I am a stepmother. For five fascinating years Mikel's daughter and son lived with us. Although my stepchildren are grown now and living elsewhere, they remain a significant part of my life.
I fell in love with my stepchildren the first time I met them. And for a little while, I believed they returned my feelings. But as is often the case, other people in their lives resented those feelings, and for one reason or another they stopped loving me. I never stopped loving them, but I did get tired.
I did many things wrong, as I had no experience as a mother. I did not have the benefit of bonding with them at an age when bonding comes naturally. I did not have the luxury of smoothing over a mistake with a hug and kiss. It was never that simple. Every word and every look and every expression was scrutinized by the children, their mother, and sometimes even their father. Every error was tallied on a score card. Exhausting. Dehumanizing.
I did many things right as a stepmother, too. But like any job, the mistakes left a more lasting impression than the victories.
I contend that stepparenting is the hardest job there is. A stepparent cannot seem to do anything right. The kids hate you. The kids' real mother hates you. The kids' mother's family hates you. The schools do not recognize you as a real parent, even if the children live with you. Doctor's will not discuss their medical details with you, even when you are responsible for the bills. But.... the moment something goes wrong, you get all the credit.
You know what, though? Those things were not the things I struggled with the most. I had the hardest time accepting the fact that in my marriage I would never get to come first. When you enter into a relationship in which there are already children, you never get to be "the one." Not even for a second. Oh, your husband wants to put you first. He really does. And he can't. Because the children are more important. And they should be.
It's not that this is an impossible situation. Lots of women and men marry into ready-made families. And they find love and fulfillment. And... they feel infinitely guilty that they secretly (and not-so-secretly) long to be the most important thing in someone's life.
A commonly recited marriage vow goes something like this - "... forsaking all others..." Unless, of course, someone else has already taken up residence in the heart of the one you love. Maybe it is an impossible situation after all.