I am not a mother. I have not carried a child. I have not felt a kick from the inside of my belly. I have not rushed to the hospital when I realize “it’s time.” I have not nursed a newborn. I have not chosen a name for my baby, and I have not signed a birth certificate.
I am not a mother. I am a Stepmother.
When people ask me if I have children, I used to say “My husband has a daughter. I’m just a Stepmom.”
One woman abruptly stopped me. “You are not just a Stepmom. You are a Stepmom. You need to stop depreciating yourself with that sentence. You are not just anything. You’re a Stepmom. Remove just from your vocabulary.”
She was right. I was devaluing myself, and giving others permission to do the same. Why was I doing this? I think it was because I just didn’t feel worthy of respect from other parents. I felt lesser than them…and then one day I realized I was so much more than just anything…
We spend a lot of our days in the summer on a boat.
We have wonderful friends who invite our family onto their water cruiser whenever the sun is shining, and we have made many memories filled with sand toys and tan lines.
One warm day, we were enjoying the sunshine and great company. We parked the boat on the shoreline of a little island in the middle of the lake. The kids were playing, the adults were relaxing and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Watching Stepdaughter splash around in the lake, I saw her abruptly stand up and search for me on the shoreline. Her eyes met mine, and I knew instantly: Something was wrong.
She waded her way in from the water and I knelt down to her level. She cupped her hands around my ear and whispered “I have to go poop.”
Oh no. We were in the middle of nowhere, no bathroom in sight. Tears began welling up in her eyes…What was I going to do?
I strapped on my Stepmom pants and held her hand. I gave her Dad a wink and told him we were going on a walk for seashells.
We rounded the corner of the tiny island, and that is where I helped Stepdaughter poop behind the biggest tree I could find. She confessed she had never gone to the bathroom outside before, and asked if I would hold her hand throughout the new experience.
…And that was the moment I realized I’m not just a Stepmom. Do I think I’m a saint of a parent? Absolutely not. There are many people who are helping to raise Stepdaughter, and I make my fair share of parenting mistakes. But I think all parents do, biological or not. I don’t believe bloodlines make you worthy of joining the sorority of Motherhood. I think your effort to be a good role model is your ticket in. Some days I’m a playmate, a chef, a chauffeur…some days I’m a teacher, a protector, a referee…other days I feel like a janitor, a maid, a warden…When I add up all those days, I realize I am not a Mother. I am a Stepmother, and that title comes with its own badge that I wear loud and proud.
It was there, behind that sandy tree trunk, holding this little girl's hand as she answered the call of nature in nature, that I realized I am so much more than just a stepmom. And the best part about it is I think Stepdaughter did too.
“Thank you Colleen. You are a really good Stepmom. You’re the best. Thank you for helping me, I’m sorry you have to do this. You are just...a really good Stepmom.”
I laughed at her unneccesary apology and told her that’s what I’m here for, to help take care of her. And in that moment I realized I am so much more than what I gave myself credit for. That was the day I stopped labeling myself just a Stepmom. That was the day I stopped belittling my role in our family, and started owning it. That was the day poop taught me a lesson and changed my life for the better.