While shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts for the kids last February I noticed a beautiful heart shaped necklace. The instant I glanced at this piece of art and read the story behind it, I knew it was the perfect gift for my stepdaughter’s upcoming High School graduation. I made the purchase.
Excited to have found the “perfect” graduation gift for my stepdaughter, I went home and wrapped the box complete with a neatly tied white bow. I placed the gift on a high shelf in my bookcase in anticipation of graduation day.
Fast forward four months ……
It was two days before graduation and my stepdaughter approached me as I walked in the house.
“Is this from you?” she asked while holding a paper wrapped package about the size of a shoe box.
“No, honey,” I replied. “It looks like this was mailed to you.”
“It was sitting outside my bedroom door when I got back from the senior picnic. Maybe someone signed for it and put it at my door. Who do you think it’s from?” she asked.
I took one look at the stamped information in the top left corner and I knew.
“I think this is from your mom,” I spoke as I looked into her watering eyes. She knew too.
“Will you sit with me while I open it?” she asked.
We walked into the office and sat on the floor. I was there for her and was going to follow her cues.
She gently unwrapped the package and opened the box. She removed a letter. She read it silently. Then she read parts out loud to me.
I just listened. My role, I knew, was to love her through this.
She pulled out two empty diet coke bottles – one with her first name and one with her middle name. Then she pulled out a small box. She opened it carefully.
Inside was a necklace.
My stepdaughter’s face was a window to a swirling of emotions going on inside.
She cried. She spoke angry words. She told me I’d always be her mommy and began recalling thing after thing I did for her through the years.
“You ate the ‘shrinking soup’ I made for you when I was little. You taught me how to dress. You were at every band concert I played in. You went to my 8th grade graduation. You found shells with me on the beach. You taught me how to craft and took me to the craft store……”
I was speechless. She was recalling things I had forgotten. Things she had never thanked me for in the moment. Things I thought had gone unnoticed.
She hugged me and I told her how nice it was for her mom to send her a gift for graduation. I have been my stepdaughter’s full-time stepmom for 9 years. I have loved her like a daughter yet always respected she has a mother.
As we hugged and I wiped away her tears, I made an immediate decision.
I was NOT going to give her the necklace I had bought for her. The same necklace that I was so excited to finally give her now took a back seat to the gift her mother sent. This, I knew in my heart, was the best graduation gift I could give my stepdaughter.
I knew enough about divorce and co-parenting to know that if she received a necklace from both her mother and her stepmom — she’d likely feel that whatever necklace she wore might hurt the other. I could not nor would not put her in that position. Even though she appeared angry at the letter how could she not want the necklace — a tangible token of love from her mother.
I ran out that day and purchased a few other things to give her for graduation.
My stepdaughter didn’t know about the necklace or my choice to remain silent on it and neither did her mother. But I knew and God knew.
Later that night, my stepdaughter approached me in the laundry room. She asked me if I cared if she wore the necklace from her mom. I gave her a huge hug and told her I’d love for her to wear it. She said over and over how she sees me as her mom. I knew she was struggling with loyalty. This is something most kids struggle with even when a parent isn’t trying to make the child choose sides. It was sweet of her to care about me. I wanted to give her a precious gift — the gift of loving everyone. Because I truly care about her — I want what is best for her.
I’ve learned through this journey that truth is truth and no words or actions can ever erase it.
The truth is….
I have raised my stepdaughter since she was seven and we have a solid bond. Nothing can ever erase the relationship we have nor the bond we share.
It would be a blessing for her to cultivate a healthy relationship with her mom.
She has a mother and while she is not in her life she is still her mother and I always have and always will respect that.
A gift from mom blesses her.
Me not giving her the necklace is a gift that blesses her.
Tomorrow she leaves for college.
I’ve thought about the cupcake wrapped box that still sits next to my beloved books.
Her dad and I will drive her to college and carry her boxes and bags to her dorm room. We will enjoy the freshman barbecue with her and the other parents and incoming students. We will hug and kiss her and say goodbye. As we drive away, I imagine she will head to her room and begin to unpack and make the space hers.
While she’s unpacking her bags she’ll find a small wrapped box tied with a white ribbon. Attached she’ll find a note — words that express how the mended heart necklace reminds me of her strength and beauty and the hope I have for this new chapter of her life. I’ll also share that I chose to not give her the necklace at graduation out of respect for her mother and because I never want her to feel pressure to choose. The note will also share that I never want her to feel pressured to wear the necklace — if she never wants to wear it that I’ll be okay with it.
The note will be sealed with a prayer and a kiss and many tears — I’m going to miss her.
Have you ever felt like the “chair guy”? Times where you do the work but don’t get the credit? As stepmoms, we often put our heart and soul into our family yet feel that we are invisible. Your efforts do NOT go unnoticed. Share a time where you felt you had to take a backseat. Have you ever found out later that something you did really made a difference to your spouse or your kids/stepkids yet you didn’t realize it in the moment? #LiveFree
Are you looking for help, hope and healing on your stepmom journey? Do you often feel like an outsider in your own home and yearn to connect with other women who understand the journey and can encourage and support you? Attend the upcoming Stepmom Retreat. Get refreshed, encouraged and supported. It’s a great investment in you, your marriage and your family.