The rain falls in soft cold, droplets. Covered by a navy blue shelter, three little Girl Scouts stand outside the Walgreen’s begging each person to buy cookies. I zip the purple coat of my seven year old daughter whose proclaims she is too cold. She stuffs her tiny hands in the pockets of my coat because my pockets are warmer. I chat with the other Girl Scout mother helping sell cookies. We talk about our girls are growing up too fast, getting prettier every minute, then it happens. The mother talking to my daughter says “your mom” which leads to a hurried explanation “she’s not MY mom, she’s just my stepmom.”
Silence, the knowing glance, the cold shoulder. All of the cliched, stereotypical images of stepmother invade that small 10 by 10 shelter. With people all around, I feel the cold pangs of exclusion, judgment. How dare I masquerade as a mother? Do I not know that I’m “just a stepmom,” the second class mother in the world of parenthood? I had forgotten. Maybe, this is why so many feel the need to remind me of my status in the traditional parental hierarchy.
I’m used to the reminders of my mothering inadequacies—the disapproving looks when I stand up in church to be recognized as a mother on Mother’s Day, mothers in the church patting me on the should telling me “I will understand when I am a real mom.” That’s when my emotional heart withers a just a little more inside.
Some days, I wish I were brave enough to wear a t-shirt proclaiming—I’m not the “other” woman, I chose to be a step-mother, so stop judging me.
Some days, I want to lash against the “real mom” clique. What more must I do to prove that I’m more than “just a stepmom” but a real mother? Each school day, I wake up my sleepy, sometimes grumpy step-children, hurry them to school. I sit in the frightfully long car line to pick them up, whisk them to our home and begin the arduous task of homework, snacks, and chores. I failed to mention the laundry, doctor visits, activities—how is this not being a “real mom?”
Frustration and anger tarnish my soul as I so desperately try to prove I belong in the “real moms” club.
Quickly, I’m drawn back to present. My step-daughter wraps her arms around my waist, whispers loudly “I love you.” Standing here in the cold rain, warming my step-daughter’s hands, I’m defying the stereotype, speaking against all of the derogatory connotations embedded in the role of stepmom. Rather than lashing out in anger, I choose to speak love through my actions. A quieter, gentler way of dispelling the myths of the evil stepmother begins with grace and loved filled actions. Being fully present with my step-daughter, spending the time to do something meaningful with her, carries a weightier, more powerful message. It is the message of grace. Not for the “real moms,” but for me. I release myself from the images of the evil stepmother with each grace and loved filled action toward my stepchildren. I become more alive when I focus upon the beauty of choosing to love my stepchildren. Through grace, I am no longer just a stepmom, I’m a mother.