Being a step-parent is the second hardest job I have faced after autism mommy.

You walk into the lives of these kids, still feeling pain from their parents’ split, wondering on whom they can rely after their worlds were torn apart once before. Your very presence demands that they trust you will be there for them.They may fall right into a comfortable rhythm with you, or they may resist all efforts for as long as they possibly can. Eventually, if you hold on long enough, they realize that you are with them for the long haul, and you become more than friends, less than parent/children.

Their mother has done an amazing job raising them. These kids are smart, polite, caring, and confident. You do your best to stand in for her in her absence, and you try to make your own place in their lives in her presence. While she must be reeling at the changes to the family dynamic (namely, YOU), she is accepting of your love for her children, and she is careful to include you in important events. Together you carve out a weird you-shaped, kind-of-family-maybe spot.

In the blink of an eye, the kids become teenagers. You see them less often as their friends become more important, you struggle to keep up with their latest interests, and you watch huge amounts of food disappear from your fridge and pantry in a weekend. You are both less and more certain of your place in their lives. They are reaching more milestones, and you hold back slightly because these moments rightfully belong to their mother. However, they begin to notice that you may be almost as smart as they are, and as you are better able to offer advice, you try to hold on more tightly because you know the day is coming.

And the day does come. You look at these kids, these former little, little kids that once enthralled you with their barely-shaped personalities, and you realize it has happened. They are no longer teenagers. They are adults. They are a Mom with a baby of her own, handling motherhood seemingly as though it were nothing more than a new laundry routine. They are an Air Force Airman, fearlessly going off into the wild blue yonder to follow her dreams. There are two more of these kids following close behind, trailed by your own biological baby. It is too soon.

You cry more than a little. Time has moved so quickly, and you didn’t get to share those early years.  Stepmommying is equal parts rollercoaster, grueling decathlon, and lottery winning. In the end you feel a tremendous sense of pride because, no matter how small the part you played, you helped create these amazing gifts for the world.