If We Call a Mother’s Day Truce

I’m done.

Done with the clichés, the desperate attempts to force family into a suffocating box. I don’t fit anymore. I’m done. IMG_0070

This Sunday, we’ll celebrate one aspect of women’s lives with pink cards and red roses and lovely dinners. Our churches will have all of us mothers stand, and we will applaud our collective efforts of this past year. The kids will make some popsicle stick craft with far too much glitter and glue, and every mother is supposed to feel loved and cherished in this microcosm of community. Not all do.

But then, we will go home. Back to our non-traditional family, back to the every other weekend hurry up and do the laundry before it’s time to go lives.

Here, Mother’s Day isn’t as glamorous. Sometimes, it downright hurts like hell. My hands still sticky from glue and glitter that will never, ever, ever come off my clothes–I’m informed that being a stepmother isn’t a “real mother” so the kids give away their crafts or cards or whatever school or church made. The Mother’s Day bitter pill, swallow, carry on doing the work.

For another 364 days, we’ll hide behind how many laundry loads we do or how many doctors appointments we go to or how many mini-van loads of children we shuffle around to Scouts or gymnastics or dance or sports. We’ll bring out the big guns with puke we have cleaned up or snotty noses wiped.

But inevitably, birth mothers will lord over we stepmothers how hard it was, you know, giving birth. Believe me, we stepmothers know it isn’t easy. Somehow, pushing a baby out of your body negates every contribution another woman makes for said child. The ultimate mommy trump card.

We continue the cycle of mothering competition; a competition built on wiping asses and driving kids around. The constant barrage of “she doesn’t understand” or “she’s got it so easy, just every other weekend.” Enough. Just simply enough. No one will ever fully understand, nor can we base “ease” on how frequently the children sleep at another set of parents’ home.

I’m done.

Done with the bickering, the fighting, peacock posturing, cat claw meanness, justifying the work I do as a stepmother or yours as a mother. I’m done.

I’m calling in a truce for Mother’s Day, for the next 364 days, for the lifespan of every stepmother, birth mother, life partner, aunt, grandmother. A truce to celebrate the hard work of mothering. A truce to thank the community of women and men who mother our children. A truce to appreciate the contributions of another woman. A truce to give ourselves a break from the hard work. A truce to break down the walls of competition. A truce to raise our glasses high and say:

Yes, the job of mothering and step-mothering is hard. We’ve hurt and been hurt. We know the long nightmare filled nights, and we know the endless cycle of wash/wear/repeat. We know how to stain our pillows with tears when kids break our hearts. We know; we understand. We are mothers.

 

3 Practical Ways to call a Mother’s Day truce:

  1. If you choose to make  Mother’s Day crafts(church, school, or Scouting group), allow the children the option of making MORE THAN ONE. Make it clear up front because some children may not ask.
  2. If your children want to make a card or buy a Mother’s Day card for their stepmother or mother, let them.
  3. Remember Mother’s Day is a celebration, let every stepmother and mother celebrate in her own way.

Dear Church: Stepmother Isn’t a Dirty Word

Dear Church,

You may not remember me. I haven’t stepped across your threshold since March, and it has been even longer since we met regularly. Quite frankly, we may have never met again if  the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit or guilt or whatever doesn’t stop urging me to return. I feel the need to find a community of believers again. But like so many, I’m painfully broken and scarred and nervous about coming back. 

And you took great pains to push me aside, to leave me out, to let me know I don’t belong. I saw you roll your eyes when I stood up to be recognized as mother, then you had some balls for wanting to me to serve in your nursery. I left when I didn’t fit into your mother club because I haven’t yet shoved a new life out of my uterus. Perhaps, I made you a bit nervous when my kids were gone every other Sunday and claiming them as mine and not acting like a stereotypical stepmother.

For years, I mothered or if you prefer step-mothered my children(I will always and unabashedly refer to them as mine; they are a part of my soul and fiber and being even though we share no biological DNA). They lived and ate and slept and learned in my home, our home. I ignored the sleepy groans, the “I don’t wanna get ups.” We drove to school and slaved over homework and traveled to the beach, the mountains, even Disney World. For those years, I invested full-time in being a stepmother who didn’t resemble Cinderella’s stepmother. I loved as I know how to love because the Bible never really says directly how to be a stepmother.

But now, I’m mothering on the weekends, over the phone, sometimes, through email. I’m closer to the norm than I would like, but it is reality for now.

Maybe, this makes you a bit more comfortable. My new stereotypical stepmothering existence, a parent on the weekends, free and childless during the week. Or not. I understand why you may think I don’t deserve any recognition because parenting on the weekends must be easier. Hell, it’s practically part-time. But you don’t understand this: no parent is ever a part-time parent.  I worry from afar, and I hope the homework gets done  and video games and television kept to a minimum. I see the pain for my husband after phone calls when the kids cared more about the television than talking. Sometimes, they are flat out rude. How is this any easier? We both know it isn’t.

I have watched you my entire life glorify, exalt, and praise mothering as long as it existed neatly inside your idyllic family picture. Not all families do. I wish you could see how you have pushed those of us “non-typical” families and parents to the fringes. Sometimes, we leave and never come back. Perhaps, you will never understand stepmothering until you stop treating it as some dirty word.

Stepmother isn’t a dirty word, but “forgotten” is.

For many of us stepmothers, we feel forgotten and lost in your church circles, your Christian parenting/family blogs. We look for some small in road to the conversation about the struggles we all face as parents–whether we have “step” in front of our parental title or not. Whether you dear church like it or not, we are still a part of you, and we beg for a seat at the table, to be part of conversation about parenting and loving. We want you to hear our stories and understand us.

 

Dear Mother Club

dear mother club–

today,

i ask for a place at your table.

the one where you share

birth stories, bitch about toddler tantrums,

pray that you haven’t  fucked up,

cry shameful, healing tears

release the enoughness, the perfectionness

of being a mother.

today,

i ask for a seat next to you

not the table over where i’ve been sitting

with other women who don’t have birth stories

but wipe shitty bottoms, brush tangles out of hair,

love the very dna in those small hands

where none of our cells, our life exists inside them–

where we are just like you

yet not like you either.

please, may i sit?

 

but–

maybe, this is too much ask.

 

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Redeeming Cinderella’s Stepmother

Today, I am honored to be guest posting for Rachel Held Evans. I am sharing my thoughts on faith and step-parenting. 

Redeeming Cinderella’s Stepmother

Summer by Mark Askins

No little girl ever wants to be Cinderella’s stepmother. We dream of princes and balls and weddings and babies, but all of those things would belong to us first. We would mother our own biological children, not someone else’s. No one wants to be a stepmother.

 

The Bible doesn’t offer us a shining example of a stepmother. We could posit that Sarah was the stepmother of Hagar’s son Ishmael; however, she forced both Hagar and Ishmael to leave after the birth of her son, Isaac. Not the best pattern to follow. Literature isn’t kind to us either. We give away poison apples, prey upon feeble-minded men, and force servitude upon the stepchildren. Even the Greek playwright, Euripides said that “it is better to be a serpent than a stepmother.”

 

I am stepmother, not a stereotype.

 

To read the rest of this post, please head over to Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I’m part of her series Faith in Parenting.

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In which I am the Outsider

I am the outsider.  

Photo courtesy of Alejandra Mavroski and Flickr Creative Commons

Foam meal cartons, chicken tenders, green beans, slaw filled to them brim. The price includes a dessert, a Pepsi, and the feel goodness of supporting a struggling family. A typical benefit dinner in a typical small Southern town. We have no dinner resturants so Friday night benefit dinners draw the whole town to the Fire Station. We eat around folding plastic tables where fire trucks usually slumber. Our mouths too full to talk at first, then we swallow and the flurry of words spills out.

All round us people laugh and talk and smile. Men slap each other on the back, and women swirl from table to table hugging, greeting, chatting. My kids join the throng of friends, classmates who have escaped the stuffy building for the cool, muggy outside air. Soon my husband disappears like the others gone outside. I’m alone. Even in the crowd of people, I’m alone. I scan the crowd, but all of the faces look familiar and strange. But the conversation still buzzes around me.

Yes, I live in the small town, everyone knows your name town. The epitome of rural life. But only if you were born here, only if your kin have lived on the same street for years. Not for people who hail from another state, another city, another small town like me.

I am the outsider.

Scene change, the pews forest green or blue or red, whatever in vogue color for padding. A dewy morning, a Mother’s Day morning. The church filled with children and their mothers, grandmothers, wearing corsages of red and white flowers. We sit in the back pews and admire the special Sunday school crafts for the mothers. Crafts, I won’t be given. The “I made this for mom” or “you’re not a real mom, you didn’t have any kids” cut like daggers, but I’ve heard them ever since I began doing this full time mothering thing.

During the service, all mothers stand recognized for another year of loving, giving, sacrificing, and I stand too. I feel the looks of the other women not so comfortable with the word “step” in front of the word “mother.” Perhaps, I make them uncomfortable since I became a mother through my husband’s divorce. Perhaps, they  put too much stock in Disney’s Cinderella. I don’t know, but they don’t say anything. Silence speaks more than words.

Sometimes, they ask when it will be my turn. To have a baby, to procreate, to legitimatize my role as mother. I joke about only wanting puppies or kittens or something called a career or now’s not the best time(not sure if there ever is). Perhaps, it is impossible for people in the church to fathom how a 30 year old’s biological clock isn’t sending out its usual siren song–babies, babies, BABIES! Maybe, mine’s just broken. Again, I’m left on the fringes. Outside the safe, normal realm of being a mother.

I both loathe and love being an outsider. Perhaps, it is just easier to watch, to sit back and wait, to avoid hurt. I have grown accustomed to being on the fringes.

I am the outsider.

 This post is part of Joy in This Journey’s Blog Link up: Life:UnMasked. Join us and link up your story too.

 

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Unicorns, Rainbows, and Zombie Jesus

Crisp evening air, the Buick whirred down the four lane road headed toward town. A girl’s night out with Grandma, Ashley, and me. Sitting in the backseat, Ashley chats about her Barbie dolls, her unicorn storybook, the Disney Princesses–all sweet, innocent girly things. Her very essence wrapped up in one long car ride, and I’m thankful for a moment to listen, to hear her non-stop banter about her favorite things. Until she asks:

“Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Cause I just don’t get it.” 

Photography by Mark Askins

A pause, silence chokes out everything else. I fumble for a reassuring “yes, He did.” Perhaps, the easy answer will end her questions for now, but it never does.

“But wouldn’t that make Jesus a Zombie?” she asks unabashedly. “If He dug out of His grave, then He’d be a zombie. But all the pictures in Sunday School show Him next to a big rock.”

She waits quietly for answer, any answer more than my emphatic “yes, He did.” But I say nothing. Not for lack of “right” answers, my Christian college education gave me all of those with the bonus of Bible verses supporting all of those answers, but I’m not sure exactly how to explain something that I don’t firmly grasp either.These moments, I wished I could simply believe all of those easy faith answers. I wish I didn’t need to question everything that I have been taught about God and Jesus and the church. But I do. I need a safe place to ask, but sadly, I haven’t found it yet.

And it scares me to think that my daughter, with all of her questions, won’t have a safe place either. Already, she’s asking hard questions. Questions, theologians still debate and wrestle with, not to mention so many of us in the church. I’m thrilled that she didn’t accept a clichéd response and kept asking, but I worry too. Right now, she’s a child, and it’s okay for children ask if Jesus is a Zombie because he came out of his grave, but what will happen when she is older. When asking such questions will cause the church to shun her, reject her curiosity, and perhaps, force her to leave.

Will the church still be as unwelcoming to we doubters, we askers of questions? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But what gives me hope is that she won’t be alone. There will be other Christ followers asking hard questions. Others chronicle their journeys through the labyrinth of faith. For now, she talk about unicorns and rainbows, but I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of Zombie Jesus.

This post is part of Life:Unmasked from Joy in this Journey. Click here to read other contributions.

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Just a Stepmom

The Long Hot Summer continues....The weather man says it's raining...photo © 2008 Keven Law | more info (via: Wylio)

 

 

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.