(Step)Fatherhood And The Blended Family

If parenting is hard, step-parenting is water torture.

In 1986, my husband—well, he wasn’t my husband yet—won the county spelling bee. I lost. His blue eyes and stellar spelling skills captivated me. We were 11. Later that year, I would write in my “Garfield” diary, Joni Edelman, Mrs. Joni Edelman, J. Edelman, 373 times—but who’s counting?

Twenty three years, and life, would transpire before I’d actually be Joni Edelman.

In those 23 years, I’d get married, have three babies, get divorced. I’d go to college, become a nurse, buy a car, buy a house. I’d cry a lot, laugh a lot, learn a lot. And he’d do some of those things too.

When we were 35, we managed to seal the deal. I brought to the table the following: a huge SUV, student loans, vintage Pyrex collection, three kids (9, 11, and 14). He brought: a tiny eco-friendly car, fat 401K, vintage drum set, cat (16).

Parenthood is hard. People say that all the time, Oh parenthood is HARD. It’s the hardest thing you’ll EVER do. 

People don’t lie. By the time Matt and I exchanged our (self-composed, thank you very much) vows, I had already been a parent for 15 years. I’d seen first steps and first teeth, broken bones, broken hearts, pneumonia, a urologist, and everything in between.

He had a cat.

To be fair, the cat did have some fairly significant medical issues.

But still, a cat.

Nothing can really prepare you for being a parent. And there is no damn way anything can prepare you for being a step-parent. Matt went from cleaning cat litter to raising teenagers. BOOM. It’s a bit of a leap. Teenagers can be a challenge even if you had a good lead up to raising them. When they met, my son told him that Matt ruined his life. My daughter told him she hated him. There was a lot of crying. A lot of the tears were mine.

When you love someone so deeply—your children, your husband, even your cat—their happiness is sort of your happiness. And their misery? Also yours. They are woven together in a tapestry that is your whole world.

Those first couple of years of our relationship were pretty miserable at times. We bought a house. I quit my job. And because we didn’t have enough going on, we had another baby, and then another baby. There was a lot of joy. There was also something that wasn’t joy-like at all.

If parenting is hard, step-parenting is water torture (step-parenting a cat is significantly easier, by the way). I imagine it’s hard to love someone who you’ve only just met as if they were your own child. But when he said he loved me, implicit in that was that he loved my kids too.

Thankfully, he actually does.

It was Matt who bought my son Sean his first trumpet. Matt, who paid for the lessons. It was Matt who bought my oldest daughter Kelsey a car. Matt, who built a custom bike for my son, Owen. Matt puts the roof over our head. Matt told me that I should quit working to be available for them. He’s driven to a hundred music festivals, sat through some really horrible band performances (in the early years), and still applauded and said he was proud. He pays for band camp and clothes and shoes, and all the things that come with having kids, and he never ever says, “Man, I could have gone to Hawaii with that money.” He’s been there when their own father wasn’t, worked to pay for the opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have had. He has lost sleep over their education, where they would go to college, how we would pay for it. And after I held them, in their fears and sorrows, he held me while I cried for them.

There isn’t a mountain he wouldn’t move, not a horrifying trombone solo he wouldn’t sit through, for these kids, who aren’t his own. At the end of the day, he’s just Matt. Even with six years passed, there is still tension at times. He is still Matt. There is love too, of course, but he’ll never be their dad. And nothing he ever does for them, will ever mean as much as the things their own father does.

Parenting is hard. Parenting the kids you only just met, the ones whose first steps you never saw, whose skinned knees you never patched, whose tears you’ve never dried, that’s a whole other thing entirely. Matt does it, he doesn’t complain, even when he doesn’t get thanked, even when he’s backset to their “real” dad, even if they hate him, he loves them.

He’s a parent. Being a parent is hard.

Joni Edelman is a 40-year-old mother of five (ages 3 to19!), wife, RN, and freelance writer. Joni has appeared on The Today Show, Inside Edition, The Rachael Ray Show, Weekend Sunrise Australia, Canada AM, and Sirius Radio. In print you can find Joni’s story in The Daily Mail, The Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, Yahoo, and a host of others. You can check out her personal website here.

Photo courtesy of the author

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