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It took becoming a stepmom to finally understand my own

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip, 25 Roses, and the upcoming Piper Morgan series. She is also a freelance writer, with her work having appeared on Cosmopolitan.com, XOJane, and Ecommerce Insiders, am...

The thank-you I wish I could have shared with my stepmom while she was alive

I loved my stepmother, but I had no idea how amazing she was until I became a stepmother myself. Only then did I understand the sacrifices she made to welcome us into her home each summer.

My parents divorced when I was 5. Most custody arrangements have the kids going to their father every other weekend, but that doesn’t work when your dad moves to another state. When that happens, your dad gets you during the summer and maybe at Christmas.

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In our case, we spent every July with our father, even as he remarried and had children with his new wife. My new stepmother was a stay-at-home mom named Debby. I liked her from the start — everyone did. She had one of those personalities that just lights up a room, drawing people to her wherever she went.

She welcomed my sister and me into their home every July, planning fun activities to keep us entertained while we were there. Even once she had her own children, she worked hard to make our summers fun. My father worked long hours, so most of our days were spent with her. On weekends, she made sure we spent quality time with our dad.

While my mom had the biggest influence over my development, I think Debby helped shape who I became as well. She was a standout mother to her own two children, and she was always the right amount of “strict” with all of us. But she was fun too. That’s what I remember most. She really lived life.

I never really appreciated Debby’s hard work. It was just assumed that we'd get off a plane every July 1 and she'd take over from there, arranging everything. She bought the groceries and made sure we had plenty to do every day. I just assumed she had that magic "parenting gene" that all moms have, so it felt natural to her. And then I became a stepmother.

During her younger years, we had my stepdaughter every other weekend, and my husband was with us the entire time. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a young, newly married woman and told your husband’s two young kids are coming to stay. It was easy for me. I simply had a weekend of fun when my stepdaughter was with us. My own stepmother had to rearrange her regular routine for an entire month.

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Like many people who have never given birth, I just assume that once you have a baby, some maternal instinct naturally kicks in, and you know exactly what to do. But I’ve been told that isn’t necessarily true. Some women are great at being moms, whether they’re taking care of their own children or someone else’s. Debby was that kind of mom — a natural nurturer who could even make a complete stranger’s child feel loved.

We all know parenting is hard work, but I think it’s a little easier when you have complete control of a child’s upbringing. When you’re filling in for a weekend or a month, you have to find a way to enforce your own house rules while also honoring the hard work that child’s birth mother is doing.

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Debby died of cancer when I was in my late 20s — more than a decade before I became a stepmom. I never got the chance to thank her for doing such a great job with us during those hot summers. Just as my stepdaughter sometimes confides in me on things, I used to confide in my stepmom, and she always gave great advice. Thanks to her, I was able to grow up and tackle the challenge of being a stepmom, following her great example.

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