Being a step-mom has been one of my biggest challenges. Not only because conscious parenting is hard in and of itself, but because I’m a necessary but often unwanted entity in my child’s life. There is a never-ending barrage of criticism, judgement, competition and bullying coming out of the other household and much of the community around me (I mean, have you ever heard from your child that your husband’s parents who refuse to befriend you are having Taco Tuesday every week with his ex-wife and gossiping about you for your child to hear, or had the homemade chicken noodle soup that you sent home with your sick child fed to the dog and laughed about, or had your child being taken out of sports simply because you enjoy participating?). Not being the birth mother has meant that strangers have cast judgment on me, teachers and school staff have questioned my role and my in-laws, don’t get me started on them! I am the walking, talking embodiment of so many people’s worst fear…everyone is replaceable.
There are infinite reasons to have children, but the most often responses I’ve heard are “because I want unconditional love” and “I want to create the family I never had and give my children a better life.” Maybe on their own, these statements don't seem so harmless. But, when you listen closely, these people are telling you “I need my child to love me and not leave me.” That’s a lot of pressure on a child! And, my daughter, like one of the million “prized” children of the world, is under that pressure.
On the surface, she is a well-dressed, sweet little girl. She is beautiful on the inside and out. But, under that surface lies a tortured secret that most people cannot see. When I met her, she had immense anxiety, her bottom and little thighs (root chakra, people!) were covered with eczema, she had rashes and UTIs and often smelled foul from not knowing how to wipe or clean herself. By nature, I’m a nurturer. I spent my days as a nurse and my youth as a nanny. In a lot of ways, dating a man with a child was safer for me than dating one without…she was a distraction in our early life together. And this girl needed me. She protected my vulnerability while I was becoming her mom. It was symbiotic from the get-go. The first time I met her, she watched me intently as I got down on the floor and played with her…five minutes later, she grabbed my hand, walked me to her room and into her tent and we have been playing ever since. The second time I met her, she didn’t let me put her down until bath time. And, as I’m helping her by telling her where to wash, she tells me that I’m her mom. I’m her real mom. And, as you can imagine, I went straight (and quickly) to the therapist, not stopping at go.
As time progressed, what is evident is that my child needs me. She needs me to fluidly fill the parenting voids, she needs me to fill the unconditional love voids, she needs me to be a role model. It’s not about me teaching her to wipe, to hold her pencil, to wash her body, to clean her room, to use tissues (an uphill battle), to spell and write her name, to swim, to play, to ride her bike….it’s the things like knowing she is okay deep down, that she doesn’t need to manipulate anyone into loving her, that she can reject me and I will be there, that she can see me living consciously and making sound decisions…it’s just about love. And, while this may come naturally to me, her and my husband, to the world I have been met with hostility, rage, and fear. Her birth mother has taught her to gossip about me as a way for my daughter to get attention in her household. She has taken her to a child therapist to give her “tools” to understand that I am not her mom and stop being confused. She has taken her to the doctor in an attempt to get it on record that by telling her about her body and how to keep it clean, I am somehow abusing her. But, this poor, tortured soul has done nothing but cause herself so much grief. My daughter comes here, week after week and is able to see the truth. More than that, she is able to feel the truth. I teach her, I take care of her, I respect her and I am a steady, unrelenting source of unconditional love. And, despite the words that come out of her birth mother’s mouth, what she sees and feels has so much more power. All I know to do is to steadily be here for her. I will continue to work on my capacity to not be affected or hurt when her birth mother directs her anger at me and I will continue to love our child however she needs it. I am not Cinderella’s step-mom, and this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (but loving her is the easiest).