My Step-Grandma's Story
My grandfather’s first wife died young. They had seven children when Annie died, and Fred was overwhelmed. In time, he married the young girl Annie had hired to help her. Grandma Mable added to Grandpa Fred’s initial family of six boys and one girl by giving birth to ten more children – seven boys and three girls.
As I grew up and learned Grandma Mable’s story, I was astounded. I never noticed any difference between the “first family” and “second family”. I hadn’t realized that she wasn’t everyone’s mother. This became even more astonishing as I learned about her life. When Mable married Fred, she was just a few years older than the oldest child. And she struggled with the role of being a stepmother. The boys were all rough-and-tumble cowboys who did everything they could think of to make her life miserable.
She never told her husband what the boys did or berated them publicly. When she got frustrated, she would run across the fields until she couldn’t run anymore. Then she’d go back to the house and continue to love those children she had inherited. She made sure that all the children felt equal to one another. She gave those children her gifts – a love of music, a positive attitude, a great work ethic and contagious laughter. In the end, Mable was mother to all of Fred’s children.
I had been a single mother for 17 years and my children were grown and gone when I met and married Cliff. His wife had died and his three children were teenagers. I took a chance on him because I watched on the webcam as his 16-year-old son kissed him goodnight every night and said, “I love you, Dad.”
The day-to-day reality of raising someone else’s children was more challenging that I ever anticipated. Stepmothering requires equal doses of courage and willful ignorance. Mentally, I knew how hard it would be. I underestimated the emotional impact. I almost left several times early in our marriage, but I stayed partly because of my sweet husband. I also stayed because I made a commitment to his children, despite the fact that they could make me completely crazy.
I loved being a mother. I loved being able to mold and shape my children according to my value system. I wanted my kids to be clean when we went shopping, not to be uncared-for children with their lunch on their shirts and runny noses. I wanted my kids to not irritate the world around them; not running wild or screaming loudly during piano recitals. I wanted my kids to look at the world as a place to learn; I didn’t want them to be swayed by every persuasive conversation because they didn’t know better. These were things I did well as a mother. I could do them as a stepmother, as well.
My husband’s first wife was ill for a long time, so there were things that fell by the wayside: things that, coincidentally, fell into my particular milieu. I could help my stepchildren wear appropriate, clean clothing. I could help them learn to behave as young adults instead of wild children. I could teach them. My step-children were in an under-achieving school system that, combined with their mother’s illness and death, allowed them to be undereducated. I taught them to manage their homework and write essays. I put a world map in the dining room and we talked about the location of major news stories during dinner. Recognizing our shortness of time with them, my new husband and I began teaching his teenagers the skills they would need to function as adults - how to handle banking, how to get car insurance, how to make doctor’s appointments and act as their own advocate, etc.
There was never did a day that went by, as I learned to be a stepmother, that I didn’t reflect on my Grandmother’s life. Though I didn’t have a field to run through when I got frustrated, I had Grandma’s example. And, as I struggled to make things work, sometimes I could almost hear her joyful laughter. It was more than enough.
by April R. Rogers