Stepmom guilt is a thing – but why?
I was riding on a school bus the other day, the sweet curly head of my six-year-old stepdaughter leaning into my side, as we shared a few minutes in silence after her end-of-the-year field trip to the bowling alley with her first-grade classmates. The other kids buzzed around us, still energized from the echoing noise of the pins falling over and that large cup of lemonade the alley workers gave them just before we boarded the bus. Not London, though. She was quiet, and peaceful, and content. As we made the right-hand turn onto the street of her school, she shifted her face up towards mine.
“This was the best day ever. Can you go on my second grade field trip with me?”
The faint freckles on her face and her crooked combination of baby-adult teeth, beneath a gorgeous head of dark curls, made her look simultaneously childlike and grown up. A mixture of love, gratefulness, and sadness suddenly surprised and overwhelmed me.
It’s been a good couple of weeks for my stepdaughter and I. In addition to the field trip, she took the time to make an extra ceramic plate (see below) for her class Mother’s Day craft so that I could have one, too. A few days after she gave me that special gift, she left me a message in sidewalk chalk by the front door that read “I Love Mom.” She draws pictures and writes notes that say that to her actual mom all the time — but she told me that particular message was for me. Her dad and I hired a babysitter for the other kids so we could both attend her student-led conference and she was visibly thrilled that I was there and not watching little ones so dad could attend alone.
When moms were invited to a variety of activities at the school, London wanted both her mom and I to attend so we did. There weren’t enough seats so she sat on her mom’s lap so we could all play math bingo. She didn’t even flinch when the other kids, confused, wanted to know which one was her “real” mom.
“I have two moms. This is my MOM mom, and this is my stepmom.” We were both proud of her, as always, for the way she carries herself with so much confidence as such a young woman.
These past few weeks have been heavenly for me because it hasn’t always been this way.
When she was 4, London went through a phase where after everything I did — and I mean EVERYTHING — she let me know what her mom did in the same situation. It wasn’t mean spirited but it was annoying.
“Here’s your oatmeal, London.”
“Thank you. My mom mixes oatmeal with a different spoon.”
“Have a great day at preschool, London.”
“Okay. My mom says that too and ‘I love you.'”
“Let’s brush your hair London.”
“My mom likes to brush my hair. She uses a red brush instead of brown, and a spray in a green bottle, not white. Oh, and she says you don’t brush it right.”
It’s tough raising little kids. It’s even tougher raising ones who aren’t your blood and have all their love and admiration fixated on a different person.
That phase was good for me though. It was a constant reminder that the things I do for my kids, for all of them, should always be unconditional. It’s not to gain their approval, or to look like a good parent to others, or to have them love me more. It’s not to out-do another parent. It’s not to gain anything in return.
And I LOVE that my stepkids, London and my 9-year-old stepson Ferris, love their mom so much. What a gift to have such a wonderful woman in their lives, who has decided that the past is just that. There have been a few times she’s thanked me for being a positive, encouraging, and safe role model in her kids’ lives. She says she always appreciated that her own mom and stepmom got along, because it made it okay for her to love her stepmom too.
So what’s with the stepmom guilt?
In moments like that bus ride home, I feel a little bit unworthy of the affection I receive. I’m not London’s mom and she has a great one. Yet, here I sit, showered in the kind of love that mothers earn after years of investing SO much with no return. Do I deserve that love? With every classroom visit to help the teacher make copies, and every field trip I chaperone, and tear I dry, and cute new outfit I buy for them, and art project they make for me — am I stealing those moments from their MOM mom?
Rationally, I know there’s enough chalk art professions of love, ceramic Mother’s Day gifts, hugs, snuggles, sweet bedtime moments, horrible meltdowns, and mom guilt to go around. I’m not keeping their mom from participating in any of those things, either. There’s no reason for stepmom guilt when all the parents involved are doing what’s best for the kids — and succeeding. I do deserve the love and respect of my kids, all of them. It’s just going to take some getting used to, I guess.
As bonus parents, stepparents spend a lot of time working towards strong relationships with their little ones and sometimes it’s just not possible. I know a few good weeks does not a smooth rest-of-childhood make. I know as they grow older and wiser, there will be some (more) resentment. There will be questions. There will be plenty of moments for them to hate me and for me to feel inadequate and unloved. So for now I need to embrace the love-fest phases of their childhood with me, a childhood I share with another who has the same roller coaster of emotions experienced through a different lens.
I’m deserving of the kind of love I strive to give to them — and if you are a stepparent, you are too.
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Category: Combined Families