When I became a stepmother people said things like: “about time (step children) they get a real mother” “You will be a mother to (step children)“
When I expressed my ambivalence I was told to “get over it and be a mother”.
When I stopped counselling, threw out my step parenting books and pulled my hair in frustration, I was told: “good thing you aren’t seeing that counsellor anymore . . . stop whining and go be a mother . . .” (how hard can it be?)
The thing is: counselling helped – a lot. The counsellor gave me kind insight. I didn’t feel so alone. But I had reached the end of my rope. I had to walk away, rebel. I was tired of being the only one in the family taking precious free time to do the emotional care giving, fixing and talking about a situation that seemed hopeless and with no end in sight.
When the step children walked through the door I was supposed to feel the love that a mother feels when meeting her own child. To smell their heads and welcome them in my all loving mother arms. Instead I was resentful that I was taking care of someone else's’ children. Angry at my husband who left the burden of parenting his children on my shoulders. I was bewildered and lost. How did this happen and why did I want to run away? Why couldn’t I just be the mother?
Then I had the epiphany: Parents are not replaceable. No matter how horrible they may be. There is no such thing as a *step parent. If children have a parent that’s who the parent is. Families are not game boards with replaceable pieces. Out goes one parent bring in the new parent and kazam! The family is together again. If the original parent is missing get over it.
I was supposed to replace somebody. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Be the mother.
Try telling that to the children in the middle.
There is great loss in a step family. The loss of a child's own two parent family. The loss of a parent when he or she moves out. Loss and sadness that is expected to be magically repaired when the new family is glued together and shoved in a home. The door better be closed quick and locked up tight: because the loss will come spilling out and won’t be suppressed. First the crack and then the break and so follows the river of the step family and there is very little one can do to shore up the water and put it back on it’s rightful path to family togetherness with Donna Reid at the centre.
Great loss + New marriages + New siblings = One Big Happy Stepfamily.
Who says? Who’s rules am I trying to follow anyway? Who are “they”?
So here I sit. I screw up. The wicked is inserted (by me) in front of the ‘step’ more often than I want. However I am Slowly falling in love . . . and finding my way in this family following a complicated maze with walls that were built with their loss and hurt and the path that shows itself with kind words and patience.
Noah, our four year old, gave me a stack of pictures he had drawn that brought me a little further along in our family maze.
Noah had drawn pictures of all six of us. Picture after picture of his family. He pointed at each figure and named us all over and over again.
Together and beautifully imperfect with lopsided smiles, big oval heads and sticks for arms and legs. His family. Our family. The step family
*That being said. I am not here to dishonour the word “step” in front of: parent/mother/father. I am called the step (mother). That is the accepted language and context.