No one can make you feel inferior without your consent ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I adore my 6 year-old nephew, Ben, and his sister, my 4-year-old niece, Anna. They are as close to mine as I’ll ever have.
My sister and brother-in-law invited me into the birth room for both of them. That is a gift I will always cherish. I’ve known these two since they gasped for their first breath in this world.
As much as I delight in spending time with them, they would just as soon be with my youngest step-son, who is 11. Ben and Anna idolize Connor.
If Connor isn’t with me, they want to know why he isn’t with me…and what he is doing… and when they will see him.. and what will they play with him when they do see him… and when can I make that happen….
Figuring it out without a filter
Ben and Anna have always known that I am Patrick and Connor’s step-mom. They didn’t understand it at first and bombarded us with questions.
“Why do Patrick and Connor have two houses?”
“Why is Uncle Andy their daddy, but you aren’t their mommy?”
“Why do they not get to be with you all the time?”
“How come they don’t live with both their mommy and daddy?”
Ben is pretty savvy and he soon caught onto the idea that Patrick and Connor may not be with us every time we see them. He may not have understood the WHY, but he accepted it the best his developing brain could. And, he leads the way for Anna to comprehend the blended family her Aunt, Uncle and cousins have.
Step-Mom circa 1950
A few weeks ago, I spent the day with Ben and Anna. It was just the three of us, giving my sister a few hours to take off the mommy hat.
We built Lego creations, looked at photo albums, and Anna and I put a big Disney Princess puzzle together.
As Anna and I were finishing up the puzzle with six different princesses, Ben came in to supervise. One of the last princesses we pieced together was Cinderella.
Ben said, “Aunt Becca, we watched a Cinderella movie and it was scary.”
“It was scary? Cinderella isn’t scary. What did you think was scary about it?” I retorted.
Anna jumped in quickly, “She had an evil step-mother who was so mean to her.”
Ben couldn’t let Anna finish before he inserted, “The evil step mother was so bad! She made Cinderella do everything and then made her sleep in the basement!”
Anna talked over Ben, “The mean step-mother locked her in the dark place. And when the birdies and mice made her a dress, the evil step-mother and evil step-sisters ripped it up.”
“It was so mean!” “She was so evil!” “The evil step-mother was bad!”
They went on for a few minutes and I let them rant and express their disdain for the evil step-mother.
When they finally took a breath, I said calmly and with a little giggle, “You know, I’m a step-mother, too. I’m Patrick and Connor’s step-mom.”
They became very still and quiet – for what seemed like an hour. Ben spoke up, “But Aunt Becca, you aren’t an evil step-mother. You are a nice one and you aren’t mean to Patrick and Connor.”
Anna chimed in, “Yea – Aunt Becca, you are the good step-mother – not the evil one.”
And we finished the puzzle then scurried into Ben’s room for the Lego building and an afternoon filled with fun.
Would she use her power for good or for evil?
Although the afternoon is stored as a joyful memory for all of us, it could have ended up in the pain part of our memories.
After reflecting on the conversation, I see how I could have led this discussion south – in a heartbeat.
I could have defended myself, my role, my fellow step-mommas and quickly shut down the kids.
I could have had my feelings hurt. All of my insecurities, feelings of being a second-class parent, hurt and anger of not being a biological mom could have easily welled up inside of me and spewed out onto my innocent niece and nephew – or it could have leaked out of my eyes with heavy, painful, salty tears.
After six years as a step-mom, there are still days of hurt. Times of frustration. And, moments of jealousy.
But, in that moment with Ben and Anna, I saw it as an opportunity to slay the dragon of the evil step-mother. I jumped on the occasion to deflate the long-standing media projection of a step-mother as being selfish, immature and self-serving.
What if Ben or Anna found themselves in a position as a step-parent in 25 years and only had this negative perception of it?
Would they miss out on an opportunity to love and experience a fulfilling life?
Would they shy away from personal and interpersonal growth because of Disney’s 1950 portrayal of a now growing role in our society’s families?
What if I wouldn’t have reminded them of my role as a step-mom? What if my moments of shame about being a step-mom had overtaken my pride in the family I have been called to be a part of?
If I had chosen silence, hurt, or anger that afternoon, I would have only given more power to the historical and distorted view of step-families.
Step-Families can be amazing
Instead, I wanted to plant a seed for Ben and Anna. A seed that gives them optimistic views of hope, grace, and love in situations that may not always be viewed as promising or fruitful.
My experience has not been evil. It has not been easy, either.
I know there is no perfect family – biological, adoptive, step. There is no flawless parent. There is no impeccable child. We are all second-class compared to the Perfection of the Divine.
There is Goodness where you decide to see it. I choose to see love in our imperfect step-family. You can choose that, too.
Believe. Create. Live.
© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend