Mother is a title earned, not a title given

I’m a stepmother; a title that still feels surreal most days. I never saw myself becoming a mother. I’m not someone who grew up with a normal family dynamic or with any lasting examples of great motherhood. While I love my mother dearly, she and I didn’t have a healthy relationship until I was in my mid-twenties. My grandmother was a positive influence, but her presence was reduced to holidays after we moved to North Carolina when I was nine. Only one of my romantic partners had a mother I could describe as a good example (an Italian woman whose love for her children was both deep as the Pacific ocean and fierce as a mama bear), and that is a high standard I can’t even begin to emulate.

So, when the youngest of my two stepkids asked me if he could call me “mom”, I didn’t force it. I told him that it was his choice and that he should call me whatever feels most comfortable to him. Because I know that mother is a title earned, not a title given. That role won’t be handed to me just because I said “I do” to his father. I have to earn it.

He may choose to call me by my name for the rest of his life, and that’s okay. If there is anything I have learned about motherhood, it’s that it should be served with unconditional love. I didn’t have a steady maternal role model in my youth, but I learned what not to be, and I was achingly aware of all the things I needed one to be. From that, I can contrive the mother I want to be:

  • I want to be someone who uplifts and encourages and loves my stepkids as they are.
  • I want to be someone they can come to about anything, and know that, while I will hold them accountable, I will never shame them for being honest, even when they’ve really messed up.
  • I want to be someone that helps them understand right from wrong and to see the world and others with tolerant, empathetic eyes.
  • I want to be the kind of parent that never burdens her children with my own responsibilities, or forces them to sacrifice their own lives and well-being because I didn’t take responsibility for mine.
  • I want to be someone they can’t wait to see when they visit, and someone they can call when the world feels oppressive and lonely.
  • I want to be the kind of parent who leads a life that demonstrates the qualities they should have in their own lives.

Am I there yet? I don’t know. I don’t think I am. If I’m honest, moving into the scenario I did last year brought out old demons and has me feeling like a version of myself I don’t recognize most days. Sometimes, it leaves me in a state of irritability and disassociation that I know the kids can see. Because kids see fucking everything, especially the silent things that fill the room but remain unspoken.

But I believe I’m getting there, and I know I’ll keep fighting for it. The moments when I connect with them are like a torch in the darkness; a reminder of the life buried underneath the anger and resentment and grief that yearns to connect with the little lives my husband brought into this world.

My husband is the connection that brought me here, yet these kids are the unexpected gift that comes with that package. I never wanted children, but I want these children. I want this family. And I will fight to earn the title of “mom”, even if it’s not in name, but rather in presence. I will be the mother I never had growing up because that’s the kind of stepmother they deserve.

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