Today on the local Christian radio station, there was a gal who gave a tear-filled account of how, after her 10-year-old child had recently come to know the Lord as Savior and how, at that moment, this sweet lady said that at that moment, she felt like she found her true calling as a stepmother. I think my husband must have seen me bristle at the word, “Stepmom.” It’s not a title that I call myself, nor is it the title that has been bestowed on me by my children. He turned to me and asked, “That’s what you are isn’t it?” My answer was short and sweet, “If by stepmom you mean the mom that steps in and fills the void, then yes, that’s what I am.”
You see, I have never felt comfortable with the title of stepmom. To me it smacks too much of the evil Disney stereotype. You know the kind. The stepmoms that lock their children in their rooms to try to keep them from trying on the glass slipper; the stepmoms who try to poison their stepdaughter with an apple after the previous attempt on her life didn’t work out; the stepmom who kidnaps the child and then locks her away in the tower. Yeah, stepmother is a title that kind of rubs me the wrong way.
But, I’ll tell you the title that DOESN’T rub me the wrong way.
On our first evening back from our honeymoon, we brought the kids up to our bed and snuggle down with them to read and pray, and my husband asked the kids what they wanted to call me. My husband had already decided that he wanted the kids to call me “Mom,” but he wanted to see where they were at in the whole “new mom” thing. To both of our surprise, the oldest said that she wanted to call me “Mom.” The younger two followed suit, and they soon fell into the habit of calling me “Mom” instead of my first name. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I don’t feel like a stepmother. I am, in a very sad series of events, the only living mother that they have in their lives. To deny them the opportunity to connect with me on that level was not something that I was willing to do, and I am so thankful that they had the desire to bestow the mantle of motherhood on me so fully. I know that for a lot of you bonus moms out there, that isn’t an option. And yes, some of you have married into a family where the biological mother is alive and well. But, regardless of what our bonus children choose to call us, we ALL have that mantle of motherhood put upon us when we choose to love and marry a man who has children of his own.
It can be tough, this bonus mom thing. For every person who tells you that you’re doing an amazing job stepping in and caring for your bonus kids, there is another person (or two, or three, etc…) who have their own opinion on how you could and should be doing things better. Worst-case scenario, you run into people who are so disapproving that literally nothing you do is ever going to be good enough. That ugly stepmother moniker is one they’ve bestowed on you, and, in their minds, there is nothing that you will be able to do to shake it. I’ve felt that pressure. I STILL feel that pressure on a regular basis. Believe me when I tell you that the last thing that I “need” is a bunch of people being “down” on me because, surprise, surprise, I have a hard enough time criticizing myself. “Was I kind enough?” “In this situation that called for tough love, was I too tough?” “Not tough enough?” “They aren’t responding like they should be-is that because I’m a failure?”
In the interest of bearing my heart here, I’ll somewhat begrudgingly admit that I have thought on occasion about packing it all in and quitting. Those haven’t been my finest moments, but there you have it. I know that there are women who would love to be mothers, and I know that I have been incredibly blessed to have my bonus kids and my biological kids. But, it is hard. Balancing life, balancing kids, mothering. I don’t always enjoy it, and I don’t always find it fulfilling. But, in all the chaos, all of the heartache, there are some important truths that I have learned. Do I always remember them? No. Does my heart still ache with the weight of the load that I carry some days? Yes. And yet, when I go back to these truths, I find myself encouraged and strengthened and able to take on another day.
It’s not about you
Ouch. As humans, we’re pretty selfish. We want our lives to be easy. We want everything to be all neat and tidy with no messy fingerprints or pen marks on the couch (side bar: my toddler just drew on the couch with a purple permanent marker. WHAT IN HEAVEN’S NAME?! If anyone has a tried and true way to get THAT out of a microfiber couch, please, please, please let me know!) I know I play the, “if they would just xyz, I would be a lot happier, less stressed, etc..” game. Let me tell you, that little game is a one way ticket to the crazy train. Motherhood isn’t always fun, but it is an experience that has grown and stretched me in ways that I never thought I could be grown and stretched.
It’s not about them
Okaaaaaaaaaay. Before you go thinking that I’ve taken a leave of my senses, let me explain. I am not talking about my kids here. I’m talking about the Negative Nancy’s and the Debbie Downer’s that you come in contact with as a bonus mom. They might show up in family gatherings, they might show up in churches, they might even show up at the library (yes, I’ve experienced that). When “they” say things that are hurtful, I have two choices: I can let it wound me and then walk around in a little fog of hurt and feeling sorry for myself, or I can shake it off and remind myself that I am doing my best for the children that God has given to me. Do people have to agree with you on things like early bedtimes? Or having your kids do chores? Or homeschooling? Or setting the bar high to encourage excellence? No. No, they do not. Do you have to carry their barbs around with you and allow yourself to hurt over what they say or how they act around you? Absolutely not! You know what’s in the best interest of the children that God has given to you, and those naysayers can all just hush. They aren’t responsible for your children-YOU are. You love your children, and YOU, not they, have stepped in to fill the void.
It is about God
Ultimately, the thing that has helped me the MOST is to remember that, at the center of everything, God is at work. On the days where I want to throw in the towel, God is STILL working. We might not always see it. We might not always “feel” it. But I can guarantee that He is there, weaving the tapestry of your life and your children’s lives. On the days where it might not seem like He is at work in the lives of your children, guess what, He’s definitely working in YOUR life! Motherhood has been one of the most sanctifying processes that I have ever been through. I am often exhausted physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have never felt such a bone-grinding weariness, but just when I think that I can’t get up to face another day, I am reminded how God’s mercies are new every morning. He gives us the strength to carry on when we feel like we just can’t face another minute of breaking up fights or dealing with attitudes from our children that are less than desirable.
Where do we go from here?
If you’re reading this, and you are a mama who has “stepped in,” I just want to take a minute to acknowledge the hard work and self-sacrifice that has brought you to this point. A huge part of me cringes whenever someone compliments me on being the mom who stepped in, but I will admit that I need that encouragement from time to time. Going from a career-minded single woman to mother of three overnight was never in “my” plan, and there are still days where I struggle with the enormity of that decision. It can be overwhelming, and I know that there are times when it feels like you are drowning with no lifeline to grab onto. Take courage. God understands your frustrations. He understands your fears, your worries, your heartache. When I was feeling particularly frustrated and alone, God brought to mind a passage of Scripture from Romans 8:14-17
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
If anyone can understand the incredible range of emotions that come from “stepping in”-fear, being overwhelmed, frustration, joy-certainly God can. He has adopted some of the most wayward individuals on the face of this earth (and I would 100% include myself in that statement). How many times have I, as an adopted child of God fought against Him? How much pain have I brought to Him? How much grief has he had to endure due to my disobedience? Probably way more than I would like to admit. But, you know what? That gives me such a great hope! I KNOW that when I am feeling frustrated or overwhelmed that I can pray and draw strength from one who absolutely knows what I am going through. Maybe you are feeling discouraged today. Maybe you feel like no one on the face of the earth understands the broad spectrum of emotions that comes with being the parent who stepped in. I’m here to tell you that God understands like no one else will. You can go to him with all of your worries and cares and HE will give your heart rest!
And, as always, from one bonus mama to another, I am here for you. If you EVER need someone to talk to or to ask for advice, etc…I am more than willing to lend a listening ear, so don’t hesitate to contact me!