“I don’t know if I can do this any more,” whispered Julia on the show Parenthood last night when asked if she wants to continue with the adoption of Victor. As a custodial stepmom who has heard the words “you are not my mom,” and countless other gems from a young, hurting heart… I felt Julia. I’ve lived her pain. I’ve walked in that “questioning” field of what am I doing????

Tuesday night is therapy night for my youngest stepdaughter. Anyone who sees a counselor or takes their child to one knows that therapy opens a person up and with that opening can come a flood of feelings. Tuesdays are hard days for her. Tuesdays are hard days for me. My stepdaughter has a tough time and if she’s hurting she typically lands her pain on me – the mom in the house. One thing I look forward to every Tuesday night is getting home, getting her tucked in and settling in to watch Parenthood and tweeting a bit with my stepmom sisters. 

I’m very intrigued with Parenthood and have been watching since it launched in 2009. They do an amazing job of depicting real life situations in a very raw and vulnerable way.

Last night really touched me. If you are familiar with the show, hold on for a few sentences so I can get the non-watchers (those missing out) up to speed. Parenthood is an hour drama on Tuesday nights that focuses on the Braverman family. There are multiple story lines but the one that has me right now is Julia and her husband Joel and their adoption of Victor. Julia and Joel have a daughter (I believe she is six/seven) and Victor appears to be about nine.

In previous episodes, Victor seemed happy to be with his new family (honestly, I’m not sure why he was in foster care) but he has changed his tune about being with his new family and treatment of his new “mom” Julia. Watching this through the eyes of a custodial stepmom who has lived some of this was both hard and easy. Saddened so many families deal with this yet grateful to the show for portraying it with heart and authenticity.

In last night’s episode, Victor’s testing of his soon to be adoptive mom was beyond rude and mean. As a fan of the show, I’m keenly aware that Victor  is a sweet and loving boy but his pain is to much for him to contain inside and so it is spilling out all over and taking aim mostly at Julia.

Victor kept telling her she wasn’t his “real” mom. He asked for chocolate chip pancakes but when she made them he refused to eat saying “my real mom got me pancakes from Burger King. I want Burger King pancakes.” She was reserved and put up a boundary telling him he could eat the pancakes or eat nothing at all. He chose nothing. It was his pain making the choice.

Victor used words he knew were not allowed in their home and he used them in front of Julia’s daughter. This prompted the sister to highlight this behavior to their mom and see what she would do. How often as a stepmom and mom do we have to balance what we allow/tolerate with our biological children with what our stepchildren do and say? This is hard. Julia’s facial expressions and sighs said it all.

Victor was rude to Julia. You could watch her be patient while his words were stabbing her heart. She was at her breaking point and wanted to give in because she wanted him to eat. Her husband offered support and lovingly told her not to give in. When they walked into Victor’s room to talk with him, they found him eating candy from a box he took from Julia’s closet without permssion. She asked him to hand it over. He refused. She took the box from him and because he chose not to let go he went with the box and fell to the floor.

Next we see two police officers arrive at their home to investigate a call regarding child abuse. A call Victor placed. The officers had to follow protocol. They had to talk to Julia and Joel’s daughter. The officers clearly saw there was no sign of abuse and left. At that point Joel asks Julia if she wants to go talk with Victor. “No,” she responds and adds that she wants to deal with their traumatized daughter and adds that she doesn’t know if she can even look at Victor at that moment. Honest words flowing from this character.

The next day, the social worker pays a visit to the home of Julia and Joel explaining that it is protocal that she visit any time there is a claim of child abuse. The social worker asks the couple “do you want to proceed with the adoption?” Joel answers right away…. “of course!” while Julia is silent. Then she speaks with a pain and fear that resonates with so many who are trying to love a child who is not their’s and who resists being loved “I don’t know if I can do this any more.” She voices her uncertainty of whether she thinks she can go through with the adoption. She voices a fear so many have in this situation.

The last scene shows Julia and Joel trying to talk with Victor. They ask repeatedly for him to stop throwing the basketball but he ignores the request. I believe it was Joel who told Victor to stop, explaining that he and his mom wanted to talk with him. Victor replies again with an anger and hurt “she is not my real mom.” Julia says nothing and turns to go inside. She may have been speechless but her face and actions speak volumes of the pain in her heart. And what happens next is something that I applaud… Joel looked Victor right in the eyes and said “She may not be your mom but she is MY wife!” He stood up for his wife. He backed her. He let Victor know he would not be disrespecting her.

Being a stepmom has it’s challenges and the support and love from your husband helps to smooth out the bumps and lets you know you have a partner on the journey.

While this is a story about adoptive parents on a fictional show, this story line touches the hearts and homes of so many blended famlies especially those of us who are custodial stepparents. As stepmoms, we do not want to replace mom – that is impossible and not respectful. As stepmoms, we seek to partner with our husband to care for and nurture his children and work towards helping them feel love, safety and peace in their heart and home.

What I love most about this story line is that it shows the pain and behavior of a child who wants desperately to have their parent back. To have their parent love and take care of them like this “stranger” wants to. It also shows the pain and struggle of a mother who has so much love to give and is crushed under the rejection of a heart that is hardened to it. Reality says too that moms are more prone to the emotional backlash than dads and this show is depicting that. And I will say again, I love that Joel is not giving up on Victor, wants to go through with the adoption but is SUPPORTING his wife and his marriage above it all.

I look foward to how this story line unfolds (only two episodes left) and most importantly, I hope that any moms struggling like Julia find hope in knowing they are not alone and I pray that Victor’s character sheds light on the pain a child feels when he is no longer “home.”

Thank you ParentHood for writing real life into a really remarkable drama! Bravo to the Bravermans!

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