As I sit on my back patio and look around, almost every single house I see is that of an “non-traditional family.”
Offhand, I can list more close friends of mine who come from non-traditional families than I can those who come from traditional (one mom, one dad, x amount of their biological kids.) I hear stories now that I’m certain I wasn’t hearing before, simply because I didn’t relate. Now my ears are OPEN.
“My stepdad made me who I am.”
“Thank God for my stepmom. I am so close with her and she helped me through the hardest times in my life.”
“I love my mom and my stepmom. I was always so thankful they got along. It made me comfortable and happy. Now, as an adult, I respect them both because of it.”
“Both my dad and my stepdad walked me down the aisle. I have so much love in my life.”
“Blood doesn’t mean as much as love does.”
These people and their stories come out of the woodwork when I least expect it and usually when I need to hear it most. My neighbor is one of the most amazing stepmoms I know. One of my “newer” friends saw my story on my blog and she had such a similar story it was almost spooky. One of my oldest friends told me that her older sister is actually her half sister, but her dad raised them both as his own. My own mother-in-law was raised by her stepmom starting around age ten, when her biological mother died. (She tells me they wink at each other when people tell them they look alike.)
Just three days ago, my husband and I were at an archery shop. The man helping us was just about the most adorable Wisconsin-grandpa-type guy I could have ever imagined. We’ve talked to him many times. We got to talking when my husband was outside packing up the car. I knew this man had kids and I just assumed he came from one of those “perfect” families. That was until I asked how he and his wife met. Welp, they met bowling. “Oh! And by the way, she’s ten years older than me! She had two boys, 14 and 16 years old, when we got married. I love those boys and there’s no difference between biological parents and those who chose to be in their lives. Their kids now call me grandpa!”
I looked at him, tears pooling in my eyes, and I said, “Wow, that’s amazing. My husband is older than me, and he has three kids. I just became a stepmom not too long ago.”
Then he said, with really kind eyes and a gentle voice, “It’s all great. And hey, all the hard stuff works itself out,” as if he could read my mind. Then I gave him a giant hug. God seems to send me these people all the time as reminders to what I know, but sometimes forget: These relationships are precious. They aren’t easy. And all the hard stuff works itself out.
The amount of other stepmoms (and dads!) I’ve found in life so far leads me to believe these three facts about life:
I can NEVER assume someone’s story. It’s probably safe to say that the first moment I laid eyes on all of these women, I thought something like, “Wow, what a cute mom/family. They seem perfect.” Only to find out later that they had all kinds of quirks and stories that were anything but society’s definition of “perfect.” Do you ever see a sweet couple and think, “Lucky ducks! I bet they’ve been together since they were in 3rd grade…” Only to find that they both have previous marriages, children, and they have only been married five years? Yeah, it’s happened to me! And you can bet that when I heard their full story I still thought, “Lucky ducks!”
There can never be too many supportive, uplifting adults in a child’s life. Has there ever been a kid in the history of the world who thought to themselves, “Jeez, I really wish all these supportive adults would just leave me alone and start neglecting me…”… no. No there has not. (At least not until they become really cool teenagers and want all those awesome adults to back off, ha. But even so, they’ll call and thank us for it later, in their 20s.) I’ve seen that kids thrive in community. I look at “step” roles as very similar to aunts, uncles, godparents, best friends of parents, etc. The only difference is that we spend just as much time with them as their biological parents and we know them even better than we do our own nephews and nieces. When I show up as a stepmom to kid events, I see myself as Melinda, the adult who loves these kids and will give them the thumbs up, a hug, or support whenever they need it. I do the same thing for my nephews – and would much more often if I lived in the same place. I do the same thing for other families I know. Parents have extremely important and significant roles, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that too much support just isn’t a problem. There’s no such thing. The only thing detrimental is negative pressure, comments or attitudes aimed at these kids. They shouldn’t have to navigate anything more than their own adventurous “kid” worlds.
Love only generates more love. It gives and gives and gives. An open hand can receive and give. A closed hand, as we all know, gains nothing. Which is why the main theme for Said No Little Girl Ever is that quote I love so much… “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Kids have a sixth sense. They know when they are “free” and when they aren’t. This has nothing to do with discipline or guidelines or rules to follow at home. It has everything to do with a sense of freedom to love big. The BEST moms I know expand their children’s capacity to love. They don’t hinder it.
Any family can be a “perfect family.” Heck, a group of friends who have gone through life together can be family. And I have really had to check myself as I quickly judge what I can see. I’ve gotten so much better at not making assumptions and listening for the stories.
Here’s to all the perfect families out there who have LOVE, RICHNESS, UNDERSTANDING, GENEROSITY and GROWTH on their side. With these, they cannot lose.