Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who Wants to be a Step Mother?

Olympics Feb 2010 053

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.  


  1. Anita,
    Everywhere in this post your sincerity is evident - your desire to 'do the right thing' and give these kids your affection, stability, protection and honesty. It is rarely an easy situation, and the idea of the happy, blended family is pretty much a myth, I think. There's loss, as you say, and a lot of resentment that gets taken out on the very people or person who is trying to help.
    Of course you can't just be an instant mother to step-children and love them as much as you do your own. It's totally unrealistic, I think.
    You are growing to love them, and that speaks to your big heart, your stamina, and your commitment to your marriage.
    Even adult children who become part of a new family arrangement can be highly resistant to it. Even more so, sometimes. I have some experience with step-parenting - my ex-husband had teenagers when we married, and while one of them accepted me and was herself easy to love, the older one was only too glad to see the back of me when my marriage to her father fell apart.
    I'm now in a relationship where the children are well into adulthood, and for the most part it's gone well, although my own children had great difficulty with the loss of their father and transferred that to resentment of my new partner.
    Your great strength is that you are willing to understand others, I think. The fact that you went to counselling speaks to that. Your epiphany was right on - no one can ever replace a parent, and its not your role to be your step-children's mother. I'm so sorry for the pain and frustration you must have felt before you realized this, but glad that it (the realization) came in time.

    it's a very, very tough job, and harder to do well than to be a mother, I think. Your step-kids are lucky to have you, I am certain of that. Whoever told you to stop whining would do better to be supportive of your very laudable efforts to do your best.

  2. I love your short stories, there so great and meaningful! you should write a book, i would read it! -kelsea

  3. It was good you considered counseling. It does help a lot. There are a lot of great professional coaches throughout the country. One is Emily Bouchard. Please check out her website.

  4. I think I'm about to cry! That was so well written, you are such an awesome writer sweet sister!!

  5. You have a very honest - and accurate - understanding of step-life. Enjoyed your post.

    Publisher, StepMom Magazine

  6. Wow. I have been where you are, felt what you felt. I love your honesty and the way you express yourself. And I agree with every word you posted.

  7. Deborah, Thank you for your kind words and I appreciate the understanding. From one 'step mom' to another. Being the one on the outside can be trying. Even now your current hubby is resented just because he exists in your life. He could be the greatest guy in the world but it's easy for children (even the older ones) to take out their anger over a separation/divorce out on the new spouse. I can imagine it has, for you, at times, felt like you've had to choose sides.
    I don't want to be all negative . . . but I tell you it's been one hell of a dance and we have improved greatly since the beginning six years ago. xo

  8. Anita,
    I realize I left the impression that things are still difficult for my partner and my kids, but in fact that is now behind us, thanks to his initiative and willingness to listen to them.

    I admire your stamina and guts, really I do. They'll appreciate you a lot one day!!

  9. Got it . . . no wonder you are so madly in love with your Belgian!

  10. I'm not a Mom, nor a Stepmom, so I can't say I understand what it's like for you. However, this is so well written that it touched my heart and gave me some good insight.

  11. Such a well written post and so honest.Glad the penny dropped for you and you were freed of the ideas you had and could just get on with being yourself and offer what you could.Why do people think it's easy? Because they don't do it well or understand how hard it is?
    My daughter has a step-parent on each side..her father's wife put in nothing but heavy-handed criticism and preaching, so gained nothing from the experience and is not loved; her step-father put in dedicated work from when she was five and is beloved because he walked the walk with her in his own way to suit her.Keep going!

  12. Anita, I just came across this today and thought of you. Not the 'wicked' part!!


  13. I've been a step mother for nearly four years now. Sometimes the frustration is over whelming. You do your best to accept the child as well as you can and treat them as closely to your own child as you can but you can't force the same bond you have with a biological child. It has to grow. Its not uncommon to be met with resistance and anger at times but it still hurts when your just trying to love the child/children. Good luck in all your journeys in your life with your family I hope nothing but love and stability in your life.

  14. A step-daughter here.

    My father took me from my mother when I was almost four. For several years, it was just me and dad. Insert step-mom at the age of 9. To say I resented her is a huge understatement. We butted heads at EVERYTHING. My father did little to bridge our relationship. He was rarely there and when he was, it was abusive. Through my adolescence, through the arguments, through the birth of my half-brothers, my step-mother was the constant. She taught me to cook, clean, sew, shave, wear high heels, sit like a lady. I still hated her. We were literally dumped on each other in ways only a person there could understand.

    When I was kicked out of the house by my father at 19, it was her that would send me secret care packages to my new solo residence. Canned jelly, a Bissell, cleaning supplies, herb seeds. When I married my first husband years later, it was her that sent me a secret care package of leis to celebrate. When I married my second husband, it was her that sent a monetary gift. Same with my two sons' was her that acknowledged them and loved on them.

    Tomorrow I turn 39. She has been in my life more than my own father. SHE IS MY MOTHER. I have since reunited with my birth mom and that experience reminded me AGAIN who my real MOM is: my step-mother.

    It's hard. It's relentless. It will make you question your worth and it will strain your marriage like no other element. The payout may not seem worth it. But it is. Keep on keepin' on. It might not be immediately evident. But someday those children will GET IT.

  15. Anita, you are right that a mother can't be replaced immediately. I remember calling my mother, Mary, and how odd that was. But she was so good to give us girls (I was eight at the time) the freedom to do that. She didn't expect us to call her MOM. We had one of those already. But she loved us and cared for us and still does. She is MOM in a way that my real mother could never be. I know my real mom and talk to her occasionally but mom is the person who mothers do it long enough and then you both 'fall in love'. It takes time...a lot of time, depending on the age of the children. I only have one MOM as far as I'm concerned...the step was forgotten long long ago. We girls adore her and are everlastingly grateful that she took on the burden of an additional three daughters to her own. We've talked about it a lot as adults, Mom and I. I know how much courage it took and she knows how much we needed a mom--a live the house. Mothering is something you DO. You don't have to be BORN the mom to BE the mom. This is coming from an adult daughter raised by a step-mom.

    You are very brave and good to do this. Just know it is hard and it takes time. I've never had to do it...but I've been the little girl. I was very glad to have someone to fill that role.

    Donna @ Comin' Home

  16. Dear Anita, Thank you so much for your kind note. I know it's hard sometimes... Most of our days are good ones, but sad ones come to. Five years ago, when my first son left home, was really terrible. All the other children are doing so much better. I didn't share on my post that Matthew, my oldest is divorcing, my daughter-in-law Amanda..I'm praying God intervenes because as I'm sure you know, divorce is hard on everyone..but especially the kids.

    I'm doing fine...though last week..I was having a pretty rough time. But the Lord was always with me as he will be with you too! Suffering is always for a season...the bible says so. We've been through a lot in 23 years..but it never lasts forever. Please don't feel bad for me. Really, my poor dear daughter is the one hurting but she is so resilient! We sewed on aprons this morning and she was really pretty chipper about her stylish apron. I'm glad she's able to have happy moments even in the midst of the sad. She says she just wants to keep busy..and she's pretty good at that. :o)

    Thanks for sharing your tender heart for me. It really blessed me. :o)

    Donna @ Comin' Home

  17. Dear Anita..I wanted to email you but don't have it. I have to tell you something that I know is going to make you laugh out loud. You are going to think I'm so strange..but I DREAMED that I MET you and Maria!! :O) It was so funny! And I was wearing my most unstylish denim skirt and the elastic suddenly gave way.. So, yes, I was embarassed..but I woke up smiling because we all hugged and chatted and thought it was all so funny!

    Sorry you couldn't have been was so sweet. :o) Maybe some day...

  18. I feel your pain, admire your willingness to even try, and congratulate you on the joys that you are finding, slowly but surely--a 4 year old's picture acknowledging your presence is a treasure.

    My "stepchildren" came at the ages of 17 and 19, more or less, and, having been one myself--stepchild, that is--I didn't even try to be an ersatz mother figure. I stubbornly insist on being only the 2nd wife of my husband and try less rather than more to patch together anything resembling a quasi family.

    I'm delighted that you chose to post this particular article because it made me feel less alone and I didn't have to pay, nor show up, for therapy.

    Please tell me where to leave my 25¢!

  19. Thank you, thank you for writing this. And thank you Monkey Momma for sharing from the step child position. I cannot tell you how helpful this post has been. My husband and I lead a church with a few step-family situations and my husband and I have had many discussions on how they should and could be helped. My husband actually had the epiphany on day that a parent cannot be replaced. What you have all shared has helped me to be a whole lot more compassionate with the step-parents in the situations especially one step-mother in particular who feels like she has most of the burden to raise her step daughter. Thanks again!