My own story began in 1997 when I fell in love with the man who would soon become my husband, Victor Juhasz.
I was living on the Upper Westside, had just graduated with my Masters from NYU and was transitioning from talent agent to psychotherapist/coach.
Vic was widowed and divorced, trying to balance raising three angry teenage sons alone in Elizabeth, New Jersey while managing a successful career as an illustrator. When I met the boys, Max, Alex, and Ben on our second date, I felt like I had found my family. I was so in love with Vic, he could have had 20 out of control teenagers and I would have failed to see it as a problem. This love for Vic extended to the boys and transcended the fear I quite reasonably should have had- inheriting a troubled system. I missed the “terrible two’s” and barreled head first into the “terrifying teens”! The boys lost their beautiful mother, Donna, when they were just babies. I spent that first year crying in private about their loss and feeling conflicted that my joy was born out of such sorrow.
I never sought for the boys to treat me as a replacement mother. Providing for whatever they needed seemed paramount, but from the start I also felt profound maternal love for them. My instincts knew that listening to them, building trust and truly loving their Dad was the only way to create and nurture a healthy family unit. For me, it came naturally. I also made a zillion mistakes out of ignorance, inexperience, ego and the illusion of being in control. Although it seemed like I read every book ever written on blended families, reality clearly confirmed that there was no consistent manual. I have since apologized for my mistakes, counting on their generous hearts and understanding.
For the younger two, I did indeed become their mom. For the oldest son, only 14 years my junior, I was more like a slightly bossy older sister (He might disagree on the ‘slightly’ part!)
My only goal was to be a loving presence and bring cohesion and some structure. I found pictures of Donna with the boys as babies and hung them in the common areas of the house to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to replace Donna, whether they remembered her or not. I wanted them to know they could love us both. Profound love and dharma create family as readily as biology and lineage. From the start I felt incredibly connected to Donna and deeply grateful for her four loving siblings and mom, Rita, who embraced me from our first encounter and are family now.
Early on, my mother gave me great advice. She said, “Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are not a ‘real’ mother. You are blessed to have found your family and purpose. Your time to impact them is now. Be the best parent you can, create a real home and shower them with love and understanding. It is your job.” I remembered her words through many challenging times when I wanted to scream, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!”, because in reality, it was exactly that. I never gave up hope that love would be enough.
I don’t use the word “step” because there is no step between us. Loving Max, Alex and Ben and creating our family with Vic remains the single most important and defining experience of my life. I am forever grateful for my found family. I have no idea who I would be without them and will never know since they are my destiny. I also get to tease my bio mom pals by bragging…