My "Bonus" MomTaking the “Step” out of Stepmom

Oftentimes people focus on the negative when there can be a positive side to divorce. My bonus mom, Nancy, has been an incredible mother and grandmother to me, my sisters and our children!

I never realized how lucky I was that my parents divorced until I became an adult with my own husband and my own kids. Does that sound strange to you? The reason I say “lucky” is because I know now they were truly not happy together.

They married young. They had 3 children under the age of 3 when they were 21 years old! They could have been unhappy for years, filtering that unhappiness down to me and my two younger sisters, making all our lives miserable. I was 11 when my parents told us they were getting a divorce.  It had been a long process of unhappiness for them, but for us, it seemed like they told us, dad was gone the next morning and as fast as that, forever changed.  

Yet, my parents made a commitment to us and to each other to make this as easy as they could for everyone, especially for us girls.

I am not here to sugarcoat divorce. But my parents did some things right when faced with a difficult situation.

Consider your word choice:  Stepmom! What do you feel when you hear that word? Cinderella’s mean parental understudy and Snow White’s poison-apple toting caregiver may be the first encounter your child has with hearing about a non-biological parent caring for a child. In our case the word “step” was equated with “evil.”  

Dad met Nancy when I was 14. The moment she came into our lives she made it clear she was only here to love us and our dad, not to take the place of mom. We changed the word ‘step’ to bonus and with mom’s blessing called Nancy our “Bonus Mom.”

My parents also never used the word visitation.  There were no visitation fights, we saw mom when we wanted and dad when we wanted. We had clothes and toys and books and balls at both houses. No guilt about which house we are going to at Thanksgiving, who gets us on our birthday, who watches us play softball, who has our graduation party. We often did things together!  Do you realize the pressure this takes off of a child? The simple act of not making a child think they are “visiting” the other parent is very powerful.

Consider Selfless acts. Watching my parents follow-through on their commitment to never talk bad about the other parent around us taught me that taking the high road can be the most difficult road, but it takes you the furthest. That didn’t mean they didn’t talk bad about each other to friends (HA)! They put their own egos aside and believe me, even at that early age, I knew what they were up to and that it must have been hard to bite their tongues, but they did.

Consider what makes you grateful. You may never feel love for or excitement about the person who marries your former spouse but is there something you appreciate that they do for your child? My mom worked in the State Legislature. Most or our softball games, after-school activities and choir concerts, were nearly impossible for mom to make. Nancy was a stay-at-home mom.  She was able to attend those after-school activities in our lives. Mom was not jealous, but happy that she knew someone who loved us dearly was able to be there.

Mom eventually remarried a wonderful man named Ken. I found it difficult to love him at first. We loved our dad so much. Ken could see this and sat us girls down one night and told us he was not our dad, he could never replace our dad, he just wanted to fill the parental void when our dad was not around.

If my husband (of 16 years) and I got divorced right not and he got re-married could I do the same as my parents did for us? It would not be easy, but because of the way our lives turned out, for the better, I would at least try.

Tami Butcher is the author of “
My Bonus Mom! Taking the Step out of Stepmom,” which captures the mixed emotions that surge through young children as they deal with divorce and remarriage. It is a great way to dispel the ‘evil stepmother’ label that children are exposed to with fairytales and movies.

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