Stepmum and son - the unbreakable bond between one woman and her eldest child - opinion

As I stood beside him under that canopy a couple of days ago, I felt the same pride and joy as any mother watching her son getting married. 

 THE WRITER and Dan are all smiles at his wedding on Sunday. (photo credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)
THE WRITER and Dan are all smiles at his wedding on Sunday.
(photo credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)

I’m writing this the day after the wedding of Dan, my eldest child. Dan came into my life when he was just four, soon after I was introduced to his father, Jeff, 24 years ago.

Jeff was a single dad when I met him, who liked nothing more than to spend time with his young son. Just a few weeks after we started dating, the all-important introduction to Dan was mooted.

At first, I was a little scared by the idea of meeting this young boy – well – terrified, to be honest.

What if he was a rascal – the product of a failed marriage who behaved appallingly and turned his face against me from moment one? To make matters worse, I was clueless when it came to small children and really didn’t know what to expect. As a single lawyer pushing 30, I was more familiar with legal trials than the trials and tribulations of tiny tots.

Having prepared myself for this crucial meeting, I arrived at the house that Dan and his father shared, armed with a small gift. As is the way with most kids, Dan was delighted when I handed him the carefully wrapped box that he hurriedly tore open to reveal a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

 A Jewish wedding Chuppah is seen in Tel Aviv on May 14, 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A Jewish wedding Chuppah is seen in Tel Aviv on May 14, 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I had no idea that Dan, like most boys of his age at the time, loved to play with Power Rangers action figures. He was obsessed with them!

Although my gift wasn’t something he’d choose for himself, his little face gave nothing away as he thanked me warmly and excitedly.

From that moment on, we formed a strong bond that has endured to this day. Dan taught me how to be a mum. He was a pageboy at our wedding 23 years ago, following me down the aisle, giggling and laughing with his friends.

His cheeky face and non-stop laughter made him the center of attention wherever we went. He was a joy to be around, making it easy for me to slot seamlessly into his life.

Moving in with Dan and his dad was effortless. Although some questioned my judgment in this regard – warning me against taking on another person’s child – I never regretted my decision.

As far as I was concerned, one of the best things about meeting Jeff was the fact that he and Dan came as a package.

In an instant, I knew that Jeff was an exceptional father, putting the needs of his small son before anything else. As it had always been my intention to have kids of my own one day, this was an essential trait if the relationship were to go the distance, as far as I was concerned.

Married within a year

THINGS MOVED pretty fast after that, and we were married within a year of meeting.

I took my new roles as wife and mother seriously, joining the other mums in the playground when it was our turn to collect Dan from school (when he was little, his time was divided equally between his parents).

The time we spent together, just the three of us before his siblings came along, was very special. Weekends would often be spent building sandcastles on the beach in St. Annes, before heading to an Italian restaurant for Dan’s favorite pasta dish (pasta is still his favorite thing).

We also took Dan to New York for a few days, where he spent the entire time being carried around on Jeff’s shoulders. The photograph of me and him at the top of the Twin Towers, just a few months before they came down, is particularly poignant.

Before long, Dan, then aged six, became a big brother when Rafi, my firstborn, arrived.

Unlike most mums with their firstborns, my days were punctuated by school runs and playdates. Like any typical second child, Rafi fitted in with us. Timing feeds to enable this was tricky at first, but we soon settled into our new routine.

And then Lev, my youngest son was born, barely a year later. With a seven-year-old, a one-year-old, and a newborn, life was tough, but we managed.

Orli, our daughter, completed our family a couple of years after that.

Even with a large, young family, we made sure everyone’s needs were catered for – and Dan was no exception. His birthday parties, usually in our back garden, were the highlight of our year, even if it meant that hoards of rowdy, football-mad boys would invade our garden.

Things became slightly easier as the kids grew up.

Dan was always there for his younger siblings. In truth, I don’t think they realized that he was their “brother from another mother,” until much later on. To them, he was just big brother Dan.

AS A FAMILY of six, Jeff and I decided it was time for a change. We moved to a larger house with a lovely garden and bought a van to accommodate us all.

Happily, the move coincided with Dan’s bar mitzvah, lending itself nicely to a garden party at home. While Jeff spent hours teaching Dan his bar mitzvah piece, I spent the months leading up to this important milestone preparing food for the occasion, having prevailed upon family and friends to lend me their freezers.

The weekend of the bar mitzvah was absolutely lovely, not least because it heralded a new stage in Dan’s life.

Despite passing into his teenage years, Dan never caused any trouble. In fact, his gentle, unassuming manner was a calming influence over the house, making my job as a mum of four that much easier.

Although Dan never received any special treatment from me (I’d reprimand him in the same way as I did his younger siblings if he stepped out of line), he never played the, “you’re not my mother – don’t tell me what to do” card.

The only way an outsider might have known he wasn’t my biological son, was the fact that he’s always called me Andrea, not mum.

The hardest part of our relationship undoubtedly centered around the time Jeff became sick. It was a trying time for the whole family – a difficult period of upheaval for us all, not least Dan, who was on the cusp of adulthood.

Fortunately, we all came through it, a bit bruised and battered, but undoubtedly stronger. Around this time, Dan, left school and got a job – and we started toying with the idea of making aliyah. Sadly, despite our entreaties, Dan decided to stay in Manchester.

Given the fact he was a fully-fledged adult by this time, we respected his decision and didn’t try to force him to join us.

Nevertheless, living apart from Dan has been hard for us all.

WHEN HE met Sophia, we were all delighted – and hopeful that their fledgling relationship would lead to marriage, which it did.

Being the stepmum, however, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit into this complicated puzzle. While “blended families’’ are often talked about, few mention the delicate workings in such situations.

I had all but resigned myself to the fact that there was no place for me, the stepmum, under the huppah. I didn’t dwell on it; it was just one of those unfortunate things, as far as I was concerned.

A couple of days before the wedding, however, while discussing the ceremony, Dan said that I’d be standing by him under the huppah.

I was absolutely delighted and not a little surprised!

Having noticed my response, Dan asked me how I could even contemplate not being at his side at one of the most important moments in his life. He then went on to say that one of the first things he told the rabbi when details were being discussed, was that he insisted on having his stepmum under the huppah with him together with his biological mother.

At that moment, I knew that I’d got it right. If ever there was a sign that I’d been a proper mum to Dan, this was it.

As I stood beside him under that canopy a couple of days ago, I felt the same pride and joy as any mother watching her son getting married.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.