Family

Mother’s on board with world’s best stepmom

“They sleep in a warm, welcoming home, regardless of whose weekend it is,” Heidi Stevens writes about her kids’ relationship with their stepmom.
“They sleep in a warm, welcoming home, regardless of whose weekend it is,” Heidi Stevens writes about her kids’ relationship with their stepmom. Dreamstime

My children will wear handmade Halloween costumes, and I didn’t have to make them.

This delights me.

Their stepmom made them. This also delights me.

When people ask what my children will wear and I tell them that my ex-husband’s wife sewed their dream costumes, they pause – waiting, I assume, to see if I’m OK with that.

I am more than OK with that. I’m grateful for her time and her talent and, above all, the feeling it gives my kids to have another grown-up dote on them.

We’re not supposed to like each other, the stepmom and I. Just look at Jennifer Aniston. She survived the role of hating her fictional ex’s new wife in last spring’s “Mother’s Day,” only to be splashed all over the internet and the New York Post after Brangelina split, supposedly hating her real ex’s new wife.

In “Love Warrior,” a book I adore, author Glennon Doyle Melton grapples with a marriage under siege. “I imagine my children talking to their friends at school, ‘So our stepmom’s taking us to Disneyland … ’ ” Melton writes. “I’m literally knocked off balance, so I have to grab for the nearest wall to steady myself.”

My kids have gone to Disneyland with their stepmom. Disney World, too. Also Dollywood. It was fine. Kind of blissful, actually.

I understand the incredibly complicated brew of emotions that accompanies a divorce and remarriage, particularly when children are involved. I understand that every situation is unique, and people arrive at their feelings toward one another for hundreds of reasons.

I understand, in other words, why people pause to see if I’m OK with my kids’ stepmom making their costumes.

But we need to talk more about why it is OK – not just for her to make their costumes but for her to take up space in their hearts.

First of all, she’s a lovely person. That obviously helps. She’s smart and friendly and welcomes me into their home when I’m dropping off my children every other weekend. That helps a lot.

But it’s also a little beside the point. Because what really matters, far more than what I think of the woman their dad married, is what my kids think.

And they adore her.

She French-braids my daughter’s hair, which I never learned to do. She tracks down rare sports paraphernalia for my son on eBay. She buys them thoughtful gifts at the holidays, all of which reveal careful attention to their personalities and their peculiarities.

This makes an incalculable difference in their lives.

It means they sleep in a warm, welcoming home, regardless of whose weekend it is. It means their holidays and vacations feel enjoyable and safe even when I’m not there. It means they feel loved 365 days a year, not just the days they’re with me.

Their dad deserves a lot of credit for that, too. But the power of a loving stepparent can’t be overestimated, and we don’t talk nearly enough about that in this culture. We cling to stereotypes rooted in vengeance and resentment and jealousy and other emotions that have no place in healthy parenting.

I grew up with no extended family nearby. My parents were both raised in Maryland, and my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all remained there. We lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, which meant we saw our relatives three or four times a year.

I envied my friends and classmates who had a rotating cast of cousins and grandparents at their games and recitals and performances. I still do. I look at my friends now whose families turn out in droves to cheer on their kids at Sunday soccer games and Tuesday night recitals and I’m jealous. I want my kids to have a cheering section.

But our relatives live mostly out of state. The family members who are nearby come to what they can. But they’re also busy with travel and volunteering and other healthy pursuits. That’s wonderful in its own way, but I can’t pretend I don’t long for a bigger village.

Which is why it would be ridiculous for me to push away – or even take for granted – time and devotion directed toward my kids, even if the circumstances are complicated.

A lot of weeks, we make up a respectable cheering section of our own – a motley crew of mom, stepmom, dad and stepdad. We clap and holler for my son at his flag football games and stomp and cheer at my daughter’s trampoline competitions. We take turns buying the Gatorade and taking the bored, noncompeting sibling to the bathroom.

It’s different than I pictured, but honestly: What in life isn’t?

We’ll march around our neighborhood in those handmade costumes – my kids delighted to be transformed for an evening, wrapped, literally, in the affection of a generous grown-up.

I am more than OK with that. I’m grateful.

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