🙂 it’s simply divine to have a connection like that to a child that has no biological “strings” to you.

  6. Thank you for this! My stepmom came into my life when I was ten years old and she has been one of the most solid female role models I have. She is amazing and I love her. She’s done a really great job of balancing my dad and I having “our” time and our time as a family. Now, at 26, her and I go on Vegas trips together, hang out on weekends, and call each other for updates. She is an incredible blessing in my life! Thank you for sharing. If those cliff hangers do work out, definitely share this post with your stepdaughter when she’s older. I love hearing stories from my stepmom about when we first met and how nervous she was 🙂

  7. I am a proud offbeat stepmama and I love it! There’s nothing more rewarding than the love of a child, biological or not. In my case, I have two beautiful, fantastic stepsons aged 9 years and 15 months. I look forward to our developing relationships over the years as a blended family and to hopefully making a positive impression on their lives.

  8. Proud offbeat step-mama here.. After around 3 1/2 months of togetherness with my old “friend”, we went off and got married at my work by my coworker and I gained 3 awesome kids out of it. The “Mommy Tisha” didn’t fly to well with our 2 & 3 year old girls biological mother. Wasn’t our idea, it was the 3 y/o response to being told they couldn’t call me “Mommy” 😉 Their bio-mom and I are 2 different people with totally 2 different taste in life, so hopefully I’ll be the link to openmindness.. With her they are pretty pink princesses at play time, with us they are pretty monsters or super heros hehe. Oh and the occasional hyped up on icing Zombie Babies! AHHH! Gotta have some variety in the imagination realm.
    As long as I can talk video games I’m cool with my 13 y/o step son 🙂

  9. You sound like a fabulous step mother.

    As someone who had an extremely difficult relationship with my own step mother for a very long time, I am awe struck and envious of the deliberate and conscious approach you are taking.

    Your step daughter and boyfriend are lucky to have you.

  10. I started dating my husband four years ago, and on our first date he brought along his then 2 year old daughter. He stated very matter of factly that if she and I didn’t mesh, things weren’t going to work out. Needless to say, I LOVE my little girl with all my heart, and I am slowly but surely teaching her the way of Doctor Who, geek culture, and why tattoos aren’t just for big scary bad guys in movies. My husband jokes that while my stepdaughter looks like her bio-mom (his ex wife), she gets her personality from me.

    As for names, she simply calls me “stepmommy” and has even asked why stepmommies in the Disney movies get such a bad reputation when there’s stepmommies like me out in the world.

    Thanks for the post! It was so good hearing something like my own experience!

  11. My fiance has a 9 year old daughter. She was here for winter break and helped plan his marriage proposal to me. She was there for it. It was perfect. Now we’re calling her my “fianci-daughter.”

    The night of the proposal, she said, “I’m so excited, I feel like I’m getting married!” Then she ran off to call her mom, who said, “That’s great. You’re mine, though.”

    I love being her almost stepmom (fianci-mom?), but man, sometimes it is COMPLICATED.

  12. I’m trying the step-mama thing in a different way – I’m 28, my partner is 44 and his kids are 18 & 20!! Was a scary thing to step into 2yrs ago – my partner’s marriage had only been ended for 6mths, so things were still raw for everyone, and the last thing that teens want is someone new “trying to be boss”.

    I was terrifed and let the kids lead the way, so as not to push things. And 2yrs later, on the verge of getting engaged to my partner, it’s paid off. I nearly cried when my step-daughter gave me a mother’s day present & text me that I wasn’t just a friend but her step-mumma 🙂

  13. My soon-to-be-stepkids are 15, 17, 19, and 20 (yes, that’s 4!) and I’m only 26. Granted I’ve been with FH for 6 years so it’s not like diving headfirst into a pile of surly teenagers, but even being childfree I love them an incredible amount and love being the cool stepmom that they can talk to about bff drama and play video games with and all the awesome things that come along with being a young stepparent.

    • Exactly!! I love doing the video games & movies, going to music festivals, Nerf gun fights, gossiping about celebs etc. If you’d told me 3yrs ago this is what my family would be I would have told you that you were crazy, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  14. Being a step-parent was the best thing that ever happened to me. Unfortunately my ex and I broke up right after his son’s second birthday. not a day goes by that I don’t miss him!

  15. No, I never wanted kids. Not ever. I never was pregnant. I used an IUD for years, to make sure it never happened. Yet, I am a mom, and a grandma… this blessing courtesy of my first husband, who was the father of two daughters by two different women when I met him.

    The youngest was being raised mainly by his mother, and we took over as a couple once we got married when she was almost four years old. As I watched him “parent” his daughter, I didn’t like what I saw. It took a long time for me to warm up to the idea, but by the time I divorced him when she was eleven, she and I had developed a relationship without definition, that lay somewhere between mother/daughter and good friends. We kept in secret touch, with lies and letters written in code, sneaky visits and phone calls. At first I thought maybe I was nurturing the relationship because I delighted in pissing him off… but he didn’t know about it, so that couldn’t be the reason.

    I watched from afar as he continued to treat her harshly, and even threw her out of the house when she was 16. She put herself in foster care, sued him for child support, and won. By the time she was 18, I was married to husband #2, and she asked me to legally adopt her, which I did. She even changed her name! She listened to our advice, accepted our encouragement, went back to high school, and graduated as the oldest student in her class… but she did it. I paid for a year in college, but it wasn’t her thing.

    Although my second marriage didn’t last, my motherhood did. It grew and flourished. She attended my handfasting to husband #3 and it was his idea for her to “come home” when she became pregnant by a boyfriend who abused her as her father did. It was he who announced proudly to the realtors when looking for a larger home that “our daughter’s having twins – we need more room.” He and I were packed together like sardines in a can as we napped on a chair at the hospital while she labored for hours and asked us both to please stay with her, to see our grandsons being born. Although they aren’t named for him, she chose his initial as the first letter of their first names, and I held the video camera up at her shoulder, shooting downward, discreetly recording their welcome into the world… and you can hear her call me “Mommie” clear as day, asking me if her boys are OK because she couldn’t hear them crying.

    My daughter is 35 now, and is fully disabled. The “Bubbas” will be ten this summer. They have ADD, ADHD and ODD. She, and they, are on meds. She does her best being a full-time mom in a house her Pops and I bought for them. She sends us a rent check out of her social security disability, so we can pay her utilities, and the mortgage. She is happy, finally in a home of her own, in charge of her own life. Her biodad lives in a state of fear and fury, just a few miles down the road LOL. He can no longer threaten her, and if he wants to see his grandsons, he has to respect her rules in her house… chosen by her, and supplied by me and my husband. No wonder he has high blood pressure!

    We may live several hours apart, but we are family, and she knows there isn’t a thing that she can’t tell me, not a thing she should be afraid to share. I am there for her. We are there for her.
    I am ever so proud of the grown woman who is my daughter. I am delighted to see the young men her babies have become.

    Did I want this? No. Is it worth it? Yep. It sure is. Nana. I am Nana. My husband is PopPop. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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