From time to time, when something doesn’t go my way, I find myself saying, “What am I — the ugly stepchild?”
It’s a horrible, anachronistic phrase, and it is all the more surprising that I use it, because being a stepmother is one of the best things that ever happened to me.
The term “like a red-headed stepchild “describes a person who is neglected, mistreated or unwanted. The phrase has its origins in America in the early 1900s. Stories about mean stepparents, on the other hand, have been in fairy tales for centuries.
Two of my three children were born before I met them. They are good, decent people. I would love to take partial credit for this, but they achieved this on their own. On the other hand, they definitely helped me become a better person. While being a mom teaches you many lessons, being a stepmom teaches different lessons, including one that impacts me to this day.
It all started with socks and underwear. I would send the kids to their mom’s wearing new socks and underwear, and they would return wearing old ones. Oh, how it annoyed me! I would tell the kids to wear the new socks and underwear home, embroiling them in an ongoing battle about something insignificant. Finally, I got it. It’s just socks and underwear. I bought a larger supply, and stopped worrying about which came home.
I think about this whenever I lose perspective on something unimportant, which happens a lot. “It’s like socks and underwear,” I tell myself. “Let it go.”
All in all, I think I was a good stepmom. I stepped up when it was needed. I gave a lot, and received more.
Today, it’s adult stepchildren who are stepping up, as they care for aging parents and stepparents. They are caring not just for the stepparents who raised them, but for stepparents acquired as adults when their parents had late-life marriages.
It’s not easy. Caring for aging parents takes a village. It’s challenging enough when you share the burden with siblings you grew up with, let alone stepsiblings you met as adults. It’s easy to fall into an adult version of socks and underwear — “I do more for my stepmom than her own children.” Eventually they realize keeping score is pointless. Caregivers step up because of who they are.
No one said it is easy being a stepparent or a stepchild, but it’s worth it. Sometimes we meet our kids when they are born, and sometimes they are born before we meet them.