By Stefanie Tschirhart-Baldwin
Eleven years ago, at age 29, I was newly widowed with a young daughter. I’d always valued our nuclear family, and, as I grieved the loss of my husband, part of me knew I would remarry someday.
And I did, to a man who also had daughter. There were some valleys along the way as we established our unit, but we always trudged on toward a summit far from nuclear. But in the end, that never mattered one bit–not with a spectacular view like this.
When my now-husband first reached out to me, I blew him off. I knew he also had a 2-year-old daughter, the same age as my own, but I didn’t want to date a man with kids. Fortunately for us, though, he was persistent, and I eventually agreed to a playdate with our girls. We hit it off, and our quad grew closer and closer that first summer.
My husband and his daughter spent most of his parenting time at the house that I shared with my parents; it was easier for childcare when he was working. When his daughter’s mom questioned where their daughter was living, we decided to make it official.
“Wouldn’t this just be easier if we were married?” we said to each other as we left the county building that day. It was our proposal–the Friend of the Court, our witness.
Five months and one day after our first meeting, we were married at 8:30 a.m. at the county courthouse.
For the first few years of our married life, tensions were high between the two families. Exchanges were done in public spaces, in-person conversations were kept short, and the parenting schedule was pretty set in stone. Arguments about child well-being and schedules were a regular part of our lives. They were a recipe for disaster for our marriage, and they weren’t healthy for my stepdaughter or any of the adults involved, either.
At first, any scheduling or communication that my husband had about his daughter went through me or was prompted by me. As a new team, we wanted to find our footing together. There were times that communication between me and my stepdaughter’s mom was awkward, but our situation was new for all of us. I think moms and stepmoms often have a complicated relationship; finding what worked would take some navigating.
Fortunately, we found our way. When we disagreed with each other, we reminded ourselves that the child’s best interest mattered most, and on that, we could agree. We also agreed that four parents were better, and more helpful, than two.
I never asked or expected my stepdaughter to call me “mom.” She went from calling me “Tee Tee,” to, as she could pronounce it, “Stefanie.” She is with us half the time.
We’ve been fortunate that I have always all been able to attend my stepdaughter’s events without too much tension, and now, we often sit together. My stepdaughter has the largest cheering section around.
Between the two homes, there are now five kids, and they all view themselves as a sibling group. When explaining her relationship to my stepdaughter’s brother, my daughter once described him as her “kind-of brother.”
When either set of parents needs a kid-free night, we have another family to lean on who know and love our kids, and with whom all the kids are comfortable. This also comes in handy when there is a fun anecdote to share. I love sharing with my husband, yes, but I also treasure the special understanding I get from my mom partner-in-crime. She is definitely the person I message the most.
Another example of how things have changed: After I took my daughter on a backpacking trip to South Manitou Island in the summer of 2018, I knew that I wanted my stepdaughter to join us next time, and her mom, too.
Our trip together this past summer was a smashing success, so much so we have talked about making it an annual event. We have also done other joint activities and camping trips. When I recently turned 40, she helped decorate my house for my surprise party, while my husband had me out of the house.
Ten years ago, I never could have imagined where we are today. We have been through quite the journey, but we’ve worked hard and become stronger for it. Being a stepmom is a path well-traveled, with several Facebook groups, books and subscriptions to Stepmom Magazine explored.
I might not have wanted to marry a single dad, but I can’t imagine anyone else who could love my daughter the way that he does, and his daughter has been quite the bonus! I love her with all my being. I am also very grateful for our dynamite parenting team; all our kids are so loved. To get to this summit, it really has taken a village. And I wouldn’t trade this view for the world.
By Stefanie Tschirhart-Baldwin
Stefanie Tschirhart-Baldwin is a high school special education teacher at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy.
To see the full issue go to: https://www.grandtraversewoman.com/nov-dec-2019-issue/