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When Only Mama Will Do

When my stepson Trey started pre-K a few weeks ago, he had a really rough time. Spoiler alert: He’s totally fine now! No more tears and will proudly say, “Sammy, wanna watch me not cry!?” But those first couple of days? Oh, boy.

The kids were with us on their second day of school, so I got to see the tears and fears firsthand. Trey started crying while we were dropping his big sister off at her school, and didn’t stop. He cried the entire time I was walking him in, cried on the phone to his daddy and I could hear him crying as I left him sitting in his desk. I managed to wait until I was outside to let my own tears flow and call my husband, begging him to take a few days off work so he could do this.

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And, look, I know I didn’t birth him or feed him a bottle or teach him to walk—but I have been in Trey’s life since he was 20 months old, and it’s still so weird to think about him being in school.

When I picked Trey up that afternoon, he was elated to see me, but told me that he cried all morning and during naptime. “It’s OK to cry, isn’t it, Sam?” He asked me, breaking my heart into a million pieces.

The weekend went by fast and Monday morning came before any of us were ready. As soon as Trey realized where we were headed, he started to get fussy.

His sister, Chloe, tried to console him in the backseat as we headed toward her school, but he wasn’t having it. He was terrified again and told me that he was afraid no one would come to pick him up. He cried and cried, literally howling in the backseat.

I tried to divert his attention—tried to talk to him about how he would get to see his mama after school, but it only made him cry harder.

And then I had an idea.

The kids’ mama was actually going to meet me at Chloe’s school to exchange clothes, school passes and a T-ball trophy. We had just planned on meeting at the front of the school to swap items and then I would continue to Trey’s school and drop him off. But as I listened to Trey cry even more after the mention of his mama, I wondered if there was something else at play here.

I was feeling a bit low that I couldn’t offer him what he so desperately wanted and needed.

“Hey buddy, will it help you to see your mama this morning? She’s going to be at Chloe’s school,” I told him. His cries paused for a minute before he looked down and fumbled with his shirt. He slowly nodded, anxiety practically pouring out of him before sniffling again.

“I miss mama,” Trey whimpered, trying hard not to cry.

I thought about it for a minute and I let my ego vanish. Being a stepmom has its hard parts, but one of the biggest ones is that no matter how much I love these kids, no matter how important they are to me and I am to them, I am still not their mama. She will always be number one and I am second best. I’m OK with this, truly. This is the way it’s supposed to be, but would I be lying if I said it didn’t hurt my feelings a bit that I can’t comfort them like she can? Yes.

“Buddy, would it help you if mama took you to school this morning? Would that make you feel better?” I asked. As much as I wanted to be the one to help him, as much as I wanted to drop him off and talk to him about being a brave boy, I have to be a parent. And being a parent means putting my own feelings aside for the good of these kids.

Trey didn’t say anything, but continued to pull at his shirt and wrap his fingers around a stray thread. I was feeling a bit small, yes. I was feeling a bit low that I couldn’t offer him what he so desperately wanted and needed. But then Chloe spoke up and changed it all.

“Trey, you know you can tell Sammy whatever, right? She told me not to worry about her feelings when we need to tell her something. Just tell her whatever you’re feeling and she’ll help you because she loves us so much.”

Yeah, that good parent feeling? Totally reinstated by my 7-year-old stepdaughter.

“Sammy, I just want my mama,” Trey whispered. I was blown away that, at 4 years old, he was already so aware that what he was saying might hurt my feelings. But I was even more blown away by his sister’s declaration and that Trey knew what it meant. He knew he could tell me what he was really feeling and I would do anything I could to fix it. Because I love them so much.

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I went into action. I called their mom and asked her if she could take Trey to school. I promised her I wasn’t trying to pawn any duties of mine off onto her, especially since it was still “our time,” but that he really wanted her and needed her this morning. Of course, she agreed. And then thanked me for it.

Because no matter what, the root word of stepparent is parent. And parents should always put their personal feelings aside to do what’s best for the kids. No matter what.

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