One of three Americans are now a stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, or some other member of a stepfamily according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center.
And yet many times when we use the prefix, “step,” in regards to family there is an assumption that the relationship is less than or not as good as. While this can be true, we all know biological families can be a positive or negative experience as well.
My stepmom gave a new, positive meaning to the term “step” for me. And she changed my life for the better.
One of my friends recently said to me, “Apparently she was your “Stepmother” because of the way she stepped into your life with love and grace.” She is right.
My stepmom did so many things well in our relationship.
She stepped into a daunting situation in 1968 following my biological mother’s sudden death three years earlier. Imagine never being a parent previously and having a 13 year old son and a 15 year old daughter. In addition, she was on public display as the pastor’s wife in my father’s church in Montgomery where my mother had been loved for many years. Jimmie stepped in with love and grace.
As a young teenager, I remember thinking that I couldn’t love her because I would be disloyal to my mother.
One of the first things Jimmie said to me when my Dad told Marcy and me that they were getting married was, “I cannot, and do not want to replace your mother. I just hope I can be a positive adult in your life. We’ll figure out the rest later.”
I heard myself say the same words to my own stepchildren years later when I became their stepdad.
She handled questions like, “What do I call you?” by asking me a question, “What do you want to call me?” I said I didn’t know. She said, “Well, why don’t I call you by your first name, and you call me by mine?”
Over the next forty-two years, I came to love Jimmie for many reasons. The way she cared for others, her encouraging words to persons who were grieving, and the thousands of meals she delivered to friends and neighbors when they needed it most. I admired, looked up to, and loved her.
She stepped into hundreds of children’s lives as an elementary school teacher and loved them as if they were her own. She was one of those “favorite teachers” that generations of adults look back on as making a difference in their lives.
Jimmie had a positive attitude about life. She was a romantic with my father and looked for ways to have fun with me. I watched the way she took time to care for most of her siblings in their dying days, and was amazed and grateful for the way she cared for my father at home over the last five years of his life. I am thankful for the way she accepted and loved Mary, Brendan, and Kiki.
When I was in seminary, I did my doctoral studies project around helping stepfamily couples blend their families more smoothly. I know now it was because I wanted them to have as positive of an experience in their stepfamilies as I did.
And today because of her, I am proud to be a stepson and a stepdad.
Thank you Jimmie, for stepping into my life forever.
Malcolm Marler’s stepmom, Jimmie Ruth Dodson, died on September 4th, 2010.