For weeks I had been looking over the list of items that the college suggests new students arrive with.
With my notes and checklists in hand I made trips to stores and shopped online doing my best to make sure he wouldn’t be in need of anything while he was away from home. I stocked up on the granola bars and snacks that I know he likes and I labeled containers so he could easily distinguish between the odds and ends that I packed into the bins. Then I piled it all in the corner of our office awaiting the day we would make the trip that he felt signaled his launch into adulthood and freedom.
To me the day would signal something different. And it filled me with many contradicting emotions.
Moms would chat with me throughout the weeks prior to and tell me of the tears they shed and the sadness they faced while dropping their own child off at college for the first time. Moms attempted to comfort me and offer advice and tell me that they sympathized with what I was going through. These women made assumptions and I did not take the time to clarify (or have the bravery to share my heart regarding) our family dynamic.
I appreciate each one of those moms and their sharing and offered comfort.
But I doubt they knew what I was going through.
I am not his mother. I am his stepmom. I am the woman who took on all of the responsibilities of mothering while society and the law says that my title does not allow me the same rights and privileges of a “real” mom.
To all of you step-mommas in this stage of life I have a few words that I hope offer you comfort and guidance….
You will probably have moments of feeling very alone. When you think that no one understands how much you’re going to miss this child, or when you realize that the phone calls he will make when he misses home, or has something to share, won't be to you, remind yourself that you made the choice to be in this blended family and you are a real and important part of it whether or not that is acknowledged or understood by those around you. And, I promise that those lonely moments you face will be sprinkled with more joyful ones… focus on the joyful moments as much as you can.
Yes, you’re “just” the stepmom. But know that you fill an important role in your step child's life. You offered consistency and stability. Continue doing what you can to show your stepchild that you are still there for them as they venture into adulthood. However, try to limit your expectations… I know, this is not easy… yet many times you can offer the best support to your stepchild when you remain behind the scenes to allow for your husband and his ex to parent their child together without you.
You will feel guilty. If you’re at all like me you think you’re a failure as a stepmom. You often wonder if you will ever figure out how to do this blended family thing. When you focus on your biological children you feel guilty that you’re not spending that same time with your stepchildren. When you do something special with the stepchildren you feel guilty that your biological children are missing out. When you see the bags packed and your stepchild heading out the door for college you’ll wonder if you did enough for him while he was living under your roof. If your biological children are younger and remain at home you will heap loads of guilt on yourself over the fact that your husband’s children are no longer with the two of you on a daily basis. Let go of the guilt. There is no perfect family. There is no perfect stepmom. Just keep doing your best stepmomma!
Pray. Cover all of your doubts and worries and pains in prayer. Ask God to fill your heart with peace and guide you in gracefully stepping through the highs and lows of a blended family. Remember that He can piece together what you think is brokenness and create something utterly beautiful and whole.
Remember, there will be good moments too....
As we stood in the entrance of the dorm and said our goodbyes my stepson willingly hugged me. A real hug! Coming from a young man who has never been comfortable showing affection in public this was important and meant so much to me.
My walk back to our vehicle was blurred by tears. Sadness, worry, guilt still mingled together in my heart … yet those feelings were lessened as others took their place. I was so very proud of the young man we had raised. And yes, I can say WE because I raised him too. I had a hand in teaching him and loving on him as he grew into the person he is today. And he is responsible and independent and capable.
That afternoon on the college campus, when our goodbyes had been said and the moment to leave had come, we passed a mom with her arms loaded with blankets and pillows. She noticed my sobs and the tears that refused to be hidden behind my sunglasses. She kindly smiled at me and said “I know sweetie. It’s hard.”
Yes. yes it is. But there will still be moments that make it all worth it.