Someone said to me a few months ago; ‘I catch glimpses of myself, which is nice’ as we discussed family life and how it’s possible to be so absorbed in it you can fade away, almost entirely. The sentiment of this rang true and I felt uneasy having settled for mere glimpses over the years.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been spiraling in some way internally, but outwardly I look like I’m doing ok. So often praised by others for coping with ‘all those children!’ The cry of startled strangers with their exclamations of ‘Haven’t you got your hands full!?’ will undoubtedly ring in my ears as I lie on my deathbed, whenever that might be.
Part of my discomfort when people have commented on the size of my family is simply that my hearts not in it – well, not all of it – as others assume. I’ve felt fraudulent in the past that I don’t see things the way the outsiders do. Ashamed of being honest maybe that I’m not a real-life ‘Mother Hen,’ who prides herself on such a large brood to take care of. To be brutal, I care about some more than others here and learning that I’m ok with that.
It’s not the blend of this ‘unit’ that has created my unhappiness, but I can’t deny I’ve found it extremely tough at times! Being a stepmother isn’t a role that many would choose, and I have found it a tremendously isolating and turbulent experience. Worse still, it’s hard to find people to share the typhoon of emotions you can feel, particularly when a lot of what you’re expressing can leave others uneasy.
For me, the reality is that I don’t feel like a mother towards my stepchildren at all (never have in nine years of living together,) and highly doubt I ever will. Mostly though – and this is where people really raise their eye-brows – I don’t want to! Yes, I have absolutely no desire to be an actual parent to any child that I am not actually the parent of. None whatsoever.
It’s not that I dislike my stepchildren. I do almost everything for them and have since they were just three and four. They sadly don’t have a biological mother in the background and so our set up is me, my husband, my three, and his two. It’s permanent and it’s gruelling, but with that comes a familiarity that has seen us forge our version of a family.
My husband works incredibly hard and he honestly is lovely, he just struggles to challenge and impose at times. This leaves me having to step up (if you’ll excuse the pun!) It is so very different though… With two sets of children comes two approaches.
It’s difficult to put into words, but with mine I just – sort of – feel it. I feel the need to give them a nutritious meal or to ensure that their clothes are clean. I feel compelled to remind them about showers, or homework and to impose curfews and boundaries. I text when they are out to ask if they are safe and how they are doing because it bothers me enormously to not know… It comes from within – it’s raw and it’s real.
For my stepchildren, I mirror what I feel for mine, but it’s without the impulse. In the absence of this pretense of feeling they wouldn’t hear much to guide or to encourage, to set limitations or to teach. It is my belief that kids need that stuff – perhaps, in our current climate, more than ever. If I relied solely on my instinctive feelings, they would exist without direction or nurture for the most part and that’s not acceptable – not on my watch.
It’s in detaching myself from the expectations of others and from the emotional pressure I have put on myself that I’m realising the significance in what my psychologist repeatedly means when she says; ‘Fake it until you make it!’ It’s ok to pretend for the greater good and that’s what I’m doing.
For the good of two young people who didn’t ask for the situation they find themselves in and who deserve to feel a part of something, however unconventional. They will never be my actual children, but this is their actual family and I play my part because that’s the right thing to do.
So, to set the record straight, I don’t feel it, but I do it and I’m not ashamed of that one bit. I am protective and proud of the relationships I have cultivated with the strange folk I live alongside, and I hope one day they’ll offer a heartfelt thanks – or at the very least I hope they’ll get it!