Robin Dearing Column May 10, 2009

When a child leaves home, it’s tough even for a stepmom

The day I married my husband, Bill, nine years ago, I became a mother — well, a stepmother — to a charming and bright 9-year-old boy, Sean McCracken. A few months later I became a mother again to our daughter Margaret.

Becoming a mom to a third grader and a newborn all at once was quite a challenge, but one that I embraced with enthusiasm.

Sean was such a sweet and easy child to be around that it was surprising when he grew into a teenager and things changed.

His grades slipped, he’d skip class, he was doing things he was told not to do. It frustrated his mom, dad and myself. Sean is incredibly smart and very talented and it was hard to watch him make bad decisions. But the truth is that he was making those decisions regardless of what we said or did.

I would lie awake at night trying to figure out how we could get this kid back on the right track. But it wasn’t up to me. I was the stepmom. It was up to his parents and ultimately to Sean to decide how he was going to proceed.

Being a bit of a control freak, coming to this conclusion was hard for me. Keeping my nose out of Sean’s business was even harder.

I love this kid and know his talents. I want him to have the best possible life. I want him to be happy, fulfilled and reach his potential.

During those long months of wayward behavior, one thing remained the same about this teenager. Sean is inherently a very sweet and kind person. He didn’t always make the best decisions (cough, understatement, cough) but he was still a good person.

I always retell the same story to demonstrate this. It’s probably a story Sean would prefer I not retell, but this is what he gets for all those months of stress.

Sean was about 16. We were visiting friends out in Palisade and Sean needed a ride home from work. Bill picked him up and brought him back to our friends’ house. He sat looking bored as he always did back then. I asked him if he wanted to see the baby bunnies. He said yes.

As I handed him a tiny little bundle of fur, the first thing that he did — without even thinking about it — was kiss the bunny on its little fuzzy head. That’s who Sean is.

He’s the kind of person who’ll always kiss a bunny, pet a puppy, hug his sister and tell his dad that he loves him. You can’t really teach someone to be that way. They either are or
they aren’t.

Thank goodness Sean is.

Eventually Sean realized the error of his ways (for the most part) and he’s gotten himself back on track. He finished all his high-school courses and will be graduating on time Tuesday with his Palisade High School class.

Four weeks later, he will be traveling to Cape May, N.J., to start boot camp with the U.S. Coast Guard. The military was his decision.

As much as I’d like to see Sean go off to college in the fall, I know that entering the military is the right choice for him. I have every confidence that the Coast Guard will be great for him and that he will grow and flourish during his six years with the service.

That’s the positive side to Sean’s choice to join the military. The negative is how much he is going to be missed by all of us who love him so dearly. But I’m so proud of Sean and missing him is a small price to pay for getting to see him make good decisions as he moves forward into adulthood.

Robin Dearing is assistant to the executive editor of The Daily Sentinel and one of the authors of the Haute Mamas blog on


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