My parents gifted my husband and me a wedding album for Christmas. It’s absolutely beautiful, and more importantly, helps me to remember my wedding. I was leafing through it a few nights ago, admiring the cake my wildly talented cousin made herself, awestruck by the flowers my dear friend Avery designed…when I started to notice some pictures of my gorgeous stepdaughter. She looked like a princess that day. Her waist-length hair was brushed and done; her flower crown sat on her delicate blonde head. My bridesmaids and family members were superheroes that day, taking turns entertaining her and coloring with her. She was five-years-old and about to walk down the aisle in front of 360 people, and I somehow failed to recognize that as a HUGE day for someone so little.

As I was admiring the photographs, I noticed something: It felt like I was seeing the two sides of Nyra come out through various pictures. At times she looked delighted and carefree and yet in several, there was a different air about her. The air that comes with having to grow up too young; the air that comes from being only five and being asked to accept so much change. Her face in some of them depicted very clearly how sad and scared she was to watch her family go from two to three.

It suddenly dawned on me how terrifying our wedding day must have been for her. She wasn’t even in kindergarten, and her father was marrying someone who has only been in her life for a year. Someone who she is suddenly supposed to listen to now, someone who has a whole new set of expectations, someone who in many ways she doesn’t even know that well and people are asking if this is “her mom.”

Of course, on my wedding day, I wasn’t thinking about this at all. I was so caught up, so concerned, that she would have a meltdown and ruin “my day.” I was so stressed that she wouldn’t make it through- but not for the right reasons. I just wanted my perfect, “normal” wedding day.

I wanted to cry looking at those pictures, to tell her how proud I am of the brave and strong girl she is. I snuck into her room, sat on her bed and stroked her sweet blonde head. I told her as she slept that I am absolutely honored to help parent and, albeit shakily, raise her into the woman God is creating her to be. I told her she has had to deal with so much more than she should have to- and that the grace she handles it with is astounding.

Being a step mom is no joke. It’s hard, thankless and exhausting. But we often forget it is so much harder for these stepchildren. Their vision of a perfect family did not include us. They are given no choice – just a new life, new family. Remember- so much of this is terribly confusing for them. Let us give them grace upon grace upon grace. They are only babies and babies who have experienced deep grief and pain. Squeeze them and remind them that you love them and you are so, so well-pleased with them.