For my sister step-moms — My Messy Beautiful

Photo Credit: Karen Bardavid

Photo Credit: Karen Bardavid

Girl, I know it’s hard.  So hard.  The kind of hard where you start to feel compassion for the evil Disney step-monsters, right?  Maybe they got a bad rap.  Maybe they couldn’t take hearing one more snarky remark about how Cinderella’s “real mom” could do perfect hair and never makes slimy eggs and the woman just snapped.  And 100 years later, no one remembers how many times she helped with homework and tried to make a dinner that four different picky eaters would all eat.  All they remember is the one time she lost her nut and grounded the kid from the dance.  It’s THAT kind of hard, because there are definitely days where you are fairly certain you will be remembered as the evil one in the story.  Disney needs to make at least one movie where the step-mom finds the lost shoe, cheers at the ball game and is utterly gracious as she watches her husband dance with his ex-wife at their daughter’s wedding.  Because there are a lot of good step-moms out there.  I know because I follow them on Twitter. It gives me something comforting to read when I’m hiding in the bathroom with my wine.

The hardest part of being a step-mom is that we didn’t get to train these kids to NOT do the things that make us want to scream and pull our hair out.  We are supposed to love them like our own without getting any say in how they are raised or any credit for any good stuff they do.  Plus we didn’t get to kiss their pink little baby toes and sniff their sweet little heads back when all those yummy bonding chemical thingies that pass between parents and babies get us all love-struck on each other.  By the time we got here, all those were replaced with body odor and toe jam.  That magical love juju that babies swap with their mamas didn’t get swapped with us.  That secret sauce that makes even the mother of a serial killer tell you that he’s really sweet and never cheats at cards, well, we didn’t get any of that.

You know in your mama heart that these children are glorious gifts from God, but still really wish they had learned to close the freakin’ door without slamming it.  You know that they did not ask for this shifting between houses, they did not ask for you to be the one that gets up in the night when they have a fever instead of their “real” mom and they definitely did not ask to find you kissing their dad in the kitchen.  Eww.

So when they do or say things that get on your last nerve, you build a filter of your own blood and bone and prayers.  Because they deserve to hear nothing from you but love.  Because they really are sweet, loving kids who have every right to be sad that their “real” mom isn’t there to tuck them in.  Because one of the things that made their Dad the man of your dreams was hearing him read the bedtime stories with all the funny voices.  It’s just hard to remember all that when we just want five minutes alone with our husband and someone yells “Daaad!” every ten seconds.

The best advice I ever heard was from a step-mom on Twitter (and I wish I knew her name so we could send her a thousand thank you’s for her genius heart).  She said, “when you are feeling frustrated with your step-kids, just look at them and love them extra hard.”

That’s the advice that gets me through, I hope that sharing it might help reduce your household therapy bills.

I can’t promise that I’ll always be a great step-mom.  I can’t promise that I won’t get frustrated, annoyed or just plain ol’ cranky.  But I can promise that love wins.  I promise that when I take a few moments to lay my eyes on the kids and just love ’em up so hard that the frustration unravels – a few drops of that magical mama/baby juju can’t help but be squeezed out because God can see that we’re trying really, really hard to love each other even when it’s hard.  Sometimes it helps to have a glass of wine first.  Or a cookie.

messybeautifulThis essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!


  1. I was a “bonus mom” when I was married years ago. Their father died five years ago and I’m still in touch with them even though they’re 1500 miles away…and my daughter knows what it’s like to have a stepmom too. good article and awesome that you’re doing giveaways for kindreds!


  3. Sam Steele says:

    Such a complex dynamic. If only my own step-mother was that reflective and conscious. #doeverythingwithlove #kindreds xx

  4. Beautifully WRITTEN. lOVE ALWAYS WINS…

  5. found you through the messy warrior project.
    Loved this! I am a step mom to a now 12 year old who I met when he was 6. He is complicated and messy and so is being a step mom. love your descriptions and yes, if i hear ‘my mom’s a great cook’ at the dinner table after i’ve spent 2 hours cooking a kick A** meal, I want to scream and kick him. But us step mom’s, we just smile and say ‘cool’. because that’s our job, and we’re damn good at it:)
    Thanks for the great post, i’ll be reading more of your great writing!

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