I don’t have a word to use that articulates the kinship tie I share with my boyfriend’s daughter. I’m simply “daddy’s girlfriend,” because, at this point, only marriage can afford me a recognizable motherhood title like “stepmom.” But I am something to this child that reaches far beyond “daddy’s girlfriend.” I’m something under-defined, something society doesn’t recognize yet; something I struggle to specify.
Some say motherhood begins when a child is born, but I think motherhood is a mindset. Motherhood begins when you become open to the idea of having a child in your life — whether you are trying to conceive, preparing to adopt, or opening your heart and working to earn the trust of a partner’s child.
The moment I became a mom was the day I realized I love my partner’s daughter as much as I love him. But mom isn’t the right word for me; that title belongs to another woman in her life. I’m searching for a word that is not in competition with mom, a word that illuminates the love I have for the child that lives in my house that I care for, that I choose to have in my life.
One day, as I entered the schoolyard to pick up the little one, I saw the teacher’s lips mouth, “your mom is here.” She rolled her eyes and through pouty lips lamented, “She’s not my mom!” I was sad to see her upset by the mistaken identity; I wanted her to have the tools to explain our familial affiliation that carves out space for her biological mom as well. As she grabbed her backpack and headed my way, I started to wonder how that sentence could have been completed in a less painful way, “She’s not my mom, she’s my (insert language that represents love and care and family affiliation with different sets of DNA)”.
She was flustered as she approached me, so I gave her a big smile, “How was school!?”
Motherhood begins when you become open to the idea of having a child in your life .
Once we were outside the campus I said, “That guy called me your mom, huh?”
“Yeah, and you’re not my mom!”
This is always a fun reminder. I’m not mom, but I’m something important, something valuable; I need the ability to articulate my role here!
“Yes, that’s true, I’m not your mom; I’m something else! But our society hasn’t come up with a name for it yet! We should make one!”
“I’m not sure off the top of my head, but I don’t like saying ‘my boyfriend’s daughter’ every time I talk about you. I don’t like it because the kinship reference goes through another person to get to you, it goes through daddy rather than directly explaining how you and I are related.”
We decided to try out “parental guardian” which is quite a sterile mouth-full, or “PG” or “Peeedge” while we strategize a better name!
One approach to establishing a new kinship title could be based on the dynamics of our relationship. We make cookies together, I help her bathe, brush her hair, take her to school, help her with homework, make her dinner, practice ukulele with her, ask her about her dreams, encourage her to write, buy her clothes, think of her constantly, worry she’s healthy, happy, and feels loved and feels safe, I laugh with her, I hug her when she cries, she hugs me when I cry, I make her wash her dishes and clean her room, I help her open jars, I teach her things, I push her to explore, I love her. How could one word describe all this?
Another resource for developing a name for supporting parents could be shaped around the question:
What is motherhood?
A mother is a nurturer, a provider, a protector, a support system, a mentor, a sturdy foundation, a well of love — motherhood is not confined to biological terms. I am mother to many things! I am mother to my cat, I am mother to my dreams, I am mother to my brother and my father, I am mother to my friends, I am mother to nature, I am mother to strangers, I am mother to myself. Perhaps I don’t even need a name to be recognized for who and how I love.
While the search for a place in the linguistic family tree continues, I’m grateful to feel at home in the relationships I have with my partner and his daughter. I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to all mother figures who feel like an outsider on days like this.
So Happy Mother’s Day to all the unmarried stepparents, to the pregnant mothers who wonder if this Mother’s Day counts — yes it does.
Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers grieving a child and to the children grieving a mother.
Happy Mother’s Day to the men who are mothers, to surrogates, to foster parents, to all mothers, and to the ones who love their baby from another mother without expecting anything in return.
Taryn reflects on step-parenting, society, and life’s challenges through her writing. She works at a non-profit in Oakland, plays the ukulele, and feels very fortunate to live in the Bay Area with her family. Taryn received an anthropology degree from UC Berkeley and was awarded the Frankenberg Prize for her research on radioactive contamination in Japan and the Bay Area. Her work experience ranges from journalism to tech to teaching inmates in prison. You can learn more about Taryn here.