If someone had told me years ago that I would become a full-time stepmother, I would have laughed and been like “No way.” The very idea seemed so distant from my reality. I was living my life, navigating my career and graduate school, and enjoying my relationship, without any idea of the numerous changes that lay ahead. Yet, here I am, sharing my journey of abruptly stepping into the role of helping raise my boyfriend’s 9-year-old son full-time—a shift from the occasional visits that barely scratched the surface of parenting.

The transition was anything but gradual. One day, I was the girlfriend who saw her partner’s son on weekends; the next, I found myself in the whirlpool of full-time parenting. This change didn’t come with a manual, and it certainly didn’t come with a grace period for me to adjust. I went from planning dates and weekend getaways to managing sports events, homework, bedtime routines, etc.

Navigating the hardships of this role has been a complex and humbling experience. One of the first challenges I faced was the feeling of competition with the biological mother. It’s a delicate dance, trying to establish my own parenting style while respecting the boundaries and roles already in place. And I know I’m not the only one, but I like to have things done a certain way. I often found myself questioning whether I was overstepping or not doing enough. This insecurity was amplified by the fact that I don’t have any biological children of my own, leaving me to wonder if my instincts were correct or if I was missing something crucial. I have so much childhood experience and education to where I thought I knew what was best and thinking my way was right.

Adjusting to the reduction in personal freedom was another significant challenge. The spontaneous aspects of my previous life—like catching a movie on a whim or my boyfriend and I taking night drives came to a sudden stop because we had to be ready to get up early the next day. The dynamics between my partner and me evolved in many ways, testing our strength and adaptability. We are learning to navigate new responsibilities, shifting priorities, and the inevitable stress that comes with raising a child.

Every day presents a new set of uncertainties. There are moments when I doubt whether this path is truly meant for me. Am I capable? Is this what I want? Yet, there are also days when I feel incredibly strong—proud of myself for rising to the occasion and handling situations I never imagined I could. Balancing the emotional difficulties has been a journey, one that requires constant reflection and adaptation. I would’ve thought that being a therapist handling a child’s emotions would be a piece of cake, but it’s been harder than I thought. It’s so many emotions my stepson goes through, and I must understand that he doesn’t cope the way I do. That he’s been taught for the first 9 years of his life in a vastly different way that I was raised, so I must meet him where he’s at.

Despite these challenges, there are also rewards. Building a relationship with my stepson has been incredibly fulfilling. It’s not where I want it yet, but time will tell. Watching him grow, succeed, and knowing that I’ve contributed to his development brings me happiness. The moments when he seeks me out for advice, or just to share a laugh, make all the struggles worthwhile.

As I continue to navigate this path, I remain committed to making a positive difference in my stepson’s life. I won’t pretend that I have mastered this role. I’ve seen sides of myself that I’ve liked and haven’t liked, but I’m still adjusting, and observing myself in a new light. Acknowledging that perfection isn’t achievable, and that’s okay. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and as a perfectionist, it’s been tough to accept them. But these mistakes are part of the learning curve, part of what shapes me into a better guardian and partner. That I’ll love him and build a relationship with him that I didn’t birth is also a gift I’ll cherish forever.