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Mom Talk: Step Love—Parenting When You’re Not The Parent

Written by

Maile Misajon

Photography by Photographed by Maria Del Rio

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Maile Misajon shares her story of step love and parenting her stepson when she’s not the parent. -JKM

I’ll never forget the day we decided to get married. It was surreal, of course. The idea was both beautiful and intoxicating. When I mentioned the exciting news to a friend one night, she mentioned how thrilled she was for me. She also mentioned that I have a huge responsibility as a stepmom. And, that I may not always come first. Ouch.

Shocked by the honesty and reality, I began to process my new responsibility as a stepparent to the five-year-old boy that I would be soon calling my son. From that day forward, it’s been a learning process. I’m still learning and he’s almost 15.

I’m a stepmom to my husband’s son. He is mine. He is ours. From day one of our marriage, he has been mine—my family. But, truth be told, he has a mother whom he adores. I am not his mother. Parenting children that aren’t yours, but are yours by marriage, is a whole different bubble that you live in on one side of your heart. It’s stationary, there for life. And, how you navigate stepmotherhood from that bubble is all about one very common theme: Love. Step-love.

I begin with love because the only way to process stepparenting, for me, has been this way—the love way. Reason being, there is no other way to do life. And, although sometimes you don’t come first (like my friend warned me), it’s not personal, it’s just that he came before you did and he’s not yours. He’s someone else’s child.

While this dynamic is different for every family, it can be confusing because every pair of exes that co-parent the children operate differently. This means it can be all over the place. And, when you’re the wife and the stepmom, it can be incredibly frustrating at times to understand why you don’t have a complete say in the child’s well-being. There is geography involved, finances, a history, and a child. Key word being the child. He is not in the middle of a complicated situation by choice. Divorce is painful, and raising children only on the weekends and driving long distances to make it happen can be grueling. However, this role can be quite fulfilling, as well, and this has been my greatest lesson in step-love.

Although I’ve had to back down on certain decisions concerning my stepson even when I had an opinion smarter than the rest, I did in fact back down. I had to. It wasn’t my place. When all is said and done, I’m not the parent. Loving this child is my place. Caring for him with all the parenting love I have in my heart is my place. Finding out his passions and connecting with him on them is my place. For example, when he was into soccer, we watched it together, and I gave him my old Scottish Celtic jersey. When he first swung a golf club and a coach said to me, “Your son has an incredible swing, he’s got a talent,” I was beaming with pride. That year, I asked him if he had decided to commit to a sport and he said “Golf, definitely golf, I think I’m good at it.” I cried. I was crying real tears of a mother—his stepmother. And, although the relationship I have with him might be different than the ones I have with my own offspring, I will say this: I love him. And, I’m so proud of who he is becoming. The day he graduates high school, I’ll be wiping my tears. Because although navigating step-parenting is difficult in and of itself, even with its complications, there is beauty within. Even if some may not think it’s the most important job because you’re not the parent, that’s irrelevant. Because to a child, love is everything. And, to me, I’m just the proud stepmama who gets to witness him becoming a man, a man that I’m incredibly proud of.

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