Faith-Filled Moms: The Sacrifice of Not Always Being Seen (Stepmoms) – By Dr. ShaEssa Wright Rice

As a single woman, I prayed for a man who was God-fearing, loyal, committed to his family, responsible, and would put me first in his life. If I met a man and he didn’t have these characteristics, he wasn’t for me.

Archie and I attended the same church and met in 2006 during choir rehearsal and our friendship began. I was 23 and he was six years older. We shared similar passions for God, enjoyed conversations about family goals and career aspirations. Soon I met his 5 1/2-year-old son, Donnie, casually at church as well.

Before I knew it, Archie and I were best friends and soon began dating. I was also preparing to start medical school and wanted to fully understand Archie’s intentions and where this relationship was heading. I never saw myself marrying someone with a child, but Fatherhood is what attracted me to Archie the most.

As we fell deeper in love, I had to make a hard decision. I would have to make some sacrifices for this relationship to work, including being a stepmother while pursuing a medical degree. I had to reconsider some of the medical schools I was applying to and be mindful of the distance.

God confirmed our future when I was accepted to the medical school I had been praying for, which allowed me to stay in New Jersey.

We officially became a family on the beautiful island of Jamaica and not only did make vows to Archie; I also said vows to Donnie. Returning home after the honeymoon was not exactly what I expected. I went from living alone to sharing a home with two other people.

That first year had its ups and downs. Donnie was very loving and sweet, and we built on our relationship each day. As a young child, we laughed together and enjoyed making dinner as a family. We implemented house rules and a bedtime routine and taught him basic chores and self-care. However, learning how to reprimand him in love and implement punishments we both could enforce often brought conflict in my new marriage.

I drew from my childhood experiences to help me on my new journey, as I grew up in a blended family and wanted to ensure Archie and I made decisions together. But that didn’t always happen, and sometimes our differences of opinion would allow Donnie to drive a wedge in between us.

Determining the title Donnie would address me by was difficult. His mother relocated to Florida after his parents’ relationship ended. She didn’t have a major presence in his early life, but she was still “Mom”.

Donnie’s paternal grandmother helped raise him after his mom left, and he called her “Mom-Mom”. I was introduced as “Ms. Sha” and that’s what he called me from the first day we met. But now I was raising him full time as his stepmom, I felt I deserved more than being called my first name by an 11-year-old that I was taking care of. How would he refer to me in public and introduce me to his teachers? How would he address me in front of his friends?

I tried to introduce a few alternative names and let him pick. “Sha Mom” is what I liked but it just never stuck. Eventually, it was just “Sha” but never my full name out of respect. I came to terms with this, but it took several years. I came to the understanding that my title would be based on what we made it. Eventually, my heart softened, because despite being called “Sha”, he referred to me at school as his mom, he bought me cards that said Mom, and every Mother’s Day was super special. I remember one year he gave me a gift that had Mom inscribed on it. I know I have my husband to thank for this! 

The earlier years were easier to an extent. I could help Donnie organize himself and play and engage with him. He would open up to me during homework and project sessions. I got to know all his favorite foods, colors, games, and friends.

I do remember struggling with feeling alone. I felt like there was no one to model after and no friends in my exact situation who could relate to what I was experiencing. I was supposed to be a happy newlywed, but I struggled with resentment at times and a sense of under-appreciation.

My career caused us to move to different cities and eventually out of state. I always considered my family’s needs and always prayed to God for confirmation before I made any decisions.

I had to trust God that His promises for my life would also be blessings to Archie and Donnie. It was a sacrifice as I only considered opportunities where I felt they would be safe, and Donnie could make friends.

Raising an only child had ups and downs. I wanted to have a united front as parents, but many times I felt like Archie had a get out of jail free card when deciding punishments, while I felt like all my decisions were under a microscope or even required final approval by Archie before Donnie would abide by them.

We tried to ensure he made friends with the neighbors and had understanding teachers. We encouraged extracurricular activities and found a church home and youth group that he could feel a part of.

As Donnie grew older, we experienced new challenges. We tried to balance responsibility and accountability, and eventually, we found ourselves fighting against outside influences and coming to terms with a teenage black male with major potential yet little motivation.

Donnie struggled with self-acceptance, identity, and faced depression after a teenage romance ended. Then having to endure another move and once again meet new friends. He also dealt with the abandonment he felt from his birth mother leaving him at such a young age. We obtained counseling services to help him work through his feelings. Some things helped, others didn’t. 

Donnie was a star athlete in baseball and track. He really enjoyed the discipline of sports, and we supported all his endeavors. However, he struggled academically. We had to often give multiple ultimatums and punishments to ensure assignments were completed and turned in. We realized he had attention deficit disorder, so we continuously advocated for support at every school. By the grace of God, he received his high school diploma but didn’t have a plan after graduation.

We didn’t expect to be in this place after all the preparation and support we provided throughout the years. As Donnie struggled with future aspirations for his life after high school, we had to move to yet another new town for my new job, and then the pandemic hit.

We also experienced a blessing – Archie and I also welcomed our son Micah to the family after struggling with infertility. But soon our marriage became strained with all the changes: new city, new home, new baby, new jobs, new roles, and a pandemic. We needed marriage counseling. We were stressed for various reasons and couldn’t connect. Eventually, I returned to work after my maternity leave and Archie watched Micah for several months before we enrolled him in daycare.

I personally struggled because I felt like I had prayed to God for all these blessings in my life and although he answered my prayers I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was unhappy, I was keeping it together on the outside and hurting on the inside. I confided in close family and prayed to God to give me strength and peace in my life, marriage, and home. I struggled with postpartum anxiety and didn’t even know it. My infant son was sick often and even hospitalized in 2020.

Archie and I found ourselves needing to prioritize ourselves and our marriage for our family.

Donnie rekindled a relationship with his biological mom, and they began to address the issues of abandonment. We agreed that he could go live with her in Florida. Donnie felt he needed a change and promised both families he would get his life on track. We loved him enough to let him go as the tension in our home wasn’t healthy for any of us.

We are now at a new place in our lives. Donnie recently joined the U.S. Army, completed his basic training, and is now stationed in Georgia. We haven’t seen him in over a year. We were hopeful he would return home for the Holidays, but he chose to go to Florida instead. That was difficult for Archie to accept, and I know how he misses his son whom he raised.

We have always supported Donnie on his journey in life. We always encouraged him to have a relationship with his birth mother, her husband, and their children, no matter how long it took. I will always be here for Donnie and my deepest desire is for him to find his path and mature into a self-sufficient loving caring man of God. In my heart of hearts, I know Donnie knows exactly where home is, and we will always have a place for him to lay his head. 

PRAYER FOR MOMS:

God, I pray for all the stepmothers who find themselves loving their children endlessly and at times they do not feel seen. I pray that you fill their hearts with the love that surpasses all understanding and that you reward their good works, not only in heaven but here on this earth. Give them strength, peace, and rest in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Moms Night In Conversation with Dr ShaEssa Wright Rice

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