Being a stepmother is a funny experience. It’s one you (I) need to share with others, yet it’s also sensitive and tricky and scary to talk about because there are often surprises of negative responses, judgements or strange looks waiting.
It’s not easy to know how to discuss, like trying to paint multiple facets in one brushstroke. It is “this is hard” but you never want people to take away “poor her”, it’s “new family life is really amazing & my family is supportive”, but it doesn’t mean there is no aloneness. It is both “I am a parent” and “who am I?” all at once. It is wanting to say “this is something I’ve chosen”, but also, “it has its pain”!
When people ask me about my son, I sometimes feel compelled to correct them and add a “step”; hypersensitive that he has a real mum & anxious not to disturb that dynamic. The unique experience of bringing a child into the world, a mother-son bond, is also not the history I have.
Yet when I am referred to as stepmum, I find myself wanting to express: I give all I can to him, he is practically like my son.
On one hand I desire & strive to be an equal partner in the family, on the other I am confronted with & try to create space for the reality that the child already has parents, main security anchors and authority figures.
This paradox creates aloneness because there’s often no simple expression to share.
Stepparenthood starts with the stress of relational uncertainty, apprehension, rejection, a sudden change of focus & lifestyle, a reorienteering of identity, without the expectancy & social blessing or celebration of a new child. It can cause someone to shrink away and hide.
With nearly a year of challenge & laughs (& silent tears) behind me, I look back and I do feel pretty accomplished. It’s not clear cut or fully resolved and not without pain, but meaningful nonetheless.
Watching a child grow – and shaping it – is incredible! There is no other word for it. It is innocence and curiosity and cheekiness and lots of learning. The question is, what about it can you really share with others with the authority of a mum, especially to mutual family friends? It can feel like those shoes have been filled, like living under a shadow.
But the biggest realisation I’ve experienced and learnt is that so much of what you feel is largely determined by your outlook & focus. It’s about learning to recognise and embrace the love, appreciation and support for you.
So in ways, writing is a way of creating and exploring the space, and knowing that there are ways to make it good. 🙂