3+ME: A masterpiece someone else started

Life is “supposed to” be a blank canvas, but stepmoms don’t really fit into “supposed to.” 

Ever been to a paint night?

You know the kind, where the instructor takes you step by step through the process of conquering a blank canvas (hopefully while you’re sipping a beverage of some sort).

It’s very different from tackling a blank canvas by yourself.

In a paint night — there’s guidance, and you do (mostly) what you’re told.

On your own — you have the freedom (and the pressure) to do whatever you want.

But what about when it’s something else entirely?

What about when the canvas you’re working on was already started by someone else?

That’s how being a stepmom feels.

You jump into a picture that still needs plenty of work, but you weren’t there at the beginning.

That initial concept sketch, those starting brushstrokes — they aren’t yours. And sometimes, it feels like you cheated to get where you are.

At least, I do.

When you’re a stepmom, your canvas doesn’t start out like everyone else’s – because it was already started before you got to it.

Life has lots of “supposed to’s” — certain things that we’re raised to expect.

We’re supposed to go to school. Then college. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Maybe have kids.

We’re supposed to fill the blank canvas of our lives in a certain order.

But sometimes, we skip steps. Or we erase lines. We start over, or use a different paint color, and maybe end up with a section of canvas we didn’t expect at all. Something we weren’t “supposed to.”

And if you use a different color, you might wonder if it was the right one.

If you start over, you might feel like you’re playing catch-up.

If you skip a few steps, you might question if you cheated the process — say, if your canvas was already started by another person…

On this Mother’s Day, I’m that third one. When I married a man who already had kids, I definitely felt like I cheated.

I walked into a pre-fab family with all the fixin’s, including two awesome kids, two lovable cats, and a husband who already had a stable career and plenty of life skills.

I realize no two stepmoms have the same story, but I have to wonder if other stepmoms feel the same way (especially ones who don’t have biological kids of their own).

With kids, we’re “supposed to” start from the beginning. We’re “supposed to” sketch it first, paint the outlines, know and love the kid from Day 1 (and, particularly as a mom, long before the kid is even born).

We’re supposed to start with a blank canvas.

Stepmoms don’t. Or at least, I didn’t.

And if I’m honest, it does feel like I cheated.

I met my kids when they were 4 and 8 years old already. That meant my stepson had been born when I was 18 — which is weird to think about.

I get to hang out with another woman’s kids, help set their rules and think about their futures — and it wasn’t even my idea that they exist in the first place. Sounds like cheating to me.

Similarly with my husband. He’d been married before. He wasn’t new to the whole marriage thing like I was.

When we bought our house, it was my first, but not his. Which, frankly, is fantastic because he already knows about home repair, maintenance, bills, mortgage, paperwork — all that stuff.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just along for the ride, coasting on his momentum. Again: Cheating the “supposed to” system.

Presently, one of my best friends is planning her wedding, and I sometimes wonder what it’s like — doing things the way you’re “supposed to.” Marrying someone with similar life experience as you. Going through life’s hurdles at the same pace. Building a life — and a family — from scratch.

Filling in your canvas on your own.

Because that isn’t what I’ve done. That isn’t what stepmoms do.

The painting’s already been started for us. The composition is there, the main characters are already positioned.

To me, yes, it feels like cheating.

But the truth is, there’s plenty of hard work left to do. My stepmomming canvas might have been predetermined when I entered the picture — but it doesn’t mean I can’t help shape its final outcome.

I get to fill in the outlines now, shade and highlight, bring my own color and artistic style to it.

I’m going for a masterpiece, here.

Because that’s what stepmoms do.

Originally published in The Herald News on May 12, 2019.

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