Once upon a time…
…we had proper families. Ones that have a mother, a father and many children -at least two – ideally a boy and a girl. Our society, though full of all kinds of
patchwork families, still very much promotes the idea that that is how it should be done. Many churches still preach it, Hollywood still makes movies that bring already separated parents back together at the end and everybody lives happily ever after.
Mother’s Day is an annual reminder for me that our family does not live up to this expectation, it does not fit the bill, we are not a cookie cutter family.
I am the one who ruins the perfect fairy tale: the evil stepmother.
Before I tell you my side of the story, a few things need to be clarified:
Here is what I CANNOT talk about:
- Being a stepmom when the birth mom has passed away – this would be a whole different challenge
- Being a stepmom who was the reason for mom and dad to break up in the first place – again, probably something that comes with its own set of obstacles
What I CAN talk about is being the classic, average stepparent. The one who walked into a situation where everything was said, done, and signed; a situation where somebody is ready to move on.
Having said that, here is what you should know about us not-actually-all-that-evil stepparents (dads included!):
- We fell in love. When you ask a little girl how she envisions her future, she would probably not answer: I will fall for a divorced guy and he will have two children and we will share custody with their mother and we will all live happily ever after. There is only one reason why anybody would choose to be in this scenario – the brain-fogging, all-consuming proverbial power of love. So you can judge us all you want for seemingly making an already complicated story even more complicated, but you know… it happens.
- We walked into a mess. Yes sure, I always hear that a friend has a friend whose cousin still gets along great with his ex and the sharing of the time with the kids is a real breeze but I think we might be back in fairy tale land there. The majority of us walks into some kind of more or less messy situation, or a sad situation or an angry situation. We are not an evil bunch but a resilient one.
When I told my daughter (stepdaughter to be precise) that I was going to write about being a stepmom compared to being a birth mom, she shrugged and said: “It’s pretty much the same thing.”
I smiled, somewhat flattered but also knowing that she knows better, that we both know that it is the same but as she said, only “pretty much” the same.
So what is it that makes you a mother?
The Oxford dictionary gives a clear answer. A mother is:
“A woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth.”
There goes my illusion, I have not given birth to our two monsters, therefore I am not their mother. But then I kept reading. This is how the dictionary defines the verb “to mother”:
1. Bring up (a child) with care and affection
1.1. Look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.
I know that my boy eats the best thing on his plate first and leaves the salad for last, frowning and complaining all the way as he finishes it. Our daughter does it the othe
r way around. She fights her way through the greens and saves the juicy steak to finish off her meal. I know when their swimming lessons are, their volleyball, their band practices. When I fold their socks, I fold them in pairs, because I know that they will leave the house wearing two different socks if the matching one is not right there. I think of them when I hear the word “wasabi” because we had a silly joke about wasabi years ago.
Our kids were nine and seven when I entered their lives. They didn’t put frogs into my purse or hid my keys or were secretly evil when dad was not looking. Our girl welcomed me to their family with open arms and the kind of innocent warmth only kids seem to have. Our boy tried to ignore and not like me for about a year. He was not unkind, just reserved. He felt as though liking me would be betraying his mother. I waited and let him figure it out, let him work through it. One day he turned to my husband and said: “I am embarrassed. I think I like her.” That is the day when it all changed and he allowed himself to let me into his life.
“How about ‘mom’?”
About one year into our new family setup, our daughter asked if she could give me a nickname: “Franziska is really long, we need something shorter.” “Sure” I said, “what did you have in mind?” She thought for a second and then said: “How about ‘mom’?” She looked at me with her big eyes and I had a split second to make a choice. “I don’t think your mom would like me having that nickname” I answered. “How about Fran?”
I may only be a stepmom, not a “real” mom, but I have enough imagination to know that that would be a mother’s worst nightmare – hearing your daughter call somebody else “mom”.
It is situations like that that remind me constantly that I am not a birth mom and that it is a hard role to define – for the kids, their birth parents, myself. Like the time our boy came home and proudly presented a family tree that had a branch just for me. He also still claims sometimes that he is half-German because of my background. I think he understands the blood line concept but I don’t think he cares.
The truth is that I am not a mother. I am a stepmother. I am not evil and it is a daily challenge to find my place in the story because evil is the only attribute stepparents ever seem to get in centuries of storytelling.
I did not get flowers for Mother’s Day. I still get asked all the time when I will have children even though people are well aware that I already have two. When people ask me if I have children, I can’t ever just answer “yes” without feeling like I should add an explanation.
There are two children in my life whom I love and care about. I think about them every day, I worry for them, I hope for them. They drive me nuts some days and make me the happiest person in the world on other days. I don’t fit the dictionary’s definition but that doesn’t matter because the definition is missing an important part. To be a parent, any kind of parent (fur parents included ;-)), is an incredible privilege.
And they lived happily ever after… 😉