Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I am a step mom.  I “stepped” into an already-formed family, with children who already had a mother, albeit an absent one. I was only 15 years old and in high school when Derek, my oldest stepson, was born in Germany to parents who were finishing up Air Force duty.

I was never pregnant with twins, and I wasn’t there to get the devastating news that one twin (Kira) was perfectly fine but the other (Kyle) had Down syndrome that would present a lifetime of challenges. I wasn’t there when the doctor suggested that Kyle be put in a state hospital where he wouldn’t be a “burden.” The only thing I know of my step kids as babies is from what I’ve watched in old family videos or learned from Dave.

In fact, I didn’t become a part of my step kids’ lives until Derek was finishing fourth grade and Kira was finishing kindergarten. Kyle had just finished a year in a special school. I wasn’t even there when they had chicken pox… I’ve tried to be there for everything else, though.

So I was there to watch Derek grow from a gangly, awkward tween into a fine young man – a man I am proud to call my son; a man who refers to me as his mom and has tried to make it home every Christmas, even when he was in the middle of a tour in Iraq.

I’ve been there to help Kyle meet the special challenges that have faced him and face him still. When I entered his life, Kyle, because of his disabilities, was still a tot in most ways. He was still in diapers, still needed someone to help feed him, and was still small enough to fit in my lap and be rocked to sleep. I was there to help him gain independence, and to stand with Dave to ensure that the school system did not fall short on providing the services he needed.

I was there to see Kira grow from a toothless, carefree little girl into an amazing, intelligent young woman with a bright future. I helped Kira buy “cool” clothes, offered a shoulder that she could cry on when she fought with her best friend, and helped her transition from a little, toothless girl into a young woman ready to take on the world. We share the closest relationship, one that transcends mere steps and has become a true mother-daughter bond. Maybe that is why we find so much joy in someone telling us that we look alike or when someone is unable to tell us apart when talking to one of us over the phone.

Stepparents have had a bad rap over time. “Wicked” stepmothers especially have been the target of stereotypes for many books and movies. The role stepparents play tends to be overlooked. Stepmoms and stepdads are there when their children wake in the morning and go to bed at night just like bio parents. Stepparents change diapers, coach soccer teams, make Halloween costumes, visit pediatricians, and care for their children who are home sick with the flu. Stepparents attend ball games, competitions, and graduations. Stepparents share and celebrate the milestones.

The tendency is to believe that “natural” parents are more important – that giving birth is the only badge of parenthood. But stepparents share the responsibility to see that the children in their lives grow up happy and healthy. We share something even more special than birth – as stepfamilies, we choose each other. We choose to be a family, to work together and love together, and to make it work together.