I had initially intended to write and publish this post for Mother’s Day, but it wasn’t fully formed and I didn’t fully understand what I wanted it to say. A random Monday is a better place for it, anyway.
Back when I became a stepmother (1997) I thought I would (should) feel a certain way based on everything I knew about stepmothering, which, until that point, was informed by having a stepmother and by cultural norms at the time.
And in the first few years of my marriage, my thoughts about how to be a stepmother were also influenced by an online forum I discovered called “The Second Wives Club.” There you could find women just like me…and women completely the opposite. Women who were bitter and angry, young and naive, women with good intentions, and women who seemed to embody the “evil stepmother” stereotype. There were women with children of their own, as well as stepchildren; and women who had stepchildren and desperately wanted their own.
When I look back at myself in those years, I see a woman who was secure in, and sure about her choice not to have children, and who was seriously relieved when she met and fell in love with a man who already had children, didn’t want more, and had a vasectomy to ensure it never happened again.
What I wasn’t sure about was my role as a stepmother (oh, and there was a whole slew of other things I wasn’t sure about, but that’s another story for another day). Society, acquaintances, friends, and family were all ready to help define it for me and it was easy to go with convention. It was easy to feel what I felt because it’s what I thought I was supposed to feel.
I heard all the platitudes – how being a stepmother is about growing a child in your heart and not your womb. I got reassurances that I was “playing an important role,” and that “everyone mothers in some way shape or form.”
I also got the message that, unless you’d never had kids of your own, you’d never have a “mother’s heart,” that being a stepmother is harder than being a mother because the bonds aren’t automatic, and that I should never expect to be anything other than “Dad’s wife.” For the record, my stepchildren never said these things
The worst mistakes I made as a stepmother were the result of me not being sure of what I felt…or, perhaps it’s more precise to say they were the result of me thinking I should act a certain way based on me thinking I should feel a certain way.
When Mother’s Day would come around I’d hope for recognition because that’s what I thought I should want, even though I didn’t expect it. Sometimes I’d get it and sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d be disappointed, and sometimes I wouldn’t.
I liked it (was very touched) when I got it, but in the moment, it didn’t feel…right. I’m not saying that I didn’t deserve it, or that it wasn’t given in an authentic and heart-felt manner, but there inside me there was a disconnect.
I was buying into what I thought I should feel (like a mother?), even though, deep down inside, I didn’t really feel it (because I am not, and that’s okay). I don’t relate to children the way most women do. It’s not an insult, even though when I say this out loud it seems to make people uncomfortable and they want to refute it. Maybe it’s because most women view mothering as the highest, most noble undertaking and that all women need to be reassured that they are, in some way, noble mothers?
And now, more than a year after my stepdaughter had her first child, I realize that I have stepped (no pun intended) into the role of step-grandmother with very much the same uncertainty, under pressure (both self-imposed and by cultural norms) to feel a certain way.
Everyone is so eager to call me Grandma, or Nana, or Gigi, or whatever, and I’ve been playing into it, even though it’s uncomfortable. Perhaps it is because I haven’t been sure of it myself.
It’s not that I don’t want to be part of my stepkids’ lives, or the lives of their kids (there’s only one right now), but I don’t need or want the label. When I follow my instincts in terms of being me, without the labels, for the kids in my life, everything works out the way it supposed to. That’s what “I” “Love” “You” means.
This is just a very long way of saying that when I am sure and confident about a choice, there is never any need to defend it and all actions that come from it equal love.
Have you ever considered that what you feel is influenced by what you think you should feel?