My daughter Sophia tugs the ears of people she loves. It started when she was a baby, as I nursed her she would reach up and pull at my ear. As she got older, she would suck her thumb and tug at her own ear or the ear of any loved one nearby. Her practice of ear tugging and tugging at our hearts with this gesture continues even today.
I recall with clarity the first time I saw Sophia tugging her now stepmom’s ear. I was coaching Anna’s soccer team and from across the field, I saw Sophia crawl onto her lap and tug at her ear. I immediately reached for my phone to message my former spouse to get Sophia off of her lap. By the time I was ready to hit “send” my rational mind had returned and I hit delete instead.
Without hesitation, I can say that for me, the idea of the stepmom is the most painful part of my divorce experience. Don’t get me wrong, the actual person who is their stepmom is a good person. She is kind and loving to my girls and all indicators are that, she takes good care of their dad and that is important to me. She was at my house just last weekend for a couple of hours for Anna’s birthday party. I genuinely like her. But if I am painfully honest, I hate the idea that my girls have a stepmom.
From the very beginning, I made it my business to have relationship with her and my former spouse graciously obliged my need. We met for lunch together with my former spouse prior to her being introduced to our girls. I told her from the outset I had no agenda, other than that she and I should know each other if she was going to become a part of my daughters lives. Was it my favorite thing to do? No. But I knew that my girls would ask my opinion about her and about dad having a girlfriend and I wanted to be truthful and present a united front that all was well with this significant change in their world.
Fast forward a year and a half and the girls then had a stepmom. The brutal truth is the idea that there is another woman in this world who spends exactly the same amount of time with my girls that I do, makes me crazy. I see her signature on a parent form for school and I want to rip it up. I see my daughter write a thank you note for birthday gifts and she references great parents (referring to her dad and stepmom) and I feel like she just punched me in the gut. And I count my lucky stars that they don’t refer to her as “mom.”
But as Mother’s Day approaches, and despite knowing full well that their dad will help them buy their stepmom gifts for Mother’s Day instead of me, I am choosing to focus on me as mom. How do I shift my focus? It is useful to dig deep and look at those ideas that resurface and bother me most. I have to really pick them apart and find the underlying fear or hurt in order for me to move past them.
The idea of stepmom is more about the idea that I could somehow be replaced, that I am somehow less loved by my children, or that I am somehow less of a mom. It does not mean that I have somehow lost my treasured status as the most important woman in their lives. I am their mother. Stepmom does not mean I step down from the highest spot on the podium. Stepmom means I have to rise to it. And in rising I must own my fears, my jealousy, and my vulnerability.
Just typing that out makes me smile at my own ridiculousness. She simply isn’t me. She cannot be me to my girls. I see that the idea of stepmom has very little impact on the reality of my motherhood.
I still soothe them in times of sickness. I still comfort them when they nurse hurt feelings. I still bake chocolate chip cookies with them. I still run around at soccer with them. I still read books with my very best accents to them. I still act as their personal historians while gathering up their photos, report cards, and artwork. And, most sweetly, I still get my ear tugs.