a step child is a gift

{Emile and I on a recent vacation.}

Giovanna is the same age that Emile was when I met him. Nearly two and a half, but not quite. It has me thinking about my role in his life and his role in mine, this symbiotic relationship, precious and sometimes precarious, between a step mother and her step children.

I wonder how many women never become step mothers out of fear, how many single men never have a chance because they have children instead. Relationships are complicated enough without adding extra people to the equation, am I right?

There seems to be a sizeable risk inherent in falling for a man with a child. But like many of the most fearsome risks, the upside dwarfs the downside. If you can drag your weary body up and over the hill, that is.

What is the upside? Love. Lots and lots of love. Human beings are programmed to love without reservation. Once the world corrupts our purity and gains our spirit, we stop loving this way. But if you love an innocent child, he will love you back. No matter who you are, what you look like, or where you’ve been.

The potential downside? Alienation from your partner. Contempt for the child. Negativity in the sanctuary of your own home. Sometimes there are many valleys, deep and wide, before you summit the mountain. But the view from the top, 360 degrees of creation, is worth it every time.

When I fell in love with James, my heart was as wide open as the clouds on a rainy day, and so I fell in love with Emile, too. I found him utterly adorable. Pillowy lips, soulful eyes, golden skin. He carried a raggedy stuffed dog with him between his mother and father’s house, he couldn’t sleep without it.

In some ways, Emile seemed older than Giovanna does now. He could put himself to sleep. He could self-soothe by sucking on his soggy little thumb. He was adjusted to having divorced parents, and two homes. In other ways, Giovanna seems older. She talks a lot more. She can communicate. She can dress herself. It’s a testament to how every little human develops at their own pace, according to their own timeline.

No matter how different my two children are, they are also the same. Attached to their comfort objects, whether it’s my breast or a lovey. Eager for attention, affection and tickles. Determined to have their way, to bend others to their will. Laughing one moment, and throwing those notorious tantrums the next. Sweet beyond reason. A big person in a small golden package.

The first night I met Emile, I carried him on my hip and, together with James, read him a story and tucked him into his toddler bed, inserting myself into his limited existence with relative ease. He was so young, he accepted me without judgment. He doesn’t remember his life without me in it, mothering him during the 3-ish days per week he spent at his father’s house. This joyful road has been punctured with challenges, and someday I may share some of them.

But for now, I will leave you with this: a step child is a gift. Like adoption, because I have chosen to mother my step son, I became a mother without first birthing a child. A son who draws me pictures and calls me his other mom. I have earned a place in his heart, and he has earned his place in mine. We are woven into the web of one another’s heart and soul.

If you let it be, step parenting, or loving a man with a child, is not too complicated after all. It’s about loving the child like you love his father, instead of fearing the child like you fear his mother. It’s about bonding with your partner over his child rather than seeing his child as an interference. It’s about making a family whose foundation is not blood, but love.

The more people you have to love, the more your heart will become filled with love, and a heart filled with love shines like the full supermoon in a clear night sky. As the Beatles said, “in the end, the love we take will be equal to the love we make.”


  1. Lucy, I love this introspective essay on your life. I can see you falling in love with your step son and him loving you back. Love is a beautiful thing.


  2. This is beautiful, Lucy! I am not a step parent, but I loved reading this and being reminded of the capacity of our hearts to love others.

    p.s. Does Emile still suck his thumb? N sucks hers, and I really want for it to end soon. 🙂


    1. No he stopped sucking his thumb about 6 months ago. We talked about it A LOT, we painted on the “stinky stuff” to remind him not to put it in his mouth, and finally, we showed him pictures of buck teeth.


  3. What a lovely post. I, too, have a stepson, my son’s half brother. He used to spend alternate weekends with us when I was married (for 13 years) and several weeks every summer. I love him dearly. And when my guttering decided to fall down last year, guess who rode to my rescue and fixed it? Yup. My stepson. When I first met him, he was a tiny little boy with glasses, and very shy. Now he is a handsome, witty, good-hearted man. Know what? I love both of him.


    1. How beautiful. I love hearing from women who’ve been in this stepmother-stepson relationship for a long time. Of course, I like happy stories like yours, but I also appreciate the weary ones, as I hope to learn from all of them.


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