More than a Step-Mom: Being a “Bonus Mom”

I always wanted to be a mother, though I never thought about the specifics of it. When we think about becoming a mom, most of us imagine raising our own offspring; a “mini me” who shares our DNA. The idea of first becoming a step-mom never even crossed my mind, probably because I wasn’t dating divorced men with children.

That all changed when I met my now husband who, at the time, was divorced with a four-year-old son. Because we were in a long-distance relationship, he wasted no time in telling me about his son Owen. Because our relationship was so new, I didn’t think about what that could mean long term. As we grew closer and more serious, he introduced me to Owen over Skype (unannounced) on a morning after a night of a few too many drinks. Excellent first impression. 

Thinking Ahead 

A couple months later I met Owen in person. By this time, I was already considering moving the 1,400 miles to live with my boyfriend and began thinking about what that could mean long-term. I began to think of what it would be like to be a step-mom. 

I managed to smuggle a pair of youth lacrosse sticks onto the plane, with a plan of introducing  lacrosse to Owen as a way to share a piece of myself with him. He grew up around lots of sports, but lacrosse was new to him. As an east coast sport, I thought that maybe if he fell in love with it, he’d want to play at a college out east someday (yes, I fast forwarded THAT far ahead).

As I began to share parts of my Greek culture with him, he showed a legitimate interest in learning about me, too. The day I married his dad, he excitedly exclaimed, “This means I’m Greek now!” It was the most sincere example of his love for me, even if it was totally inaccurate.    

All or Nothing 

For six years it was just the three of us. I taught him how to cook, sew, follow the rules of the road when on a bike, drove him to and from school and sports, read to him at night, and shared my excellent taste in music with him. There were, of course, times I also got frustrated with him, reprimanded, and screamed at him. I don’t think he ever doubted how much I cared, so hopefully, like any child, he knew it all came from a place of love and respect.

People always tell me what a great step-mom I am to Owen. And although I appreciate it, it always makes me pause for a second and think. I’ve always treated Owen like my own. I honestly don’t even know how to differentiate the treatment of a child you gave birth to, versus any other child you’re raising.

It was all or nothing from the start.

Owen also easily adjusted to having a step-mom (or as I call it, a bonus-mom). In the early years, he’d mistakenly call me “mom.” Although he’d giggle and correct himself, I’ll admit it made my heart melt. He also wouldn’t bother correcting strangers when they’d refer to me as his mom, sometimes later saying, “well you are, like a mom”. I can’t imagine how challenging it was for him to have four parents with four different opinions and four different personalities to adjust to. But despite all that, it’s always been so easy when it’s just the two of us. We have our own special thing that doesn’t fit into any box; no labels are required. 

The Hardest Part 

Loving Owen is the easy part. Being invested in his life but having little-to-no say in any major decisions is frustrating, to say the least. His mother and father make all those decisions, and if I disagree, well, that’s too bad for me. To some extent, I completely understand this. But I want you to imagine for a second, a world where all major decisions regarding your child are no longer up to you. You feel in your heart that you know what is best for them, but your voice doesn’t matter. That is one of the most gut-wrenching sides to being a step-mom. I know my role is second string, but it’s hard to settle into the bench come game time when I’ve been putting in the same amount of work. 

A Bonus Mom’s Love 

Owen will never be my first born, but he’ll always be my first child. I grew a love for him that didn’t come organically from growing him inside me. It didn’t grow from breastfeeding or rocking him to sleep. This was a special kind of love that grew out of a mother/child relationship; not from the moment I saw him, but from all the little moments where he was teaching me how to be a mom.

I’ve since given birth to twins, but they did not make me a mother. Owen did, in the most beautiful way a mother is made; through listening, learning from, and loving a child day after day. Being a bonus mom is one of the most incredible honors I’ve been given because it reminds me every day that a mother’s love transcends DNA. And that’s a beautiful lesson for all my children to learn. 

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Katina grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and played field hockey at the University of Connecticut, and has never been in as good of shape since. She met her husband, Justin, at a bar in Pittsburgh and, despite many romantic Skype dates, found a long-distance relationship to be a drag and moved to Fargo in 2010. She's a bonus mom to Justin's son, Owen (2005), and they have twins Augie and Delphi (2016) and two Great Danes, Rainy and Moose. She's a Speech-Language Pathologist and Certified Brain Injury Specialist who enjoys helping her patients improve their quality of life. She loves showing the world to her kids (but also seeing the world through their eyes), trying new foods, listening to live music and publicly mocking her little brother on Instagram. On most weekends, you can find her at one of her kids' many activities by day, and by night on the couch in sweats, eating a homemade charcuterie board and drinking expensive wine someone else bought. She still has Skype dates, but now they're with friends and family who live all over the place.

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