bonus mom,  bonus parenting,  step mom,  step parenting

What I Haven’t Had the Balls to Write. Bonus Parenting aka Being a Stepmom Across the Miles


Last week, after almost a decade and a half of friendship (going on fifteen years to be exact) someone with whom I thought I was semi-close across the miles quit our friendship. Suffice it to say it stung. I was hurt, angry, shocked and the list goes on. And I will have a point here.

I have a private journal and in it I share things with a very few close friends. I have been hesitant to write about the girls in my blog because they are kids and they have done absolutely nothing wrong. Yet there was a period of a few months I was absolutely struggling with being a bonus parent. And truth be told, sometimes I still do. Allow me to rewind:

Most people know I did not want children. Like ever. When I was five years old I marched right up to my mom and emphatically said, “I am never having kids.” She later told me that although I was just this little girl, she knew even then I meant it. Through the years almost EVERYONE told me I would change my mind. Everyone but my parents. They know me. They knew I meant it. My mom would sometimes ask if I was sure, but she left it at that. My sister gave her three beautiful grand kids and I was off the hook! Little old ladies in airports would nosily ask if I have kids and I’d say no. They’d ask when. I’d say never. They would reply, “Well you have to try.” Yes, like I can just bring home a newborn baby and give motherhood a whirl then return him if it didn’t work out! Babies don’t come with return policies last I checked. Others told me I’d never be a real woman until I became a mother and many times I’ve been called selfish. That’s fine. I’m selfish. My career has been front and center most of my life and I was absolutely okay with that. I made no bones about the fact that kids would interfere with the plans I had for my life and eventually I grew a thick skin and learned not to engage in these conversations. Privately I watched friends who longed for babies struggle with the reality that it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns once they actually became mothers. Their marriages suffered and they suffered. I really wanted nothing to do with it. For me I was a believer that my partner should come first. With kids that is no longer the case. Life’s plans are now around children. They always come first and if you have brought children into this world, that is exactly how it should be. I think it is awesome that there are people in the world cut out for that. I just wasn’t.

After three bouts with cancer the doctors were still leery about tying my tubes, so at 25 they made me wait until I was 30. When it came time, my doctor (shout-out to Dr. T!) asked if I had questions and then exclaimed, “Heather, I know you know all this. I know you did your research. I have to tell you this because it’s the law. Women your age have the highest level of regret after this procedure. I know you won’t. I am confident this is right for you.” And it was.

Now, I was not this child-hater. I would joke I couldn’t afford kids of my own anyway because my nieces and nephew got all my money. They completely and utterly rock my socks. In another life, I was a teacher to some pretty bad-ass second graders some of whom I keep in touch with til this day. And still, I went through life knowing I wouldn’t be a mom.

Okay, let’s hit fast forward now…

Standing before me in a yellow polo shirt stood a hot guy I happened to hit on. For the first time in my life I hit on someone. Then during our conversation that very day I remember as though the room became silent and instead of tunnel vision I had tunnel hearing when he said, “my three beautiful daughters.” My.three.beautiful.daughters. MY.THREE.BEAUTIFUL.DAUGHTERS. Wait. Whaaaa? I actually blurted out a “WHAT?” but it was more like, “Whhaa Whaaaaaaa What?” It took a minute to register and truth be told, I was disappointed. I wrote this off as, “Okay we’ll have fun together, but that’s it.” And then eleven hours later at the end of our first date, I was telling myself I was in trouble. Good trouble.

I grew into Love and the first time I heard his youngest running toward the phone yelling, “Daaaaaddddy!” I was a goner. Suddenly part of the reason I was growing into Love with a man was because he is a father. Crazy! We flew out to Arkansas and I met the girls. It went beautifully. I received a text message I still have til this day that made me cry happy tears when we left. Then came time for the wedding and we jetted off to San Diego (where we live) with the girls in tow. Then we went to Disneyland and Hawaii and it was just amazing. I was opened up to feelings of which I never knew I was capable. I grew into Love with the girls, too and suddenly over three decades worth of saying “never” went away in almost the blink of an eye. No, the girls are not “mine” per se. They didn’t grow in my womb, but they grew in my heart and it meant more than I could even begin to try to explain.

Christmas came. And it was a little different. The excitement they had before didn’t seem as apparent. I sometimes felt like an outsider, or an intruder rather. We may have gone a little overboard in the gifts department (I’m breaking the “acting like an aunt” pattern). I struggled. Then I was wracked with guilt because I struggled. I was worried the youngest only wanted to eat pancakes for breakfast and pepperoni pizza for every other meal. I didn’t know kids go through those types of phases. I felt completely ignorant and clueless. There was one instance when the youngest was bothering her sister a bit (it happens) and my husband was in the restroom so I just sat there clammed up, uncomfortable to even tell her to stop because I didn’t yet know my role.

We left Arkansas (where the girls live) and the closeness seemed to fade. I wasn’t realizing it, but kids have a honeymoon phase, too and it had ended for them. But it had not ended for me. It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. I struggled even more. BIG TIME.

To add to matters, the girls have different moms. I asked the hubs if he was okay with me writing that in here because, well, let’s face it. We live in a judgmental society. But it’s no one’s place to judge, so I’ll leave it at that with the reminder that sometimes there is more to it than meets the eye. Still, I am not dealing with just one ex. I’m dealing with three. There is nothing I can complain about, really. We’re all different and there are things I’d do differently because of how I was raised, but there is nothing life-shattering at hand. Still, here are these women who have had relationships with my husband and they are the mothers to his children. That is a big deal. I’m “dad’s wife in California.” Bonding and developing a relationship is a bit more challenging 1,800 miles away. What’s my place? I still wonder all the time. Am I selfish for wondering? I wonder that, too.

Recently, the youngest wrote a letter about her family and how thankful she is to be here on this earth. It was actually adorable. The hubs read it out loud to me because his ex-wife texted him a photo of it. It was a random letter she wrote prompted by nothing other than her beautiful mind. But what did I do? Proceeded to go to the bathroom in our bedroom, close the door, sit on the floor and bawl for a half hour before I composed myself. Was it rational? No. Am I human? Yes. While this happened, the hubs fell asleep on the sofa. I was devastated I was not mentioned. To think she doesn’t see me as any sort of member of the family, but named her pets…I was confused and it just did not register. It wasn’t just the letter. It was the overwhelming feeling I had been experiencing about not belonging. Before that for months I had asked her to draw a picture and mail it to me for a father’s day surprise I had in store for the hubs. When he flew out in May for his oldest’s high school graduation, I gave him an envelope and told him to tell her to go to the bathroom and put what we discussed inside. Instead, she said it was empty. I sat confused as to how this could have happened. See? I was dealing with an eight year old. Still new for me. You would think I would have gone to her mom, right? Instead I thought it would be more fun for her to do it on her own. Still learning…

On Mother’s Day I didn’t receive an acknowledgement. I guess I shouldn’t have. I’m not their mother nor am I trying to replace their moms. Still it hurt. On my birthday one of the girls texted me and I was over the moon. The others didn’t acknowledge it. All you parents out there are probably thinking, “Well yeah. They’re kids! Kids don’t know to do that stuff unless prompted.” As a kid, I did those things. So there is a disconnect. When this happened it had been 9-10 months at being a bonus parent. I didn’t know. I struggled with the responsibility/recognition balance. I have responsibility. A lot of it when it comes to the girls. Of course they don’t know about it, nor should they because they’re kids. Yet I felt that when it came to the parenting aspect, hubs and their mothers weren’t acknowledging just how much I do behind-the-scenes. I don’t need my ass kissed. I don’t want my ass kissed. But a mention to the girls here and there would be appreciated. Maybe there is and I don’t know about it. I just know that it was getting hard to give so much without feeling like it was being appreciated.

I talked to my husband. I cried. I probably whined. I went into my journal and poured my heart out confused, angry, emotional and very ashamed. Aforementioned friend told me I needed to stop being so sensitive and grow thicker skin. I was offended. Here was this person who has been a mother for sixteen years and a bonus mother for more than a decade. She had practice and a lot of it. I’ve been at it a very short time. This very person was the one who told me to vent privately to friends and not concern my husband with it. So I did and she criticized me for it. Then I one upped her through my ignorance and compared a situation she went through at her job to what I was going through and it didn’t go over well at all. AT ALL. She completely misunderstood my intention and that’s that.

I write this because folks, this bonus-parenting stuff is sometimes hard. I met another blogger and she told me that it always seems like things are so happy with the kids here at Life of a Traveling Navy Wife. And with the kids they ARE happy. But it’s important to me that I keep things honest here. I sometimes don’t have a clue. I question myself and if I am screwing up. I wonder what my role is and how to strike a balance. I want to be a good role model for the girls. I want them to know they’re Loved, but I don’t want to be overbearing. The list goes on…

After our conversation when the hubs said to me that their honeymoon phase might be over it hit me. Hard. I wasn’t ready for the love-fest to end. It also helped me tremendously and opened my eyes. Logic. Okay. Now there is something at which I can wrap my head around. Suddenly the ache I was feeling dissipated and I caught my breath again.

Two of the girls get here a week from today. I’m beyond excited and they’ve been texting me more lately. We have a pretty fun few weeks planned and I’m actually giddy over it. The other day I think I squealed when his youngest texted me because it’s getting so close to them being here. This time around I think I might actually ask them to load their own dishes in the dishwasher! HA. Yeah. That’s a huge deal for me.

I don’t have all the answers and I have to remind myself that it is okay to learn as I go. My eyes have been opened to a whole new amazing, exhausting, crazy and wonderful world. I’m walking this road one step at a time now and I’m sure I’m going to stumble again. For today, my biggest concern is already telling myself not to cry when they leave. And I am okay with that.

For all of you parents and bonus parents out there working hard at it and stumbling along the way, a former naysayer and know-it-all thanks you for stepping up. If you have stories, comments, questions, constructive feedback, please share it. I find this subject is sometimes touchy and taboo. Let’s change that.
UPDATE: So how did the road trip go? Click here to start at the beginning, and on these for Part II & Part III


  • bluemoon

    This is a great post, and as always, I love your honesty. I can’t truly identify with this wholly yet, but I’m beginning to get it a little bit, in a different vein. I’m just the girlfriend, but BF’s daughter is local and I see her frequently. It is already interesting trying to figure out my role in her life, and I imagine that if we stay together that will continue to evolve.

    I had a moment where I was bummed she didn’t say happy birthday when I saw her, but it was after my birthday by a few days and she’s a teenager, overly consumed with her own stuff. I still want to do something little for her for her upcoming birthday, but again, it’s trying to find the right line!

    I’m glad you’re being so honest about this, including with your husband, as these are totally understandable feelings! Hugs to you!

    • Heather Wilson

      Thank you so much. I try to remind myself of those things now – for me (and you know me) birthdays are SO HUGE. The idea of someone not making a big deal out of a birthday…well that is just so foreign to me. As a matter of fact, speaking of, do you know what an A-hole I feel like? I went to text you a few times only to realize when I switched phones I lost your number. I was thinking of you a week ago between packing and running for planes.

      I’m learning how not to overreact now – and that some things in life don’t have an instruction manual. HAHA. Hugs back at ya and BF’s daughter is so lucky you’re in her life.

    • bluemoon

      I do know birthdays are big for you, and hopefully in the future as his girls grow up and get to know you more they will learn that, too. 🙂 You are going to be around for a long time, so they will learn!

      Do NOT worry at all about not getting in touch last week. It’s all good!

      So much definitely does NOT have an instruction manual, that’s true. We learn through trial and error, including the errors of others. All we can do is try to learn from the errors and make better choices going forward, and to offer the best we have to those in our life. I know 100% that you are doing that for E’s girls, and one day when they are older they will get that! Youth is so much selfish ignorance, and only as you grow up do you really realize how much those in your life have done for you and start thanking them for it. 🙂

  • Samantha Jade Minor

    You are doing the best that you can. It does take time thou. Since the girls live in a different state it may just take more time than if they weren’t. Just keep doing what you are doing and before you know it you will be bombarded with texts and phone calls on your birthday, mother’s day, a random Tuesday. This is all new to them too so they may not be too sure of “Bonus kid etiquette”. This was a great post.

  • Kalliste

    I can’t relate to being a mother or a bonus mother so don’t really want to comment on that, but I imagine it must be very difficult.
    I can, however, relate very well to the not wanting to have children. Since about the age of 10 I haven’t wanted children and like you, it’s mostly only my Mum who believes I mean it for good.

    Unlike you though, I really just don’t like kids, they really terrify me 😛

    • Heather Wilson

      LOL you made me chuckle a bit; haha don’t get me wrong sometimes kids terrify me, too! I understand, though.

      I appreciate your openness and I think as women it is important we empower each other’s decisions. We have to do what is right for us. PS I see you’re from Australia. Ahhh it is one country/continent I have not yet seen. SOON, I hope!

      Thank you again for stopping by and I am following your 31 days of July on your blog. 🙂

  • Holly

    Hi Heather – Your openness and honesty is amazing. Family dynamics are always complicated but love will prevail. I’m going on 5 years as Stepmom and I totally get it. No one but another step/bonus parent will understand. I am truly blessed with an amazing relationship with Stepson and hope and pray that bond continues into his teens and adulthood. And I hope and pray that your relationship with the girls grows stronger every day. Big hugs, Holly

    • Heather Wilson

      Hi, Holly! I think it is so wonderful you have such a great relationship with your bonus/stepson. Thank you, so much, for your words and encouragement. It means so much!

  • Stylishly Social

    Such a great post as always Heather! I don’t have any experience with bonus parenting, but you definitely sound like you are doing an amazing job at it. Kudos to you 🙂

  • Dede

    I’ve been on the receiving end of a bonus parent. I didn’t talk to my stepdad for maybe 5 years because I was resentful of his presence. It was from absolutely nothing that HE did, just my own insecurities and childishness. And that was as a semi-adult!! So hang in there. Love them and someday they’ll figure it out, too.

    As for the friend who cut ties, burn those ends and don’t look back. Someone who is going to bring you down anyway isn’t worth hanging onto. Turn to those friends who stick with you even when you don’t share the same opinions and who love you for it!

    • Heather Wilson

      Hi, Dede. Thank you so much for being open and sharing your own experience. I will do what you said and I’m lucky because the girls ARE good to me. 🙂 And thanks for your advice on the friend, too. Well said!

  • tannawings

    It takes time with any relationship especially one with children involved. I actually think you are very brave taking on not one but 3 children that arent your own.
    The only advice I can give you are that children are children and as such are very self absorbed. They really dont have the intellect yet to acknowledge birthdays other than their own . So much of that is handled by their Moms/Dads re: writing thank you cards being reminded special days are coming up etc. It just depends on how they were raised. You also mentioned that they had different Moms- some of this could easily be that for the oldest she has been through 2 other ‘Moms’ and you being the third she is just unsire where you fit in.
    Whatever you do, dont ‘buy’ them, treat them while they are in your home as any other choldren. Make them clean up, make them show respect and yes, have them load that dishwasher! Kids want and need structure .
    Above all I wish you well, being a parent isnt easy and being a bonus parent has its challenges .
    You’ll do great, I have no doubt, your heart is kind, and its kindness they will associate with you.

    • Heather Wilson

      Thank you so much. With the oldest, it’s not that. More there than meets the eye and loooong story perhaps for another day. I really appreciate your comments and feedback. Since I’ve never had kids I don’t know how to treat them as ‘any other children’ haha! That’s where all the learning comes in – and I promise I will have them load the dishwasher LOL! Again, cannot thank you enough for your feedback, wisdom and kind words.

  • 2groovymoms

    Beautiful post! I mean, yes, I know it comes from heartache, but it’s brave and beautiful for you to write what a lot of women may have been scared to write. I don’t have any advice, except to not give up on these relationships. The toughest ones are often the most rewarding. (by the way, love your blog header)

    • Heather Wilson

      Thank you so much. It’s definitely one of the most eye-opening, challenging and rewarding things that I’ve ever done. I appreciate your kind words. My blog header was done by Kayti Designs, I have to give her credit for illustrating us – and Angela of Powell Woulfe Photography for taking the engagement photo that inspired the header. Thank you again.

  • Alex Clifton

    I’m elated to discover this blog! I, too, am a step – mom who has found it necessary and important to write about and reflect on experiences in the role. I appreciate you for your honesty and transparency. There is still so much hush, hush and taboo surrounding talk about the harsh or ugly side of being a STEP. Let’s undo that. I’m with you!

  • Anonymous

    Did you decide to call yourself a bonus mom or did the girls decide to call you that? I wonder if they should decide if they want to call you their bonus mom or their stepmom.

    Have you and your husband and each of the moms talked about what your role should be in the girls’ lives? Should you be a disciplinarian? Should you be in a parent role or in a friend role?

    IMHO, you were expecting too much on Mother’s Day. Those girls have so many women in their lives. They probably view you as their dad’s wife and not as any sort of “mom.” I know you do a lot behind the scenes, but they don’t live with you or see you often, so they probably don’t view you in a maternal role. I’m sure it isn’t anything against you; it’s just the life they’ve had.

    • Heather Wilson

      Since you posted this anonymously I cannot reply to you directly. It seems you didn’t thoroughly read this, though. With all due respect I already addressed all of these topics:

      1) There is more here than meets the eye and they don’t have “so many women in their lives”. They have a mother and me. Just as a lot of kids around the world.
      2) I wrote word for word, “I am just dad’s wife in California.” But please do not speak for them.
      3) It was a conversation and discussion we had together. They prefer bonus children/bonus mother. They call me by my first name and they are welcome to use stepmom if they want. I am not forcing them to call me anything, nor would I. They prefer not to use step.
      4) Regarding Mother’s Day, as I wrote I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything. It doesn’t mean that I’m not human and it also doesn’t mean I don’t experience feelings. I already addressed they may not be reasonable. I’m new at this and I’m learning.

      You don’t explain what you mean by “the life they’ve had” – which has been pretty great.

      Again, I appreciate you took the time to comment, but it seems you didn’t actually read anything I’ve written. Take care.

  • WendyKate

    Oh my gosh. I could have written much of this myself. I hear ya’! No kids of my own. Career gal. Instant family in the form of a husband with three girls. The ups and downs. The honeymoon fading. The beating yourself up because you don’t think you’re doing it right. I’m 18 months in and it all happens all the time. But the good news is we’re not alone. There are tons of us out there. And maybe that’s who we need to open up to. The ones walking the same path. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts, Heather.
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    • Heather W

      Thank you so much, Wendy. I am sorry I did not reply sooner – I thought I had! Shame on me. I really appreciate you commiserating and your understanding. It’s nice to know we’re not alone. 🙂

  • Malia Lilinoe-Just Wandering

    I loved reading this post, it’s completely honest (not that I’d expect you to lie or anything) and it’s another side of the spectrum that I’ve rarel seen before. In my life, I’ve only come across one couple that decided that they didn’t want kids. And you’re exactly right, there’s no trial run with kids, and I totally respect you and your decision for not having kids. And I dislike how alot of people in this world think it’s okay to be judgmental, but that’s the world we live in. I have no advice in the matter of motherhood because I am not one, yet. But even without them, you still want to be the best person that you can be for them. Maybe I’m naive, but I feel like what you went/going through is all natural. You made a very personal decision a long time ago and had no desire to change that. Friends need to be supportive about that and constantly lifting you up. From what I’ve read being a bonus mom is challenging, but like you said you’ll get through it a bit at a time. You’re doing great!

    • Heather

      Thank you so much. I appreciate you reading my post and taking the time to give your thoughts. It’s definitely something I never thought I would do, but I’m grateful for the opportunity. I think I’m tough on myself sometimes, but definitely still learning day by day. 🙂

    • Heather W

      Thank you so much, Malia – for taking the time to read this and for commenting. I think I’m tough on myself, but I’m learning that, well, it all comes in time. Thank you again. Definitely not what I expected, but I’m very grateful for it. They changed my life.

  • BritishMumUSA

    You know my story. Wife 23 years and two wonderful girls. That life has not always been a bed of roses. When I say Been There Done That. I mean with the friend. I am from London living in America. I was not able to bring with me and lean on my girlfriends who got me. It took me FOREVER to find a group of gals. When we as a family hit a rough patch…. I leant on one particular friend. That “Friend” betrayed my friendship. As a Brit we are a private people. We DON’T air our dirty laundry. She made me realize why we don’t air our dirty laundry, it comes back and bites you in the rear.

    That all said, we came through our issues bigger and better…

    She is no longer in my life. You only get ONE chance with me. I wish her well, and hope she has a healthy and successful life.

    If I am your friend, I will say my mind, be honest with you and be LOYAL. I expect the same. Your friend told you to do something, and then when you did it she betrayed you. She is NOT a friend!!!!!! Nope.

    As for the kids…. Teens SUCK!!!! I know I have had one since she was a second old, she is 17 now and I am so liking her now. Don’t get me wrong I have ALWAYS loved her. I am now liking her again.

    I would bust my heart to do and give her anything and she would be so mean!!!! I would cry and cry and beat myself up over it. What had I done wrong, where did we go wrong. Nope, we didn’t go wrong this is just how they learn and grow.

    So you are NOT alone in this thing we call parenting. It sucks and THERE is NO book on it. NONE!!!!!!! But there are women like you and me out there that do it day after day and we are there to LIFT each other UP!!!!! So drop that friend and pick up one that will LIFT you up where you need to be when you are down 🙂

    Hey 🙂 That got real!!!!!!

    • Heather W

      Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me. Our world is about to change again and I really appreciate support – even across the miles. <3