Being a stepmom is hard.
There are very few good role models in this space. No young girl reads "Cinderella" or "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and thinks, "You know what? That stepmom is really a lovely character full of vibrancy, independence and spirit."
From an early age, stepmothers are made out to be nothing short of witches or an "Evil Queen" in the case of Snow White. They have unruly gray hair and a bad attitude about the family they just inherited. We don't know much about their husbands, but very quickly we get the gist that this was not the gig they signed on for.
I am a stepmother and, if I'm being honest, it's not something I ever dreamed of being. I don't think any stepmom does.
As a young child, I didn't carry around my baby doll pretending I was its second mother. We don't dream of being a stepmom in the same way we dream of being moms. In our dreams, we're the mom our children know first; the only mom they'll ever come to love. We don't dream of being second. Being a stepmom means someone's first dream has ended in heartache.
But here I am — grateful to be a stepmom by design.
In my own story, it wasn't something I thought I would ever experience. In fact, I swore I would never marry again, and I certainly wouldn't date a man with children. But today I'm married to an incredible man and together we're raising my son and his two daughters.
Not long after we started dating, I began to love the idea of being a stepmom. I started dreaming about what it'd be like to have daughters and raise more than one child, something I'd wanted for a long time. I very gratefully became the stepmom to two darling girls who share the same open heart and loving spirit as their dad. Almost instantly, they allowed me to be a part of their inner circle, and they lovingly welcomed my little boy as their friend and future brother without objection.
I couldn't be more fortunate.
And while there is so much good, this is still a difficult space. Instead of starting fresh, my husband and I started with a family somewhere in the middle; a family that's already begun without us. That's not something anyone has taught us how to deal with. It's uncharted territory for the whole family.
Today, I'm learning to parent again — and with someone new. I'm learning when to lean in and when to step back. I'm learning to listen in new ways. I'm learning how to build bridges between the grief that children feel when their first family falls apart to the other side of acceptance, healing and hopefulness.
I'm learning how to put in ponytails and braid hair. I'm learning when to break up quarrels between the kids and when to let them sort it out on their own. I'm learning every day how to be a stepmom — a dream I honestly never saw for myself but one that I welcome.
I'm a stepmom by design.
Jessica Janssen Wolford is a mom and stepmom raising three kiddos with her husband, Eric, in Elkhorn. You can read more about her experiences on her blog, "A Step in the Right Direction." You can also follow her on Twitter @jessljwolford.