It’s hard to know what to say on Mother’s Day for women who care for and about children but don’t fit the typical title of “Mom.”
Aunts, grandmothers, sisters - they can be a mother. Neighbors, friends, mothers-of-friends - they, too, can be a mother.
And then there is the sort of mother that I am: stepmother.
What an odd word, “stepmother.” I used to think it meant that the 2nd wife, a fill-in mother for the weekend, was a mother who was always a “step” away from the children. Always second place. Always not-as-much. Not-quite-the-mom.
I had a wonderful stepmother growing up. She modeled independence and self-confidence in ways I still haven't digested. I know I learned a lot from her and what I did learn is still slowly coming out of me in bursts as I “stepmother” my own stepchildren.
I was not prepared for full-on-mothering my stepchildren, however. I didn’t know that was in the cards for me. I always heard of stepmothers who were on the peripherary. Side-stepping-stepmothers. Background-stepmothers. Stepmothers who had an invisible mask over their mouth so their ideas and opinions wouldn’t get in the middle of actual parenting. A mask, as though she had some sort of contagious illness.
Instead, I’m a stepmother who not only has no mouth-mask, but is encouraged to parent like a biological parent. I’m encouraged to be 50% of this household's parental makeup.
And I must tell you, with the world’s views of stepmothers, that is not an easy thing to do.
I’ve gotten all kinds of messages throughout my four and a half years of being in these children’s lives.
I’ve been told that I will never love them like a “real mother” does and I’ve been told that I am fully capable of loving them with a biological mother’s heart.
I’ve been told to back off and let my husband do all the parenting and enjoy the fact that I’m not the parent and I’ve been told to be grateful for a husband who respects me and wants me to parent alongside him.
I’ve been told these aren’t my kids and I’ve been told these are most certainly my kids.
Even my stepkids have been on this particular teeter-totter. When I first met them, they defied all the warnings I'd been given and all the horror stories I'd heard. They accepted me, even liked me. A lot.
But just as marriages have honeymoons, so, too, do kids and the new stepparent.
And I now know the stories of stepkids hating you because I've lived it. I've known the "you're not my Mom" because I've heard it. Mind you, this has only been from the eldest, but I sense the next one in line will come to that place all too soon.
My stomach sinks to think of it.
But through it all I have developed a wider definition of "mother." If the kids hadn't come to us full-time two years ago, had we stayed every-other-week parents and not become custodial, my love for them would have stayed confined by other people's perceptions of what my heart...and their hearts...could feel.
I am no side-stepping stepmother. I am not in any background, but rather in the foreground of the best and hardest calling I've ever had. I have no mask on and no illness to spread. My opinions might not always be agreed with, but my husband always listens and considers my ideas equal in importance to his.
I am in no peripherary, but, instead, in the thick of the teenage traumas, the torn mother allegiance, the frightening mental health.
In the thick of the little girl who vacillates between stuffed penguins and skinny jeans, who yells and screams at me one minute, then wants me to braid her hair and answer "one more question about Jesus, please" the next.
In the thick of learning "boy speak" as the toddler I met now says things like, "are you available?" and can't focus to save his life except in the case of Minecraft.
In the thick of emailing teachers to keep on top of school behaviors, monitoring homework and school concerts and karate class and play dates, worrying if she or she or he is learning the right or wrong lesson, being consumed with curiosity (sometimes trepidation) of who these children will turn into. Wondering if I am doing all I can to teach them good things. Praying for them and praying that I point to God more than i point to them or myself.
I think of my role in their lives so differently now. I think of non-traditional mothers differently now: with more respect and, frankly, awe.
We are a special breed.
Mothers, biological, are celebrated this coming Sunday.
I don't want to forget us other-mothers, the mothers who might not get the Numero Uno title, but who do the work, have the love, who hold the children as though they are their own.
I celebrate that other-mother.
Because though my kids have a mother, I am confident in the role God has called me to and in the love I feel for them.
We aren't in this for glory.
Sometimes all we get are the guts.
I'm in this for God's glory and trying to juggle all He has entrusted me with.
So thank you Mom - Happy Mothers Day to my beloved mama.
Thank you Lyn, my stepmother, Aunt Vivie, Sue Edison-Swift, Mary Fullerton, Nancy Broberg, and so many more women who have other-mothered me in my life. Happy Mother's Day to you all.
My prayer is that every person who has invested themselves in a child will be honored this Sunday.