Some friendships don’t withstand the changes our lives bring. One that I was sure would end due to vast changes has actually become stronger. Michelle and I were divorced and partying, knowing kids were not in the future and trying to enjoy our lives. She now has 1 baby of her own and 2 step kids that live with her full time, along with a man she loves. What a difference a year makes.
This friendship has proven to be helpful to us both. We went from party girls to mother-types. We have both entered into a world with kids that are not ours. We love the kids as if they were ours—which is what is expected and hoped for-- but we have a boundary that cannot be crossed because we are not the real parents. We see the manipulations, we swallow our thoughts, we hide our hurts, and we push through. We love the men in our lives with all of our hearts—and the children as well-- and we do it for them. But at times, we get overwhelmed. We feel as if we are supposed to fill a role and provide as much love as possible to everyone, but not cross an invisible boundary of discipline. Even as we near it, the father gets defensive. So we quickly learn that we are expected to act in all motherly roles EXCEPT in that one. We haven’t earned that role because we didn’t birth the child. We will never earn that role.
It’s a slippery slope, folks. We see the kids playing their dads, and their dads being OK with it. Oh, the things guilt will do to us. The kids are more defiant around their fathers than with us, but we sit in silence because our input may not be taken the way it’s intended. We have given up all of our freedoms for these people we love with all of our hearts, but the kids make sure we never feel completely at ease in our roles with comments they seem to make at just the right time. “You’re not my mom.” “I’ll get my daddy to do it.” “My dad will always put me first.” “Does it bother you that my dad loves me more than you?” "I need more time with my dad." Those comments hurt, and sometimes I think they are made with ignorance of its effect, and others I think it’s very intentional.
I became overwhelmed the past few nights. The first night, I felt like there was not enough of me to go around. I was trying to do some chores, but kept getting interrupted to look at this, explain that, think about this, or help with that, both with him and with her. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide, because I couldn’t even complete a thought of my own without being interrupted, and no one seemed to realize how busy I was. I guess that’s motherhood. Last night I felt mentally stripped, and I retreated to a hot bath to find a moment to myself. The manipulations are not constant, but they seem to occur in clusters, and last night I struggled to keep my mouth shut. A hot bath was just what I needed.
As a child, I never felt significant. I never felt appreciated. We tend to repeat patterns. I married a man who made me feel very insignificant. I chose a career where I struggled to prove my significance in a world of men. I thought I had stopped trying to prove anything a few years ago, and had created my own sense of significance after much introspection and analysis. However, I have found myself in that same, desperate mindset that leaves me feeling overwhelmed. It leaves me wondering, “Does anyone see what I’m giving here? Does anyone see what I’ve given up? Does anyone care that I have needs that are being overlooked? Will I ever be significant? Will I ever finish a sentence without being interrupted by a little girl, a computer game, or anything else? Will I ever be able to be completely heard? Will I ever be #1 to anyone?” I'm coming to terms with this role and its sacrifices.
I don’t regret my situation, and I love this child and her father with all my heart. I want the best for them both. But I now see the real struggle of any woman in a step role. I’m confessing my thoughts and hurts. Michelle knows what I’ve felt. She understands the inner turmoil that this brings. We are nurturers, so we naturally are not exclusionary with our love. If we are given a gift, we want the whole package, not some of it—yet we are given the care of a gift, we are given the responsibility of it, but we cannot truly enjoy all the benefits of it. We are living up to an expectation of what the father and child need, and our own needs get pushed aside.
It’s a slippery slope. I have a whole new appreciation for any woman who has taken on this role. It’s challenging in ways I never expected. If you have a stepmother. Hug her. She deserves it.