By my own admission, when I started dating my husband, I knew veritably nothing about being a parent. I was 22 and fresh out of college. I knew about responsibility, finances, and taking care of me. When we got married I was 24 and still knew very little about what it truly meant to be a parent. Lucky for me, my step-son already had two incredible parents. Both who sacrificed for him and made each decision about him and for him. My stepson, now 17, has taught me an incredible amount in the nine years I have been in his life. Many of these lessons helped prepare me for my own adoption journey.

1. Sharing the Love

When my husband and I began the adoption process, the idea of open adoption did not scare me the way it often does others. I already knew what it was like to “share” a child due to my stepson. When I came into his life, I never thought of myself as his mom. He already had a great mom.

When his father and I got married, I did become his stepmom and already knew that I loved him like my own. However, he still had a fantastic mom. I knew this was not a relationship that I wanted or needed to replace for him. Our relationship, though like mother and son, would and does look different and that is okay.

Our two youngest children are adopted and came to us as infants. Though they were only babies and know me as mom, they will also know that they have another mom. My relationship with them will be completely different than the relationship she has with them. Them referring to her as their “mom” does not affect that relationship. If I let it, it would only affect my pride.

Thanks to the relationship I have with my stepson, I have learned the importance of relationship and also never preventing my children from having people in their life who are healthy for and love them.

2. Biological Disconnection

My stepson and I share no DNA. We are related by marriage and marriage alone. His blonde-haired, blue-eyed, almost 6-foot frame is the opposite of my raven-haired, brown-eyed, tan-skinned shortness. Even with our differences, I love him like he came from me. DNA is not required for deep love, the kind of love you would die for. I hear all the time, “I don’t know if I could love a child who wasn’t ‘mine’.”My step-son is not mine, yet he is a child whom I love and would give my life for in a heartbeat. The biology never did and never will matter. He is my family.

3. Growing Together

My stepson and I are only 14 year apart and we often joke that we “grew up” together. When I married his dad, I was so incredibly grateful that he had a fantastic mom already, as I felt completely inept. It had little to do with my age and more that I was simply new at the parenting game, though parenting an 8-year-old at the ripe old age of 22 made me feel even more unqualified.

In adoption, especially of an older child, many of us are figuring this out as we go. I did not know much about parenting, but learned a lot with simple interaction with my stepson and seeing how his mom and dad worked together to parent effectively. As I made mistakes, we learned together what worked and what did not. We grew up simultaneously, him in his adolescence, and I in my knowledge as a parent. This helped me gain skills I would need to tackle parenting issues as well as understand and nurture the role his biological identity played for him.

Stepparenting is not for the prideful or the timid. It can be incredibly trying at times. It is easy to lose track of the goal of nurturing and loving your child when their are so many cooks in the kitchen. However, stepparenting has done so much to teach me what it means to love and respect unconditionally. I have a deep love for my stepson’s mom which has in turn nurtured a deep love and respect for the mom and dad of the children we adopted. The biggest lesson stepparenting taught me is that, without a doubt, unbounded love does not require DNA.

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