Here’s a little known fact about me. I have been working with families in crisis for about 25 years. When I say crisis, I mean child protection crisis, where I had to ensure kids’ safety by investigating and sometimes removing them from their parent’s care. That was the most difficult job I’ve ever done. Yes, even harder than being a stepmom.
In my support group of awesome stepmoms, I have read and responded to many mama’s whose stepkiddos have been pushed aside by their birth mom. These stepmamas have time and again shared the heart and gut wrenching stories of watching their stepkids celebrate milestones, birthdays, concerts, and semifinals without their moms sitting in the audience. Or fail to follow though on promises and commitments. Or lie and manipulate. While I know these biomoms are an epic disappointment to their children, there is more going on than we realize. “IF they REALLY loved their children, they would NEVER say/do this/that”
Yet, when these fully invested and committed stepmoms who have wiped tears, bandaged cuts, cleaned up puke and drove to every practice, game and championship match see their kids chose mom over them, it’s like a piece of their heart has been cut out of them, stamped on, driven over and shredded. Especially if the kids were with them full time. Especially if biomom managed to cause as much shit disturbance as she possibly could.
Here’s what I know about those birth moms who push their kids out of the way and willingly hand over their kids to you and your man: She is still “mom”. And they hold onto the smallest of glimmers of anything resembling a good thing about their moms. I believe deep down they know you are safe and they can be angry at you. In a way, it’s a backhanded compliment. But, it also has nothing to do with you and EVERYTHING to do with how mom didn’t show up they way they were supposed to. The way these kids need them to. The way these kids deserve!!
They are afraid of saying their deepest hurts and darkest feelings out loud to their mom. They’ve already been rejected by her. It’s just not safe for them to be honest with her. If they do then they erase any miniscule hope and fantasy that she will find them worthy of her time, her energy and her love. It’s like if mom wants them back, it redeems them. It validates them. And intermittent reinforcement- sometimes mom follows through or shows up, sometimes you get a reward and sometimes not- is THE toughest reinforcement to break in terms of habits
There is an inexplicable connection between a pregnant mom and her baby in utero. There is research that shows how there is a psychic connection; an energetic connection that is only experienced in pregnancy.
(see for example : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083029/) Indigenous Cree culture teaches it. An Indian man in one of my parenting classes shared it is similar in his culture. For kids who have been rejected by mom, or something or someone is perceived to have been chosen over them as a child, its monumentally huge for their self esteem, self worth and for future relationships. We say to our foster parents, who are hurt and frustrated by the exact same stuff, “these kids have a mom sized hole in their heart”
But from a birth mom perspective, and we discuss this with foster parents too, maybe losing their children is the wake up call they need to change. But, sometimes it drives them deeper into their pain, sometimes addictions, further self loathing, or mental illness. But bigger picture, for all of you who sacrifice for your stepkids, they eventually get it and eventually figure it out. But, it takes time. Trust me. My own bio kids aren’t appreciative of all my sacrifices because they don’t know what those sacrifices are, and they shouldn’t have to. They are kids. They seem to only figure it out when they are having to sacrifice for their own kids.
If we stop and we look at this from a bio mom perspective, where you are just being your awesome self, you”threaten” mom just by showing up. We tell foster parents -who sometimes only have kids for a few weeks or months- that during their time with their family, these kids experience and know love, safety, security, nurturing and the possibilities of healthy family that they otherwise never would have experienced. So stepmama, reassure them that they are valued, loved, cared for, and seen for the pain that runs so deep the wounds may never entirely heal. And then remind yourself of how awesome you are for your commitment to a child you never gave birth to.