As Mother’s Day approaches I have been reflecting on motherhood. These last few months have shone a light on motherhood for me and what it means. It has also shone a light on step-motherhood. I am a stepmom of 3 adult stepchildren and the biological mother of 2 girls. We are clear about what moms SHOULD be. The ideal? Mothers are softness and strength, courage and compassion, devotion (commitment) and determination. All the flowery stuff we find on Hallmark cards. But, we often take her for granted. We understand her true value when we become parents ourselves, or when she’s no longer there because we lose her. We begin to understand the sacrifices. We get it then. Two of my dear friends have recently lost their mothers to lengthy illnesses. It shone a light for me on losing my own mother. My mom died before I met my husband, met my step kids (what IS a better word for adult step kids??), had my babies. I couldn’t go to my mom for the advice- the way it should be done- on how to navigate marrying an older man with children. (I really wanted to know “how do I do step-motherhood??”) And, we all have a mom- good or bad, present or absent, alive or not. And that relationship is imprinted on us- whether we realize and accept that or not!
I did not have the best relationship with my mother-all the time. We struggled at times. But the rest of the time it was a relationship where I knew she loved me, she knew I loved her and that I mattered to her. In some sense my mother’d death was a gift for us. I don’t mean I enjoyed watching my mother’s body be slowly taken over by cancer, I mean that prior to her death we had time together to heal some wounds and fix some of the things that were broken and say the things that were mostly left unsaid. I understood her and her choices and why she did what she did for me and to me. It went back to how her mother treated her and raised her and her siblings. And how her grandmother raised her mother. It all goes to how you were raised to how you raise yours. Again the imprinting. The sad reality is that mother’s often bare the brunt of the guilt and shame- and condemnation- if anything goes “wrong” with the child- ie physical or emotional or mental illness, learning disabilities etc etc
For stepmoms, the family dynamics create a lot of anxiety around holidays and Mother’s Day seems to shine a light on the anxiety. And for some deep pain. Particularly for those stepmoms without their own bio kids. I have heard the heartbreaking question being posed time and again: Will I receive the recognition I deserve for Mother’s Day this year? Will all the sacrifices I’ve made be honoured? This made me wonder: Can stepmother’s hold that same place in our step-children’s hearts the way their birth mom does? It depends doesn’t it? Highly likely that we won’t mean all of the flowery things to our step kids. But can we mean some of that to them if we can’t mean all of that? So many factors play a role. Is their mom still involved – and then judging from a place of our own values and opinions how well is she involved? How old were the children when you first came into their life? How much involvement does their father have in the lives of his children- and then how much their mom allows that involvement. And probably of most significance is – how close are they to their birth mom- insert loyalty binds here.
The answers are not simple because of the complexity of the questions above. But most of it- if not all- comes down to attachment and owning a small piece of a child’s heart. Notice I said SMALL piece of their heart….in some cases a minuscule piece. A wise woman once told me “Bossing someone else’s kids around is like bossing your neighbour’s dog around”. It means nothing, until there is a relationship, attachment. Can we attach to them and can they attach to us? Yes , but that is a process and sometimes a lengthy one and sometimes a painful one but always a pace that is set by the child. The only real answer I have is to OWN YOUR CREDIBILITY.
How? At the very least say what you mean, mean what you say and follow through on what you say you are going to do. Be consistent. Be confident. Be firm but be loving. And know when to step back and let the other adults (ie their dad and their other mom) step up. Obviously there’s more to it than just that. Bottom line: although you may feel , or know, you love them more than they love you (and you’ll just have to accept that fact because it’s hard to understand that, if they even like you, they are being disloyal to their mom), you may sacrifice more for them than they will ever know, you may have hopes and desires and wishes for their future happiness that are kept close to your heart, and you nurture a safe spot for them in your family even though they may not be aware of it..now…But what I HAVe seen? When they become parents on their own and see how you are maintaining that commitment to family, and their father, and ultimately to them then you are also creating a legacy of strength, courage, compassion, and determination. Because that’s what REAL moms do.