“Real” Motherhood- Stepmothers Need Not Apply

Recently, I have had several dreams in which earthworms were prominent characters. Not exactly an animal totem one dreams of having.  So I looked up the symbolic meaning of earthworms, and was presented with the idea that earthworms can represent seeing only one aspect, the negative, associated with a person or situation.

Wow, seeing only one aspect of a situation or person, the negative- sounds like a synopsis of stepmothering.

Barbara Waterman has written a book about motherhood from the perspective of stepmothers, adoptive, and foster mothers.  And, she makes an excellent point.  Seldom are these mothers, especially stepmothers, included in typical motherhood rites. There is no shower or celebration for a stepmother.  Heck, forget the shower or celebration, there is usually barely an acknowledgment that a woman will be stepping into a mothering role when she becomes a stepmother.  If there is any acknowledgment at all, the discussions are usually centered on the stepmother’s shortcomings and failures.

Stepmother are not welcomed into the circle of motherhood.  We are usually seen as the interlopers, the ones who could not possibly understand mothering (especially if we do not have children of our own).  We stand on the periphery- engaged in our stepchildren’s lives, often highly responsible for certain aspects of these children’s well-being, but we are never invited to the party of motherhood.

We, as stepmothers, are never held in the lofty vision of others as mothers are.   And, to be honest, those who have been blessed with the status of “mother” are often the least welcoming to our presence.  I have had several friends who are stepmothers, who spent years of their lives caring for their stepchildren, only to be told time and again that they did not understand because they were not mothers.

Below is a picture I created in relation to this energy:

In the picture, we see the large, exciting arrow pointing to the “Big Tent”, the circus and celebration of Motherhood! (the state we encourage all women to enter).  Hearts and love abound. But, wait- those hearts seem to be sitting upon a fence with stakes barring entry into the Big Show.  A ticket is required.  Oh, and to enter the Big Tent, tickets are needed, but the tickets are only for REAL mothers.

And, there I am, the little earthworm on the road.  Here I had been thinking I was doing a good job “mothering” children that were not mine.  But, the clique of motherhood is at once universal and highly selective. Caring for children is not enough to punch your ticket.  You have to be a REAL mother to gain entrance.


5 thoughts on ““Real” Motherhood- Stepmothers Need Not Apply

  1. ~Seeing only one aspect of a situation or person, the negative- sounds like a synopsis of stepmothering.~

    Maybe the view from “real” mothers (or ourselves) trying to put us in our place. How DARE we love a child that is not our own? How DARE we compare ourselves to adoptive parents who selfishly give of themselve to those unfortunate children that have no mother? How DARE we try to weasel our way to usurp the Golden Uterus off her throne of “Motherhood”?

    Well – yes – how DARE we? We dare with love, sacrafice, time, energy and everything about ourselves – both for our husbands and our stepchildren. It’s probably the biggest dare we’ve ever attempted to handle.

    It’s a dare I’d gladly take again…..

  2. I have mostly found it is a very mixed bag; I think more and more people are realizing that families come in all varieties these days. I have been lucky to have very accepting and encouraging family and friends and none of them have done me the disrespect outright by saying I am not really a mother. Quite to the contrary. I really think that mainly _ I _ am the one to downgrade _ myself _ before anyone else may take that opportunity to do it for me because of this mentality that has been drilled into us that we need to respect the biological mother and father of these children and to remember they are not our own. And what’s even more ironic is that I do believe in this principle. I absolutely believe in my heart of hearts that no matter what my personal opinion may be of my children’s biological parents, I will never disrespect them to the child as I believe that children are intelligent creatures and will come to see their parents for what they are (both good and bad) in due time. Do no harm. In doing this, I often downplay my own part in these children’s lives. Hurt myself to benefit them…. okay, Do no harm to _ others _; myself be damned. I am guilty as hell of not allowing MYSELF into the motherhood tent 😦

    • I love what you wrote about families coming in a variety these days. So true. And, yes, there is a tendency on the part of stepmothers to downplay our own role, so as to not harm the children or the parents. I know that despite doing 90% of the homework with children, I always make what I do seem insubstantial.
      Loved your last comment!!! Thank you for this insight!

  3. From the moment I learned stepmotherhood was impending, I embraced it with excitement and eager anticipation…and some trepidation at the great responsibility I was taking on. Because I realized it was just that. I was taking on the responsibility of stepping into the lives of children who are not mine, and choosing to love them, sacrifice for them, provide for them…MOTHER them way I would if they were biologically mine. Besides being something any “step” should do, and something I WANT to do, isn’t it just the right thing to do?

    But I’ve been overwhelmed how commonplace it is for my, let’s call it aspirations, to result in the equivilant of a pat on the head and a good natured “atta girl!” like a kindergartener who just announced she wants to be an astronaut. I’m amazed at the resistance the idea of WANTING to be an engaged, active, invested stepmother seems to illicit even from the general population. You would think I just invited myself on someone’s honeymoon for the “oh, you just don’t do that” vibe I can get.

    This is all new to me and I’m not calling it quits on the whole awesome stepmom thing yet, but I’m definitely beginning to understand the “members only” mentality you mention. Glad to know I’m not alone in all this!

    • I absolutely LOVE how you capture the energy of stepmothering! I too have felt those pats on the head. And, I have already passed on your comment about people treating stepparents as if we have invited ourselves along on someone’s honeymoon…. Stepmothering is like no other role in life….And, yes it can be awesome, but also confusing and lonely and enlightening….and sometimes flat out exhausting 🙂

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