My daughter and I were cuddled up on the couch watching something together. Somehow, the subject of her brother came up and how I was his stepmom. No big deal.
But then she turned to me and said, ‘Well, you are his stepmom. But I don’t get to have a stepmom.’
I had never imagined this perspective. Ever.
It really struck me.
We as a society are so accustomed to viewing stepmoms as ‘the outsiders’ or ‘not the real mom’ that we tend to underestimate how many stepmoms out there have really healthy and bonded relationships with their stepchildren — and the fact that their biological siblings — if they have them — are watching these relationships in real-time.
I realized that for as many struggles as I’ve been through on my stepparenting journey over the last decade, the end result is a highly functional and solid relationship with my now teenage stepchild. And my biological daughter has been watching, listening, absorbing — ALL of it.
The fact that my daughter thought she was missing out by not having a stepmom of her own propelled my thoughts into this new and amazing place — a realm where a child could actually want to have a stepparent because it’s a good thing.
When we mother a child or children who we have taken into our lives as stepchildren, we are showing the world that raising children — even if they aren’t biologically ours — matters. Not only does it matter but the act of being a stepparent dramatically influences our own biological children if we have them.
My daughter has witnessed her brother lose touch with his own biological mother and has watched him battle the subsequent sadness and depression which has followed that loss. But she’s also seen him rise up again with the help of a supportive family unit and with the comfort of me — his stepmother.
My daughter thinks being a stepmom is a positive and brave thing.michelle zunter
In my daughter’s eyes, I imagine that the idea of not having me — her biological mother — around to comfort and soothe her must be unimaginable. But that is her brother’s reality.
My daughter has watched my relationship with her brother as his stepmother evolve in positive ways. Not without turbulence. Not without heartache. But it has blossomed beautifully nonetheless.
I feel proud that my daughter has been able to witness a different dynamic to the role of motherhood.
Motherhood isn’t defined only by birth. It’s not just about giving birth to another human being. Motherhood is about nurturing a relationship with a child, devoting your time and energy to the best interests of that child, and ultimately guiding that child with whatever scraps of wisdom you’ve managed to pick up in your own life.
Being a mom and a stepmom is a complicated dance of dividing up your time and managing the tender spaces of love and affection for all of your children — biological or not. This can be especially difficult when you have a stepchild who doesn’t have other options as far as a mother who is present in their lives.
My daughter knows I didn’t give birth to her brother. She knows that the relationship I have with her brother is much different than the one she and I have. To her, my love for her brother, the young man who is probably one of the most important and influential people in her life — is vital. It’s vital to how she learns about relationships, how she learns about parenting, and how she learns about love.
My daughter thinks being a stepmom is a positive and brave thing. She thinks having a stepmom is ‘normal’ because it’s normal within our family.
I am so thankful she was able to shock me into looking at the whole stepmom thing from a new perspective — a child’s perspective. The most honest kind of perspective there is.