If I Knew Then What I Know Now

By Gina Riggio of Peace, Love and Lattes

​There have been so many inspiring and edifying words posted here at The Joyful Stepmom lately. Like, seriously gifted words and gracious prayers by Emily and the hearts of other women.  So I’d like to apologize in advance because I’m about to sully this flow of joy & beauty with my personal story of shame and regret.  I really wish The Joyful Stepmom was a thing when I first journeyed into step-mom-hood; I sure could have used it.  Maybe there were websites that gently encouraged fledgling stepmoms through the delicate balance of parenting a child(ren) that were not your own or perhaps how to deal with crazy, controlling ex-wives without your fist meeting her face….I don’t know.  What I did know was the millennium was still in its infancy. I had met and married the man of my dreams.  We had a lovely little apartment and a desktop computer the size of Mount Rushmore with a dial-up modem. And with 3 new stepchildren in tow, ages 7 through 11, I was a newlywed ready to rock the 21st century!!
Dan was, and still is, an amazing dad.  Watching him in this role he was cut for—caring, engaged, full of love- -was so endearing. It was one of the qualities that attracted my heart.  However, barely a month into my new marriage with a new family, I was a bitter & battered mess.  It wasn’t that step-parenting was more than just the weekend gig I thought it would be; that even when the kids weren’t with us, it was constant, every day, all consuming.  There’s definitely a learning curve & I was willing to do what it took.  It was my husband’s ex.  The piece of the equation I never gave much thought to until her existence ended up seeping through every single part of my daily life.  And not in a good way, like say a puppy, Downton Abbey or a Taylor Swift song.  More like an impacted molar that had begun to abscess. This woman, in one of many disparaging emails, proudly proclaimed that she could give the devil a run for his money……..she wasn’t kidding.
Regularly hurling hateful, hurtful emails, it was a constant war of words. Gut-wrenching, brutal, bloody words. These emails were always addressed to Dan, and while she took the time to belittle him, the bulk of their content was directed towards me.  According to her, I said the wrong thing. Did the wrong thing. I even wore the wrong thing. I didn’t do enough. I did too much.  Every move I made, whether at a Little League game, science fair or in my home, was met with harsh scrutiny.   And of course, there were always the threats to go back to court.  These emails made me angry, anxious, defensive, dejected, helpless & hopeless.  I seemed to have no control over my role as a stepmom.  Our once lovely little apartment was now feeling like crowded & cluttered with five humans, two cats and a countless array of Transformers everywhere I stepped.  It felt as though the walls of our 900 square feet space were slowly closing in on me.  I was overwhelmed and overwrought.  I began to sink into depression.  I stopped attending sporting events & school functions, but the verbal assaults & threats ensued.  Feeling defeated, I finally surrendered.  I started spending the kid’s time with us holed up in our bedroom, the door closed.  My rationale being if I made my presence scarce, she wouldn’t have any ammunition with which to attack, so this became my M.O. for years.  The years seemed like forever, but forever turned into the blink of an eye and before I knew it, Dan’s firstborn was graduating high school.  And it was during this happy, celebratory time that it hit me, or rather steamrolled me:  I was so intent on not allowing my husband’s ex to cause me further pain, fear or anger that my role as a step-mom had become reduced to coping.  I should’ve been building a relationship with these kids, but I retreated instead.  I had an amazing opportunity to model Christ’s love & impact their lives for His kingdom.  Rather I let fear rule my heart. The kids were grown.  The opportunity missed.
Trust me when I say how excruciating it is to write this.  I’m ashamed & remorseful. The kids are currently 23, 21 & 19 & I believe it’s only by God’s grace that we have a good relationship today & for that I am so grateful.  But I wish I didn’t lose all those years.  I wish I wasn’t living with the regret of not being the kind of step-mom I know I could have been & the kind of step-mom the kids deserved.  Don’t deprive your kids of seeing the best of you by allowing someone else to bring out your worst.
Please dear step-moms, hear me when I say God has given you a great gift. Hear me when I say whatever grief your husband’s ex is causing you is nothing compared to the agony you’ll feel knowing you missed out on their lives.  I KNOW it’s hard.  I KNOW it hurts.  I’ve been there.  God has placed these kids in your life for a reason.  Pray daily.  Pray with your husband.  Continue to pray until the spirit to pour love on your kids overpowers whatever issues might be preventing you from doing so.  Know that God is ultimately in control. He is bigger than the problems in your life & He is sovereign. Pray that you may be a light in your kid’s lives.  Pray without ceasing.  Have faith.  Let your kids see Jesus in you.  Do not let these years go by without being present in the lives of your step kids. I pray with you & for you because the power of God’s light always shines brighter than our darkest fears & I know God’s spirit will propel you into being the amazing stepmom you truly are!!  




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