Summertime at our house means softball. At least two of our kids always play in a rec league. This year, Shortstop and Snowflake played, which means we were at the ballfields at least two times a week, if not generally more.
At one Saturday away game, I was sitting in the stands with Bam Bam. Wind Tunnel was running back and forth between the stands and the playground. Smalls and Snowflake were with their other parent for the weekend. Ryan was assistant coaching on the field. Every time he walked by, Bam Bam would take a break from dipping his popcorn in leftover nacho cheese from my pretzel to point and yell, “Dada!” This adorable blonde cherub covered in dirt and cheese from head to toe caught the attention of a nearby family. The grandma was tickled and started asking the usual questions, “How old is he?” and making the usual comments, “Aw, he loves his daddy.” We engaged in polite small talk. Pretty soon Wind Tunnel made another round to the stands to ask for something else from the concession stand. “Aw, she’s pretty,” the grandma said. “She looks like you.” I chuckled quietly to myself because Wind Tunnel is not mine biologically and in fact, looks mostly like her dad. “Thank you,” I said, not really feeling the need or the want to explain.
After some time, the grandma asked, “So sister is playing out there? You have three children?”
The gig was up.
“We have five,” I explained. “He has three biological children and I have two. These are my stepchildren.”
And just like that, the laughing, the talking, the camaraderie, was over for the rest of the game, as if I had somehow deceived her. The look that came over her face was one I had seen several times before. The realization that I was the STEPmom, not the REAL mom.
Now I know she didn’t mean anything by it. In fact, I know most people do not mean anything by it when they have the same reaction. I think most people just don’t know how to react or what to say.
Being a stepmom is weird, sometimes uncomfortable, and often awkward. It is blatantly obvious at times that I am a new stepmom when I do things like fumble over what year they are born when filling out a form or if I don’t know if they are allergic to bees. There is a whole lifetime of knowledge and memories with their mom and dad before I ever entered the picture. They have a special relationship with their mom, one that we will never recreate, which is a frustration at times on both sides. I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt my feelings when I have taken care of them all day, only to see them run excitedly to their mom when she picks them up.
On the other hand, I do all the things that a “real” mom does. During the summer, I am home with them all day. I make meals, wash laundry, pick up toys, and take kids where they need to go. I go to open house, school concerts and help with homework. I change diapers. I break up fights and model problem solving. I am there to talk, listen, give advice, and pull their card when they need it.
So why do people act weirded out when they find out three of our five children are not biologically mine? When people ask if they are all mine, I say yes. They are all mine. I’m invested. I’m here for the long-haul. I’m part of their upbringing and their lives from now on. I get to be part of the story, make new memories and create my own relationship with each kid.
Not everyone has a negative reaction. When Wind Tunnel had her First Communion, her teacher made sure she made a gift for her mom and for me. It came in the nick of time when I was nursing hurt feelings for having to sit in the row behind Ryan and the kids’ mom, instead of up with the immediate family. When I told her teacher thank you, that it meant so much to me to be included that way, she said, “Of course! You’re a mom, too.”
I watched both of my biological parents become stepparents when I was about 18 years old. I also gained two stepparents. Even though I was off to college at that time, there were lots of times when it was a rough road. There are still times when it is challenging. I watched several friends bond with stepparents as if they were their own flesh and blood parent and other friends battle it out with stepparents to even live under the same roof. I have lots of ideas and convictions on what I would like to, and not like to, do or be as a stepparent. Sometimes those ideas and convictions change daily. Not one of my four parents is perfect. Ryan and I are far from it. We make lots of mistakes. Sometimes when we fall into bed at the end of the night, we feel like we’ve been run over by one or all five tiny tornadoes in our house. But we are working hard. We want our home to be home base. We want it to be the safe place where our kids feel loved and valued. We also know that our home is not the only home our kids have. But it’s our home. I don’t refer to Shortstop, Wind Tunnel and Bam Bam as my step kids or bonus kids. They are just my kids. I don’t refer to myself as their stepmom. I’m just a mom. I’m another person in their corner, who has their back, who is cheering them on, all the way. I’m another person who is helping to mold them into caring, generous productive citizens who love God and love others. It’s not a competition and it’s not about labels. It’s about the kids. Because what kid couldn’t use another champion in their lives?