Mother’s Day started as one woman’s tribute to her mother in the very early 1900s and by the 1920s, even she was irritated by the Hallmark commercialism of the whole thing. Motherhood and families have changed a lot in the last century – family dynamics are just different. The divorce rate hovers somewhere near 50%, something that would have been unthinkable 100 years ago (I looked it up for fun, only one in every 450 marriages ended in divorce during the first decade of the 1900s – just .002%).
What this means is that more and more of us are taking on maternal roles with children we didn’t bear ourselves. Motherhood is more than just carrying and delivering a child or even going through the long exhausting adoption process. Motherhood means putting someone else in front of yourself more often than you’d like to admit. It means giving away parts of yourself that you’ll never get back. I’ve heard people describe it as having your heart outside of your body, walking around. And the thing is – you don’t have to actually go through labor to have these feelings and experiences. Many of us have taken on responsibilities for children we didn’t bear but we love just the same.
I write this as both a stepmother (sort of – we’re not married, much to the consternation of Minion 2 who seems to ask about it daily – last weekend, it was what he should call me when I’m his stepmom – bearing in mind The Boyfriend and I aren’t engaged) and as a stepdaughter. Labor and delivery aren’t necessary for a loving maternal bond. There’s not a decision I make that doesn’t take the Minions into account. They are nearly as much a part of my life as if they were my own.
My dad’s wife, my stepmom, P, is an amazing woman. I feel like a jerk calling her my dad’s wife, though I was an adult and living on the other side of the country when they became they. She puts up with so much from my siblings and even myself – let me just say, it can’t be easy when your boyfriend’s bossy, opinionated, vegan (at the time – and particularly difficult), adult daughter shows up for visits. But she handles it all with grace and humor and laughter. She takes care of my niece and nephews and makes sure my brothers are where they need to be. She checks in with me and keeps my dad in line. She takes on so much, in a mostly thankless position. Our lives wouldn’t be the same without her.
Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, it’s kind of an awkward thing. Everyone in my Facebook feed is wishing the “real” mothers a happy day, and I know it’s strange for the childless, those without living mothers, and other women like me, who pour so much love into children we didn’t bear ourselves. I was reading about it this morning, and apparently, these awkward feelings aren’t uncommon. From Blissfully Domestic, this quote stuck out with me for its truth: “Stepmoms may not be acknowledged at all, though they try hard to pour into their step families lives. In fact, somehow Mother’s Day often allows outsiders to use the term as a pistol whipping experience to try to make a statement about who the “REAL” mother is.” From other places on the internet, I’ve found similar sentiments. From Smart Stepfamilies (a site that is sometimes useful but *really* religious), I related to not expecting the Minions to honor me. They’re with their mom and I don’t expect them to. They’re spending the day with her, exactly as they should. Last weekend, I made sure to have them pick out a card for her while we were out shopping. But, something that struck me, was “The day isn’t about the relationship with my stepsons, it’s about my husband honoring me for the effort and tears I’ve experienced [as] a stepmom.”
I think that is a good way of looking at it. I’m not expecting to be celebrated as a mother, but an acknowledgement of the effort and experience would be appreciated. So, if you know a stepmom, or someone in a stepmom-ish position, wish them a happy mother’s day. I can almost guarantee it will brighten their day. I particularly liked the well-wishes on Family Fusion Community‘s Mother’s Day Post: “I hope you know how much you are appreciated for every time you accept the awkward stares, take the brunt of the anger, and for all of the times when you have stepped up to the plate for your step-children.”