Lisa Edelstein is all about family life.
The Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce star got candid about her personal life and what it’s like to help raise her husband’s children in a recent essay for Redbook magazine.
“Is it so impossible to imagine loving a child you didn’t give birth to?” the 51-year-old actress says. “Sure, raising human beings is hard even when you’ve had the opportunity for oxytocin to kick in for some chemical bonding. But as any adoptive parent will tell you, love comes anyway, even if you became a parent without having sex to get there or you became a parent by default. Like me.”
Edelstein married artist Robert Russell in May 2014, and became stepmom to his two sons. She writes that when she and Russell first became involved things weren’t so easy.
“A professional would probably say that when we met, my husband and I did everything wrong,” she says. “He was less than two months out of his first marriage…he was a mess…his ex was in an equal state…and the kids were completely confused.”
“But I knew, and he knew, that underneath all that chaos we were two really well-matched people,” she continues. Surprisingly, Russell introduced Edelstein to his kids right away. This sounds like a big no-no, but the actress explains that this made all the difference when discovering that she wasn’t just dating him, but also dating his family.
The House alum admits that one of the hardest things about becoming a stepmom is knowing what you are to them. Are you a parent? A friend? A babysitter?
“My position in the family came in phases,” she explains. “In the beginning, when everyone was in divorce chaos, my job was to be a solid third parent and a stabilizing force. Then, as time went by and new rhythms set in, my job became more like that of a facilitator.”
Edelstein took her new position very seriously, and quickly realized that while Russell and his ex-wife were sharing custody of the boys, her “primary relationship to nurture was their relationship with their dad.”
“I stepped back and facilitated,” she recalls. “I tried to make it possible for my husband to have very little else to think about when the boys were with us. Plus, we were not yet married, so I was only unofficially stepparenting. If you think parenting is a thankless task, believe me, I get it.”
Over time, Edelstein realized she had become a parent without a title — her main objective was to support the parenting style of her partner.
“In an even bigger twist, you have to support the parenting of your partner’s ex, even if you intensely disagree with it,” she writes. “You need to show up 100% ready to drive the parenting car and then sit in the backseat.”
Ultimately, Edelstein has learned that no two families are the same, but “children will let you know what they need from you.”
“You keep showing up, forever the third parent, and the family dynamic will stretch and contort and redefine itself to include what you have to offer,” she says. She adds that last winter she got to spend a few days alone with her new stepsons, which made all the difference.
“After almost seven years together, I got to see the relationship I’d built with the boys on its own,” she remembers. “They were relaxed and chatty and open and gorgeous, and we had tons of laughs and tons of fun.”
“The question remains, though: What is a stepparent? Who am I to them? I still couldn’t tell you, not exactly,” Edelstein admits. “But I do know these few things: I’m not their mom. I’m not their dad. I’m their Lisa. And that’s f–king awesome.”
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