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The Paradox of Stepmotherhood

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 Рand shaping it Рis 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. ūüôā

My 2016

IMG_6566.JPGI had a quiet day off today. I did some painting, happy that I’ve made progress with my strokes. My husband told me he’d ordered a Christmas present for me. What a nice surprise. It’s so nice to be loved.

If this time last year I’d been asked to paint a picture of what my 2016 would look like, I couldn’t have painted my life today.

In some ways, that’s how bizarre this past year has been.

After spending most of 2015 trying to manoeuvre a career change, it’s hard to describe the mental contrast between that, and having a role in a thriving real estate company this year.

So much of the past 5 years has been disruption after disruption that it’s hard to look back & draw from any fond traditions or memories. I stopped celebrating my birthday years ago, and all Chinese New Years and Christmases since then have been a blur.

For a long time, so much within myself was consumed with an awareness of problems. I was so geared towards survival, that it was hard to resonate with much else except helping others in worse situations. I was a nervous wreck within me, yet my experiences shaped me with a deep self-defence instinct to steel myself against any weakness within in order to carry on.

Being with Chris this year has slowly helped me let my guard down, helped me welcome happy things back into my life: good food, music, art…

On that note, a year ago, I couldn’t have seen that I would be married, & definitely not that I’d have a five year old stepson!

Suffice to say it’s been a huge, challenging transition, but also strange, even, to discover & rediscover the good things in life I’ve forgotten one can have in a family!

My life is richer for the journey of learning to trust & share & grow, of overcoming challenges together, learning to love & be loved…

…and the unexpected joys & surprises, like having a clumsily wrapped present under the tree from my stepson that I can’t wait to tear open on Christmas Day.

10,000 Reasons

A major curveball hit some dear friends of mine recently, when the husband/father had a stroke.

As I heard his wife share about the difficult changes she and the children must learn to accept and adapt to, I could not help admiring and being encouraged by her outlook amidst the exhaustion and devastation they must be facing.

She spoke of gratitude for¬†things they still have and cherish; of¬†trusting in God amidst the pain; of hope for the future, and of¬†10,000 Reasons¬†to sing…

It brought me back to the first time many years ago when I too found myself in a bleak valley where I had lost complete sight of a hopeful future. It reminded me of how the reality and presence of God at that time gave me enormous strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to forge a way out of despair.

Not long after my friend shared, ¬†I¬†heard the¬†song again — this time at a wedding. It was a beautiful reprise¬†to hear¬†the melody carry¬†through dark desperate days to joyous celebrations, from the peaks to the troughs to everything in between…

The song had a way of pointing to something beyond, and reminded me¬†of all the people I know and stories I’ve read of people coming to the end of their ropes, and finding new strength and hope to sing and choose life.

 

My 27th birthday wish: Teach for Malaysia

The first book I ever borrowed out of my local library in Alor Setar at six years old was Enid Blyton’s The Three Golliwogs.

It started me down a path of discovering new worlds – and a love for reading that has fundamentally shaped who I am today.

TFM

Education changes lives. This song has bubbled into reprise after reprise in my heart over the years.

I’ve often looked back at my life and thought: I’ve been very, very fortunate to have received so many learning opportunities! So¬†on my 22nd birthday, I fundraised for Room to Read to build a library for 300 kids in India. A huge chunk of the projects, causes and people I’ve supported in subsequent years have a common thread running through them: they all made learning possible and/or better for others.

I turn 27 on 7 February 2016. For several years my birthday has been a non-event. ūüė¶

I want to celebrate this year! If you are thinking of blessing me with a birthday gift, the best thing you could give me is to help me impact the lives of Malaysian students: www.teachformalaysia.org/donate

Teach For Malaysia¬†(TFM) is a program I had considered doing post-graduation. Following the ups and downs of friends who have taken 2 years out of their lives to teach in underprivileged schools, I’ve been inspired by their passion, dedication and creativity.

They’ve struggled with teenagers who still can’t write their ABCs. Who wouldn’t be able to read Enid Blyton fluently at 15 years old. They’ve laughed and cried and empowered young Malaysians to dream. Their work matters to me.

This year I will be financially supporting what TFM does for young Malaysian lives. I hope you will consider joining me in your own way -ESPECIALLY if you are a Malaysian abroad!

www.teachformalaysia.org

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