What makes you a Stepmother?

4 May

DH knows someone who follows my tweets and said that I was “out there” in my “obsession” with stepmother issues and said that since we’re not married (legally) that I’m only a stepmother in “my fantasy world”.
Hmph. Really? I love it when people unknowingly give me topics to blog about.
With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, this is a PERFECT topic. What qualifies you as a stepmother? Is it a piece of paper legally binding you to your partner? I think not.
According to unmarriedamerica.org, “Traditionally, the word ‘stepchild’ was used to mean a child who came to be related to a person through marriage to the child’s parent. However, as marriage, remarriage, and cohabitation patterns have changed, the words ‘stepchild’ and ‘stepfamily’ now may include some families that are formed by cohabitation rather than marriage.” http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/Census-stepchildren/2000-households-with-stepchildren.htm
Beyond being stuck on semantics the truth is, I AM a stepmother. I’ve been with DH for four years. I’ve cooked, washed clothes, paid for swimming lessons, cleaned up snot and poop, and shared laughs and hugs with his girls, but most importantly, I know my boundaries. I am NOT their mom, nor do I want to be. I love the girls because they are part of DH, but I’m clear about my relationship with them and how it may or may not develop over the years.
Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. In our Filipino/Japanese/Hawaiian-style family we called people who weren’t blood related to us “aunty’, “uncle”, “cousin”, “grandma/tutu”, as a sign of respect. The lines of blood relations have been blurred my entire life. I’ve done the same with my kids. They don’t call DH “Dad”, but they do refer to him as their stepfather. They don’t call their baby sister their “half sister”; she’s their “sister”. And they call DH’s girls their “stepsisters” even though we aren’t married (they arrived at “stepsisters” because DH’s girls were uncomfortable with the term “sisters”). My kids consider his kids family. My kids know that your family isn’t necessarily the one you’re raised with, sometimes it’s the one you make along the way. My kids have a team of “other mothers” too, other women who are crazy about my kids that I rely on for support and backup. It takes a village to raise children, and we have a big village.
Part of my village includes my fellow Twitterers and internet friends. One of the several things I tweet about has been stepfamily issues. I follow a lot of stepmoms/dads and they in turn follow me. I belong to a few stepmom groups for information and support. I’m just trying to learn to be the best stepmom that I can be because this gig is a whole lot different than being a BioMom. If trying to be the best person I can be for DH and his little ones can be categorized as an “obsession” and a “fantasy world”, then so be it. I only hope that if my ex ever gets remarried that his new wife does the same. My suspicion is that being uninterested and uncaring would be garner criticism from this person as well. Personally, I’d rather be criticized for trying to do good instead of washing my hands clean of “his kids”.
Am I offended that someone thinks I’m only a stepmother in my “fantasy world”? No. Actually I feel sorry for that person. Stuck in his world of semantics, he is more content to play “word police” instead of seeing that I take my self-appointed label of “stepmother” very seriously and how this ultimately benefits DH’s girls. The three of us have worked hard over the last four years to carve out a relationship that works for us. It’s a work in progress, but we always land somewhere that’s comfortable. My “fantasy world” is a place of hard work and lots of love. It’s the same “fantasy world” occupied by hundreds of thousands of unmarried stepfamilies (straight and lesbian). It’s a “fantasy world” where families are families. Period.
So Mr. Word Police and Defender of Families, you can do whatever you want to in YOUR family. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t earn the title of “stepmother” with a piece of legal documentation. You earn it by the love that’s in your heart. So Happy (Step)Mother’s Day to all you unmarried stepmothers! Being a mother is hard work and in a lot of ways, being a stepmother is harder.

10 Responses to “What makes you a Stepmother?”

  1. Jennifer May 4, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    I think the Filipino/Japanese/Hawaiian-style family you grew up with definitely shaped your perception of family in a good way! Expanding the family beyond bloodlines is an entirely different perspective. It creates a sense of community that makes step-parenting less messy. In your case, it’s great that you aren’t trying to be their mom or … See Morereplace their mom. They’ve got her and she is irreplaceable! In my case, my step-daughter knows her mother but has NO relationship with her and never has (the mom’s doing, not the daughter’s). So the expectation for me to be mom was far and above my expectation of being mom! Her hopes and dreams were much bigger than mine. I am not threatened at all by her bio mom and to some degree wish they had a relationship so that there wasn’t the feeling of a “missing link” or an unknown heritage. Jumping into a step-mom role when you are essentially the only mom to a 10 year old who has never had a relationship with her bio mom … that’s a steep order! I’m glad DH’s kids have so many parents that love them! They are blessed.

  2. knittingbetweencultures May 5, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    My mom and dad were divorced when I was 4, then my dad remarried a woman who is my step-mom. They later divorced and my dad remarried someone that I would called his wife, not my mom and not my step-mom. Though, my dad and step-mom have divorced long ago, I am glad to know that Mr. Semantics does not believe that she is not my step-mom. I am sure my children would LOVE to hear that she is not their grandma, nor is her husband their papa. I am sorry, but love penetrates much deeper than semantics and I am not so sure why the he would care to begin with. This sounds like an issue between you, your DH/DBF, and his ex. I am not even sure where another opinion matters? Kudos to you that you are able to love and care for the children and try to make their world a bit more stable in what seems like a very confusing situation!

    • BioStep May 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      I think a lot of my free use of titles like aunty, uncle, grandma, etc comes from my upbringing. My grandpa was Filipino and my grandma Caucasian, and culturally, using a title like that means that you are honored, you are family. When I met my biological father when I was 13 (he was Japanese/Okinawan raised in Hawai’i) I found that the same thing applied. It’s our way of making our “village”, our ohana.
      Mr. Semantics doesn’t know DH very well and doesn’t know me at all, so I’m not sure why he even cares what I call myself (SM) or DH’s kids (SDs). There are alot of unmarried women who cohabitate with men who bring children into the relationship. Does a piece of paper magically turn her into a stepmom? No. Being a stepmom is about what’s in your heart and the love you have for DH’s kids.

  3. Erin May 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    Would love to know what your Twitter name is so I can be sure to follow you. I love connecting with my fellow steps.


    • BioStep May 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      Erin, I follow your blog and I follow you on Twitter!!! You are AMAZING!!! My Twitter name is @makanani2. Beware though, I Twitter about all kinds of goofy stuff, not just stepparenting.

  4. Claudette May 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    I love what you wrote and support it fully. I’ve been a stepmom for 20 years now and in the first 7, my husband and I weren’t married (living in Canada, we had the same benefits as married) but decided to when we moved to the USA for child custody reasons and work benefits.
    I also grew up with the mentally of having a lot of none blood related extended family since my parents family lived far (well many of them) and I just needed to have a family setting.
    When we moved in the USA, I created another kind of family environment here also.
    My stepdaughters are my stepdaughters so that I can honor that they have a mom and that I am not taking anyone’s place. I don’t love them less. I know what my place is. They have given me lots of love in return. My son, on the other hand, still struggles today with his identity because his relationship with his father is not as strong as what he would have liked it to be. His father has a more narrow view of family and unfortunately, it has impacted how my son views his life.
    The only thing we can do is to love our kids and live our life the way we want our kids to live theirs. We aim to be positive role models for them.
    Thanks for writing this.
    I enjoyed it.
    The Stepmom Coach

    • BioStep May 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

      Thank you Claudette! I listened to one of your calls not to long ago and it was great! You give alot of good solid advice. And I love your French-Canadian accent!

  5. Big Blended Family (@bigblendedfam) October 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    My neighbor was the first person to identify me as my boyfriend’s children’s stepmom. It struck me when she said it that, yeah, I am. And since then I’ve worn that title with pride. I’m not very traditional, and I don’t think a piece of paper makes a stepmom. It’s the love, laundry, time shared, trips taken, all that stuff, like you said.

    I understand why some people take offense to me or you or other unmarried women owning that title–it’s because they’ve got a beef with stepmoms to begin with.

  6. Ashley Grant November 1, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    This just happened to me on my blog. Someone posting as anonymous went and posted “How can you call yourself a “STEPMOM”, when you are not married to the childrens father???????” on 6 of my posts where I talk about being a stepmom/parent. I found your post while researching for my own “Anonymous” inspired post.

    Being a stepmom is a choice. Some of us embrace the role without the legal paperwork. Others opt out even with the judges stamp.

    • BioStep November 1, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      I know someone who criticized me for calling myself a stepmom (DH and I have been together for seven years, we have a child together, but we are not married). She carried on and on for years. Then, she met a man, had him move in, lived with him for two years and wouldn’t you know it—she called herself a stepmom to his children, called him her daughters’ stepfather and encouraged the children to call each other stepsiblings. I guess it’s ok for things to be wrong, until you want to do them….

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