Most people who know me know that above everything else, I’m a mom. Like most, I make a ton of mistakes. But at the end of the day, I try exceptionally hard to make the lives of my children better.
But when it comes to a true definition, I’m not a “real” mom. I’m a stepmom.
I married a man who had two young children and soon after, we were awarded full custody of our son and daughter. They don’t see their real mom nor have they spoken to her in many years. They came to me at the wonderful ages of 6 and 8 and haven’t left my side since. Because I knew both of my children for two years before they moved in with me, they got used to calling me what most people call me – Amy.
I never asked the kids to call me mom, because I felt like that would be painful and potentially harmful for them. What if their mom came back into their lives and they were calling two women “mom?” Would the actual word drudge up painful emotions? So early on, it was an easy decision for me. They would continue to call me “Amy.” It was what was right for them.
Fast forward eight years.
They are my kids. Ask anyone. I think we have even morphed into looking quite a bit alike. My daughter has my handwriting, my obsession with organization and my love for travel. My son has my lack of patience, my penchant for humor and my competitive nature.
I maybe missed a handful of games in the eight years they’ve lived and shared the air with me. Other than that, I made it to every soccer game, camp and tournament for my son. I was present at every cheerleading event, softball game and basketball game for my daughter. I never missed a teacher conference, an open house, or choir concert. And I sat with my teeth clenched in the principal’s office a few times when they got off track – and worked with teachers to get them back on. I’ve logged hundreds of hours of homework, organized countless parties and sleepovers and slept in bed with them when they thought monsters were in their closet. I hid cards in their backpacks when they needed a pick-me-up and sat in countless doctor’s offices covered in throw up or blood from their sports’ injuries.
Because they are mine.
They’ve always referred to me as their “mom” at school and with friends. “I need to ask my mom” is a common statement I hear when they’re on the phone. But when we’re together, I’m “Amy.”
When others hear, it often causes mass confusion. I get asked why my son is calling me by my first name quite a bit. I take a deep breath and say something that kills me a little inside. “I’m his stepmom.”
Not sure why it’s so hard to say but it is. And I’m wise enough now to know that a word doesn’t define you or your purpose. But for me, for quite some time, that word has bothered me deeply.
And the older I get, the more I realize that the issue doesn’t actually lie with the word “stepmom.” It’s actually more about the word “mom” and what it means.
Moms make the world better, safer and kinder. Moms understand when you are hurting, hug tightly and give you the nudge to move forward. Moms pick you up when you fall, remind you to sometimes make a fool out of yourself and will stand by you, right or wrong, no matter what. Moms will love you more than they could possibly love themselves.
Moms are superheroes.
Stepmoms don’t do that. At least not in the movies, in books or in my mind. Maybe one time in that awful Julia Roberts’ movie. But in most people’s minds, stepmoms get to spoil the kids on weekends, show up in flashy dresses and in new cars and are often the irresponsible ones who send them out without their coat and gloves.
So, maybe I can be a bit bitter about the stereotype. But most days, I do see the big picture. I know how much my kids love me and the bond we have is stronger than oak. I know how lucky we are to have found each other. And I am thankful. More than I can ever explain in words.
Because they are mine.
So for now, I’m committed to dealing with this issue and moving ahead. I’m sure with time, my relationship with this word will evolve. Maybe I will embrace it – I mean, in actuality, I didn’t have to raise and love them. It was a role I chose to step into. So maybe one day, my mind will convince my heart not to break a bit when I have to explain, “I’m their stepmom.”
But for now – these are the only things I know for sure.
I will keep my kids safe. I will be kind to them. I will understand when they are hurting, hug them tightly and help nudge them forward. I will always pick them up when they fall, and remind them to sometimes make fools of themselves. I will stand by them, right or wrong, no matter what. I will always love them more than I love myself.
Because they are mine. No matter what they call me.