I still the remember the first time my stepson asked to call me mom, and I very curtly said no. The verbal playback from how I heard my response come out, the tone, the very evident feeling of repugnance behind it, and the visual of his reaction when he received my response – is a moment that I wish I could erase, for us both.
In the beginning we both felt like we were fighting for a place in his fathers life and neither of us were giving in. Imagine having your child ask if their friend can stay the night, then another night and another night – then moving in. Forever. During a single night sleepover, kids are endearing, quirky and fun even. If they misbehave or river-dance on your last nerve, you can breathe through it knowing they go home soon. But, when they never go home, because their home is now your home – that’s rough.
Listen, I know as you’re reading this you’re thinking I sound like an evil stepmom and let me tell you, I felt like an evil stepmom too! Additionally, I felt like I was being bullied, being a bully, being tested and testing, and failing miserably. Did I mention he was my son’s best friend? That I met my husband because they were best friends? I fell head over heels in love with a man, and gained a son – that I wasn’t head over heels in love with. At first.
If I am being honest with myself, I knew when he asked to call me mom, my answer was not coming from a kind and loving place. I knew I was coming from a “you already have a mom, and you are her responsibility, not mine” type of place. And, a place of “you are too much “work” for me.” Which translates to a child that they are not important enough to love. Because, would we not put in all the effort, every tireless hour, every bit of heart aching pain to help our biological children? Over and over again? So… essentially our own biological children deserve our unconditional love, but not a child who was not born from us? That’s awful. And, that was how I felt. At first.
One of the biggest misconceptions about being in a blended family is that you blend well. Think of an actual blender, the settings are: Blend/Stir, Shred/Beat, Grind/Puree, Mash/Chop, Liquefy/Whip, and Frappe/Mix. Those are some serious options just to blend something smoothly. I mean shoot, if I am making a margarita, I throw all the stuff in and press all the buttons praying they do the trick — and I’m quite certain that is exactly what I did in the beginning as a stepmom. And, with the lid off at least 50% of the time, because some days I wanted to make a mess, this uprooting in my life was a daily grind where I was being beat, shredded and liquefied to a point of tears. At first.
Babies and toddlers, they are one thing. They’re pliable, naive, and still young enough to create that sweet bond with. But at seven, their mannerisms and personality traits are primarily already set in place, and none are from you. You didn’t spend the past seven years teaching them how to walk, talk, count to 10, sing the alphabet, how to write their names and how to say I love you mommy. You weren’t able to share the values, morals, and lessons that you taught your own children either. Instead you inherited someone else’s values, morals and lessons all wrapped in a cute kiddo who you have to simply just accept because if you don’t you’re a horrible person. At first.
There was a day early on that made me very aware of the manipulation that could exist in the world of “I don’t want my dad to date you” (which was a super fun place to live, not at all). We were in the drive through at Carl’s Jr when my stepson saw an attractive girl taking our money at the window, and he says “my daddy calls her beautiful every time he talks to her “hi beautiful, thanks beautiful” every time” and he flashes this look and laughs. And, I laugh too (as I’m texting his dad asking who the girl at CJ is) through the moment and play it off. He just wanted me to leave, and he was too young to understand that by hurting me, he would hurt his father. But in that moment, none of get that – were all just fighting for scraps at the dinner table. He would flip flip though very rapidly, one minute he would try to break us apart, and the next he would want a hug and ask me if he could call me mom. Things I can now look back on and see very clearly. But then, I’ll be honest again, I didn’t have the type of heart that reminds itself this is a child, they do not mean it, it is their backstory causing this – in the moment. In the moment, I was mad, I was affected and I was annoyed. To me this kid was a disrespectful and needed discipline, at first.
A few months later, he asked to call me mom again, and this time we were not alone, it was in the car with his dad and both my children. Before I could respond, they both said “No she isn’t your mom.”, And, while his dad looked at me with that look of what do we say, when he heard how quickly my kids blew his son off – he was hurt too! It was a no win situation, and things were still choppy – but this time was little different, and I felt stuck. When a child asks to do something that another child in the same household does, it’s because they want to be the same, to be included, and to feel like part of the family. I was told once that if a child asks to call you mom or just does it on their own, and you have other children in the home, you are setting yourself up for failure by saying no – because you are then ostracizing your stepchild. Great! So basically I’ve been ostracizing him since the beginning, and now if I cave – my kids will be mad. Who do I please? Who is more important? Honest people will say their bio kids come first, goodhearted kind people will say it should be equal and so will your spouses. But that doesn’t always happen at first.
Just a side note about this, everything I’ve experienced as a stepmom, my husband has experienced as a stepdad too (my daughter who is 16 calls him dad now too actually). My two had their father involved at first – and he hated my husband for sheer fun. For me, it was a little easier in that my stepsons mom was really not in the picture. At that time her involvement and communication was minimal at best and she lived in another state. Basically, I was his mom, whether we liked it or not. His physicians, teachers and coaches all knew me as mom because none had ever met his “real” mom. So, as I am saying no, you can’t call me mom, they are telling him talk to your mom, and this poor kid is confused.
It was very clear my stepson was nothing like me, but there were definitely things about him that I started to love. He was and still is so great with little kids, he gets down on their level and is patient and kind with them. He loves to be with adults, and would prefer to hang with them then go outside and play. And, I learned very quickly (thank goodness) that he just craved love. He needed and wanted so much love – and here I was being an ass and saying no. Saying I have no room, no extra love to give, sorry not sorry. I couldn’t stop focusing on how much re-work I was having to do with him. Simple things like brushing his teeth, taking a shower, doing his homework, not lying (oh my goodness the lying!!!) his constant need to be glued to his dad at every moment – it was almost too much, almost every day. He was on an IEP in school because he needed help in most areas and my children were none of those things. They were good kids, easy kids. Because they were my kids. Looking back now I can see that while I did have really great kiddos, we let a lot slide because we don’t notice it the way you do with someone else’s child. And, that is what they are, someone else’s child – at first.
Around his first birthday with us as a family, I had a feeling he was going to again ask to call me mom. I knew this because his mom hadn’t called him in almost a year at this point. My husband asked me one thing when we first started dating, and that was to never contact her, that she had made her bed and to just let it go. Well, if you know the me from 7 years ago, letting anything go was a joke. So, one day after watching my stepson sit by the phone waiting for it to ring, I lost it and I broke that request. My insides were literally burning with fury, and the inability to understand and I wanted to know why she didn’t love him enough to call??? And, then I wanted to know why I care all of a sudden? Was it because I needed her to step up and be his mom so I didn’t have to, or was it because she was missing out on a phenomenal kid who just wanted her to love him? The real answer was a good mixture of both I suppose, at first.
I remember writing his mom, and I pissed her off (maybe you read the blog If I could have a word with you , which is all about that and technically my first love letter to my new son in a sense) and rightfully so because who was I coming in acting like I knew it all. But, after that talk, I took my children aside and had a talk with them. I asked them why they were so against him calling me mom, and I explained to them why I felt like the next time he asked, I wanted to not only say yes, but have them okay with it too. It was a great talk for all of us, and we walked away from that knowing that if he asked again, I would say yes, and things might be different, but nothing would change my being their mom.
I tell this story because not every stepparent/stepchild relationship is easy. There are times where both are wrong, both are hurt, both are guarded and both are selfish. Aside from writing about stepparent related stories and situations I don’t use the word step to describe him, he is just my son. His is not a stepbrother, he is just a brother – and even though his mom moved back here two years ago, I’m not his step mom, I’m just his mom. He hasn’t stopped calling me mom since, and I’ve worked my butt off to earn that title, and he has my love unconditionally and equally always. We still have our moments, he will be 14 in a week and I will tell you that back then, I never thought we’d make it here but there is something really special about resilient love – and God knew we both needed the other. We just didn’t realize it at first.