We have all heard the saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This quote is often said as an encouragement to someone going through difficult times. It is certainly true about my life. I have survived so much trauma and have become stronger as a result…
As a young wife in my early twenties, I became a stepmom to five children when I married my first husband. We had a daughter together when we got married. I rarely interacted with their mothers; my husband handled all the communication. Going into the marriage, I believed that my relationship with my bonus children would consist of weekend and summer visits. In my mind, they had parents and did not need me. Honestly, I wondered if they even cared that I was in their lives.
We soon welcomed our middle daughter and youngest son to our family. Unfortunately, once the honeymoon period ended, life got real. Mine was not a happy or fulfilling marriage and I lived daily with pain, heartache, loneliness, and rejection. This made weekend and summer visits from my stepchildren incredibly challenging. Because the marriage was strained, I would usually take care of the children during their visits, sometimes with my husband’s help, and sometimes without.
Sadly, more challenging times were ahead. Seven years into the marriage, my youngest stepson’s mother was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer that required surgery followed by very aggressive chemotherapy. The treatment also affected her memory, and she was no longer able to care for him. He was eight years old when he came to live with us, which was only supposed to be temporary during her treatment.
I wanted to believe that this would be no different than our weekend visitation – just some additional homework to do during the week, but everything would be fine. I was young and naïve, somewhat delusional. I thought that my husband and I would parent together. My bonus son was going through a lot being away from his mom and experiencing his world change so drastically. Having a sick mother and being moved out of his home understandably affected him. I sought out services to help him emotionally deal with what he was going through because of his mother’s illness and the transition to our home.
On top of those feelings, he was struggling academically as well. I could not expect his mother to take care of anything nor would I ask as she was fighting for her life. His father just told me to handle it, so it was all on me. After meeting with the school, we decided to have him evaluated for an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It was extremely hard being in such an unusual and complicated space. I cannot adequately express all the emotions, thoughts, and feelings I experienced during this time of transition and uncertainty.
Sadly, his mom did not get better after undergoing chemo. The tumor kept growing and future operations were no longer possible. After bravely fighting cancer for three years, she passed away in March of 2012. We soon noticed our stepson drawing away from us to deal with this grief. His teachers picked this up as well and tried to keep him from falling behind further academically. I was so thankful for their support during an incredibly tough time.
As we helped my stepson deal with his loss, I came to terms with being permanently responsible for a child that I did not give birth to. As we struggled through our new family dynamic, devastation hit our family once again. In July of that year, my biological son had a brain aneurysm. The impact was so severe that he spent two months in rehab.
I struggled to support both boys with their healing and still take care of the girls on my own as my marriage continued to deteriorate. My son returned home from rehab in September, and a month later my then-husband informed me that he was leaving the marriage.
This left the entire family devastated. To this day, I still do not know how I kept everything together. All I can say is it was only God. After his dad left, my stepson’s behavior plummeted. Despite my pain, I had to now help this young man navigate the grief of his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father.
I sat him down along with my children, telling them that despite all the changes going on around them, I was there for them – ALL of them. I looked my stepson straight in the eye to make sure he understood me. I spent the following years trying to “fix” all the emotional wounds that my ex left behind, so I found myself overcompensating with my children. I did not know what else to do. I made sure they participated in as much as they could, sports, dance, church, clubs, you name it. I made a point of being at every event possible. I committed myself to keeping each of them on track. I gave all that I had because there was no one else. I was all they had.
This was not how I imagined my life when I stood at the altar all those years ago and said, “I Do.” As I write this story, I never realized how strong I was. I had always been made to feel like I had to make the marriage work. Fear of failure. As a result of my dysfunctional first marriage, I lost myself and found myself again. I did not know who I was or what I was capable of in those early years.
After being a single mom for almost 2 years, God soon brought a loving man into our lives. My husband has been a wonderful example of a father and has been integral in our healing. I am thankful every day to have such an amazing man in my life. I also have an adult bonus daughter from this marriage.
As my children are all young adults, I continue to pray that God heals the wounds from the pain inflicted by their father and the mistakes I have made along the way. I am far from perfect; all I could do was my best to be the mother they needed me to be. My prayer is that they do not carry that into their relationships.
I pray that my stepson continues to heal from his loss experienced by death and abandonment. I made him a promise the day his father left that I would never leave him, and I have not. People questioned all the time why he was still with me. He was not my blood, but he was still my child. God gave me the compassion to raise him as my own, even though his father abandoned us. I stopped calling him “bonus” and he just became my son.
I will not say it has been easy. There has been a lot of anger, resentment, and trauma through which we are still working. But I could not love him any more than if I had given birth to him myself. Once he turned eighteen, I had to let him find his way. It has been hard. I prayed daily because I could see the pain he was going through and there was nothing I could do about it. Now I realize it was something we had to go through for God to show him who He is. I am grateful for what God had to take him through for us to rebuild our relationship.
I am hopeful for all my children’s futures. I pray they all realize how strong they are. Just like their mom.
PRAYER FOR MOMS:
Father I pray for everyone woman given the title of stepmom. That we will embrace the gift that has been given to us to be a positive force in our bonus child’s life. That we will put away our own fears and doubts and do whatever you have called us to do to show forth your love and encouragement to those you have entrusted in our care. Help us to love them, the way you love them. Help us to be the patient and willing to adapt. Give us wisdom, and teach us how to pray and intercede for them that they may be what you have called them to be. Let your light shine through us that they may see you.
In Jesus Name, Amen
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