I have been a “stepmom” for 12 years now, having already been the regular, normal, default kind of mom for some years before that wretched title was foist upon me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life with my husband’s kids. I just hate having to call myself somebody’s “stepmom”.
For the years before I was actually married to their dad, I used every term I could think of to keep from sharing the “S” tag with a legion of Disney villains that no child ever wants to have. As far as that goes, I’m pretty sure that no woman alive has ever had “stepmom” emblazoned on her bucket list, either.
I called myself “their dad’s girlfriend”. I called them “my roommates”. They were “my partner’s kids”. Once we got married, I had to just get over it and start calling myself what still sounded to me like like the equivalent of “mirror-dweller”.
We have no good archetypal models for the stepmom role. I’m not talking about the kind of stepmom who marries your after your mom died much too young. That’s Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. Anybody would want to be her!
I’m talking about the woman who lives in one of the two homes you bounce between, and who isn’t sure exactly who she is supposed to be with respect to you. You might live with her full-time, while openly idolizing your absent mom. You might really love your stepmom but feel secretly guilty about betraying your mom.
Some women seem to like to be called Bonus Mom. This is definitely a term with its heart in the right place, but to me, it still smacks of a consolation prize or the extra round on a lottery ticket.
No, I think we’re stuck with “stepmom”, and it’s on us to own it. We need to engage ourselves in elevating the energy around that word. We need to imbue it with power and meaning and purpose. We need to be valued for sacrificing a great deal of personal autonomy in the process of hitching our wagon to a family project already underway. We need to stay above the day to day drama and focus on our role: helping to grow secure, confident, compassionate human beings despite the wounds of divorce.
Wow. I can’t believe I just said that. We actually rock. Let’s do this.
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