My Stepmom Path
by Peggy Nolan
I Chose The Road Less Traveled
I’ve walked a path no one else has walked. My journey is unique to me and me alone. At times I have fellow travelers whose paths intersect with mine and we walk awhile together. We share our stories and when it’s time to go our separate ways we hug good-bye and continue down our respective paths.
I have been blessed to share my stepmom journey with so many. At times our paths cross and we walk together. I have met some truly amazing women who’ve accepted the challenging role of stepmother. Some I’ve said good-bye to. Others have remained good friends and although we have separate journeys we remain a constant support system. Or maybe we’re a mutual admiration group, cheering each other on and lifting each other up.
I became a stepmom on September 22, 2006. The day I married the love of my life I also became a stepmom to his four children. He became a stepdad to my two children. Of the six “kids,” only the youngest was in the nest. Richard’s youngest son, Junior, was 14. The rest ranged between 18 and 22. In the beginning custody of Junior was 50/50. We had him a few days during the week and on the weekends. His mom had him when we didn’t. The arrangement worked well until the end of Junior’s freshmen year in high school. The school failed him utterly and completely. You see, Junior had been on an IEP since the day he entered kindergarten. By the time he transitioned to high school, he fell through the cracks. Because he was never a discipline problem, his teachers paid no attention to his school work. His ADHD made him inattentive and unfocused but never disruptive at school. He quietly failed.
Towards the end of the school year, Junior began acting out in our home. His mom was going through her second divorce, he was failing at school, and life in general was overwhelming for him. I came home to knife marks in my kitchen walls one day. Another morning I woke up to discover that Junior took a steak knife to my beautiful micro fiber suede couch and made a nice “Z” in one of the cushions. He blamed the dog. I told him the dog didn’t just sprout opposable thumbs. I didn’t want anything to do with him. I most certainly didn’t want to be his stepmother. My husband and his ex-wife scheduled an appointment with Junior’s neurologist. Maybe it was ADHD related. In my gut, I didn’t think it was. I thought it was anger related and Junior’s inability to process his anger in an appropriate way. The neurologist offered little to no help except to admonish Junior for unacceptable behavior and to reiterate that ADHD isn’t an excuse to destroy property. Another incident that involved my cousin’s then four year old daughter caused our first very scary argument. It was make or break for our marriage. And for Junior who was now 15.
I didn’t want Junior living in my home. He was dangerous and his behavior was erratic. I remember his mom emailing me one morning asking if it would be OK to have Junior stay with us that night. I remember taking a very deep breath and typing, “I don’t want Junior in my home until he is in therapy.”
Needless to say shit hit the fan. Junior’s mom called my husband and screamed at him. He didn’t know what was up because I hadn’t communicated with him. But up until that point, I was used to communicating directly with Junior’s mom. She told him that I had absolutely no business making a unilateral decision like that. My husband got wrapped around the axle, called me, and proceeded to rip me a new one. Who was I to make that decision on my own?
We were all right and we were all wrong. When my husband and I returned home that day we had a very long talk. He knew that he was wrong for yelling at me and choosing his ex-wife’s side before he heard me out. I was wrong because I hit the send key without discussing it with my husband first. Junior’s mom was wrong because she knew something deeper was going on with her son yet she acted as if nothing had happened. I was right in asking that Junior stay out of my home until he was in therapy. I also needed a lot of space away from him and time to get right with myself. My husband was right because I didn’t talk to him first. He knew he needed to get Junior help and fast and he was already working on it. Junior’s mom was right because we all really needed to sit down and discuss what to do with Junior. I suppose I accelerated that discussion.
We found a therapist for Junior. I spent the summer attending twice weekly appointments with my husband and Junior. At the end of 8 weeks, we were no closer to an answer for Junior but my husband and I were most assuredly on the same page when it came to all things Junior. Junior’s mom took a left turn and stepped back for a while. Her life was a little upside down. I believe she took that step back because she knew Junior was in good hands. Despite my anger at the incident with my cousin’s daughter, I managed to find a place where I could love and support Junior. And welcome him back into my home.
Junior came to live with us full time right before he started his sophomore year. Mom signed full physical and legal custody to Richard so that Junior could attend Pinkerton Academy, the regional high school in our town and, as far as I’m concerned, the best high school in the state of New Hampshire. Both my daughters graduated from there and as a parent with a strong leaning towards education I was happy to see Junior’s parents agree that Pinkerton was the best place for him. Junior’s mom also knew that Junior thrived with his dad. And sometimes, as a parent, you do the hard thing for you so your child benefits from the choice you made.
Richard and I were in and out of counseling with Junior for the next two years. Junior got his act together at school – enough to graduate. Junior and I bonded through Muay Thai Kickboxing. It was our thing until he failed English his junior year. Richard and I agreed that extracurricular activities took a back seat to passing grades. Richard and I became a solid, united front with Junior. There was nothing he could say or do that would break us apart. Nothing. When Junior figured out he couldn’t spin us out of control he tried it once with his mother and me. While we had an interesting conversation in the parking lot during a drop off and pick up, she realized that Junior pulled a fast one. She pretty much told him never to do it again. Honestly, it must suck to be a kid in a blended family and have all the adults in your life undividable.
Hands down Junior was my biggest challenge as a stepmom. Nothing prepared me for him. Not being a stepkid myself. Not having raised two of my own kids and one of them was my mean-ager. Not having breast cancer. Nothing in my bag of tricks and life experience prepared me for him. Junior was God’s cosmic joke on me. I say joke because I dislike tests. And God often throws us the test before we’ve learned the lesson. Once I failed the test, Junior became less of a challenge and more of a lesson and I learned a lot from him. The greatest lesson I learned was how to clearly state what needed to be done, turn my back, and go do something else. I always felt I needed to explain ad-nauseum why things had to be done. And Richard used to talk at Junior until he was blue in the face. Talking never got Junior to change his behavior. When I changed my behavior and when Richard changed his behavior, Junior changed his behavior.
These days Junior is on his own at Job Corps in Washington, D.C. Somewhere along the line, we all did something right. Richard and I are officially empty-nesters. I don’t write that much about being a stepmom anymore. I have great relationships with all six of my kids. I have a friendly and better-than-most relationship with Junior’s mom. I realize that not everyone has what I have or even wants what I have. And that’s OK. We’re all on a journey that’s unique to who we are.