Stiles and Parish. Photo courtesy Candice Curry.
The relationship between a mother and a stepmother is probably one of the trickiest to navigate. In theory, you’d get along for the good of the child you have in common. In practice, it’s not always so simple. There’s often history and baggage between exes, bitterness and jealousy between biological mom and stepmom, resentment from just about everyone.
But that’s not the case with 39-year-old mother Candice Curry and her daughter’s stepmother, 29-year-old Ashley Parish. In fact, both women are very clear on one point: They love each other.
In a Nov. 30 post on her blog that quickly went viral, receiving more than 10,000 Facebook shares and getting syndicated on sites like Thought Catalog, Today and Huffington Post, the San Antonio mom wrote “An Open Letter to My Daughter’s Stepmom.”
“I never wanted you here. You simply were never part of the plan. Growing up and dreaming of my family I never included you. I didn’t want help from another woman to raise my child. The plan was for my family to include me, daddy and our children, not you,” Curry writes. “When I first met you I’ll admit you weren’t what I had in mind and a twinge of jealousy shot through my body. You were supposed to be hideous, remember? But you weren’t, you were stunningly beautiful. You were supposed to be a mean old hag, remember? But you weren’t, you were a young, sweet woman. … You’ve accepted our daughter from the very start and have unconditionally loved both her and her daddy, that’s a true gift to all of us. You’ve included our daughter in everything you do and make her feel loved and accepted. You put her relationship with her daddy above yours and only a brave and courageous woman knows how to do that with such grace.”
Curry goes on to thank Parish for respecting her position as 14-year-old Stiles’ mother, for filling in as ‘mom’ when Curry is away, and for unconditionally loving Stiles. “Ashley is so gracious and respectful of our daughter,” Candice tells Yahoo Parenting. “She always includes her, and was immediately so accepting, and that’s very hard to do for a woman who goes into a relationship with a man that has a kid. That’s a tough spot to be in.”
Curry, Stiles, and Curry’s ex-husband. Photo courtesy Candice Curry.
After one of Stiles’ recent volleyball games, Curry says Stiles got in the car and announced that her friends thought it strange that Curry and Parish were sitting together. “It would be so sad if Stiles had to go from one side of the gym to the other just to say hi to all of her parents,” Curry says. “But she doesn’t know that our relationship isn’t the norm.”
Curry, who has four other children—8-year-old triplets and a 9-month-old son—with her current husband, says she wrote the letter “so that other families could see that it can be this way, and so that Ashley can know that I love her.”
And it worked. Parish says reading the post made her cry. “It was the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me in a really long time,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “For her to recognize my role — not that I’m looking for recognition — felt so good.”
Parish says she grew up with divorced parents, so she was cognizant of her place in the family as soon as she started dating her now-husband. “My father had a lot of girlfriends growing up, and I remember them very often taking the attention away from my sister and me, so my first thought was ‘I’m not going to be that way,’” Parish tells Yahoo Parenting. “The relationship between a girl and her father is so important, so when we have the girls at our house, I want them to feel like the center of attention.”
Though Parish and Curry haven’t actually seen each other since the post was written, Parish says she can’t wait. “I need to hug her and thank her in person.”
Family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer says getting to this place of respect between co-parents is incredibly difficult. “Parents have evolved to protect their offspring, so the initial response of biological parents is going to be to reject a new person who comes into their child’s life and think they aren’t good enough and keep them at arm’s length,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “It takes someone who is really evolved to accept someone new into the family.”
So what have Parish and Curry figured out that so many parents struggle with? Primarily, that children need to be the first priority, says Robert Emery, Director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law and author of “The Truth about Children and Divorce.” “Kids in families who live apart want a life where everyone is on a team — their team,” Emery tells Yahoo Parenting. “Congratulations to both of these women for putting the life of a child ahead of their own issues. And congratulations to them for dealing with understandable issues like fear, jealousy, and uncertainty, and coming out stronger and deeper on the other side.”
Curry says the trick to her happy family is acceptance. “We had to put the past in the past and move forward and be cohesive with each other,” she says of her ex-husband and Parish. “At some point you have to accept where life has brought you and move forward and do what is best for your child. And we never ever badmouth the other parent or step-parents. Even in our worst moments, my daughter has never heard one single bad statement about them. That would be tearing away at half of who she is.”
To all the other moms dealing with stepmoms, Curry’s advice is simple: “You’re always going to be the mom, but try and find a way to be grateful for the person who is with your child in your absence.”