I had a tremendously emotional conversation with a fellow stepmother a few weeks back. She asked me to go to lunch and it was one of those requests that you knew wasn’t a “let’s grab some food” request but rather a “please, I desperately need to talk” lunch.
I get it. I’ve been there. Many times.
Before the menus even came, she shared that she was really struggling connecting with her son. While her daughter and she had a great connection, her son was distant, only wanted to be with his dad and could be downright hurtful with some of his comments to her. And it was taking its toll. Her eyes were sad, her lips were quivering and her voice was low and shaky.
She looked at me with tears in her eyes and shared something so wonderfully brave – “Maybe I will never love him.”
Sigh. I was staring at myself exactly seven years ago.
Cue the reach out. I grabbed her arm and our hands instantly clasped. The tears streamed down both our faces and we shared a stare that let each other know there were no judgments handed out at this lunch.
I loved her for saying what I said many years back over and over to my husband during dark periods when I questioned my purpose and my role in this life we were trying to build together.
I was quickly teleported back to the nights I cried myself to sleep because my son wouldn’t touch me. Similar to my friend, my daughter and I clicked on day one – hugs and kisses were frequent and easy. But my son gave me a run for my money. He wouldn’t hold my hand, pulled away when I would go in for a hug and wouldn’t sit anywhere near me on the couch. I was a stranger that he was forced to interact with. I was a packaged deal that he put up with in order to be near his hero.
And to me – that was the end of the world. I love hugs, I love holding hands and I am constantly touching people when I talk. I’m truly a “feeler” – it’s just how I am built. So when I was rejected over and over again, it played on my insecurities and made me question my own feelings. The walls started building and I convinced myself that I didn’t love my son.
I knew it was my turn to share some things with my friend. I told her something that probably wouldn’t set in for a while. I said to her, “I promise you that you do love your son.” She shrugged it off because I’m sure she heard it before but then I decided to say something that only another stepmom could say with conviction.
“You just don’t want to admit you do because you fear he may never love you back.”
I asked her to dig deep and think about what her dream day would be – would it be having him not in the picture or would it be having both her kids with her – both laughing, hugging and sharing moments together?
And that’s when it hit her. She didn’t want him gone. She didn’t want to walk away from him. She simply wanted him to love her back.
That realization is a powerful one. Because it doesn’t change the complexity or how difficult the situation is. It doesn’t take the hurt feelings away or make you feel more comfortable in your own home.
At the end of the day, we don’t all live in a fairy tale. And let’s be honest – there are no fairy tales where the stepmom is a good person anyway. When you’re a stepmom, many days can be a journey and a struggle to dig deep down and find that love in you that you know you want to give.
It took me a couple of years, many tears and emotional meltdowns but I finally figured it out. The day that I realized that loving my son was not contingent on him loving back – was the day, in my mind, that I truly became his mother.
As women, we have an incredible ability to nurture and care for others. We can be beautifully vulnerable one minute yet towers of strength in the next when others need us. I know my friend will find her love for her son, despite her pain.
It’s just who we are as moms.
We love unconditionally.
Whether they love us back or not.