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Step Mom? No, I Had A Bonus Parent. Raising Teens In A Divorced Family

My 14-year-old freshman daughter enjoyed her first homecoming this fall. On the big night, she was giddy with excitement, thrilled that the boy of her dreams had asked her to go. I had forgotten those feelings until now. For me, it was a flashback to that special time during my own teen years. She walked down the stairs to a SEA of eyes— two grandparents, two bonus grandparents, one sister, one brother, neighbors, my husband and myself.

This was one of those moments I had talked about with my kids. I always told them how lucky they were to have so much family to help them celebrate those moments in life. Watching my daughter’s four grandparents—my own mom and dad, plus my bonus mom (father’s wife) and bonus dad (mother’s husband—relish in the joy of her first homecoming, I felt that she was so lucky to have so many people who loved her so much. And, I realized then that I was also lucky, for as unorthodox and rare as my upbringing may seem to others, it was a gift to me.

Surely this sounds strange. Yes, my 11-year-old life was turned upside down when my parents got divorced, but I can now describe this as lucky because I know that my parents were not happy together. Some people are just not meant to be. They married young and had three children under the age of three by the time they were 21 years old. They could have been unhappy for years, filtering that unhappiness down to my two younger sisters and me, making all our lives miserable. Instead, they broke ties early and let everyone get on with our lives.

My parents made a commitment to make the divorce as easy as possible, especially for us girls. There were no visitation fights; we saw Mom when we wanted and Dad when we wanted. No this weekend here, that Wednesday there. We lived in both houses and they never talked badly about each other around us. We actually thought they were still best of friends.

They set their egos aside. It was obvious that they were committed to making our lives easier, and it worked.

Mom remarried Ken. I found it difficult to love him at first because I felt guilty; I loved my dad so much. Ken understood and told us he was not our dad, and he could never replace our dad. He just wanted to fill the parental void when our dad was not around. This communication was so important.

Dad met Nancy when I was 14. She was nothing like Mom. Mom was a businesswoman, savvy and sleek. Nancy loved the outdoors, animals, and a great book. I loved her immediately. She exuded warmth to everyone she met. Nancy made it clear she was here to love our dad and us, not to replace Mom.

I believe that once both my parents found happiness, life got much better for everyone.

My mom never felt threatened by Nancy; she felt relief – relief that when she was called into work, Nancy could cheer us on at our softball games, relief that when State Legislative sessions fell into days with no breaks, Nancy had an eye on her teenage girls, making sure they were staying out of trouble and the boys were standing clear. The gaps of a working mother were filled in by the love of a stay-at-home bonus mom, and we appreciated and noticed it.

Mom was a successful businesswoman who taught us how to fill out a resume and run for Student Body President. Bonus Mom Nancy was a stay-at-home mom who taught us the meaning of a handwritten card versus an email or text message. Mom took us to banquets for senators; Nancy took us to book signings and plays.

Taking the great from both ladies, my sisters and I became strong, independent leaders in high school, who ran for Student Council but sat with the person at lunch who was eating alone.

Both molded us into the people we are today and shaped how we raise our children.

That’s why I am the luckiest person in the world. I grew up with a bonus family, with all its bonus benefits that trickle down into the balanced environment I try to provide for my teenage kids.

While most children of divorce have memories of sorrow and a sense of loss, I am the opposite.

People think my life is unrealistic. I think anger and bitterness are a state of mind that we can change at any time. My upbringing showed me that I am in control of my own destiny and happiness, nobody else. My parents put their children first; their selflessness made me a better person. I am grateful for the many bonuses in my life and that I can pass them along as gifts to my own children.

Tami Butcher, the author of My Bonus Mom! Taking the Step out of Stepmom, and her husband, Mike, have three children – ages 7, 10 and 14.

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