Happy Mother’s Day….
Until I actually became a mother, my relationship with Mother’s Day was a complicated one. My parents divorced when I was very young and in the years that followed, my dad felt no obligation to ensure my brother and I had something to give to our mother for the holiday.
My parents had a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce, so its possible this was an intended malicious act on his part, or it may have been something he didn’t realize he was supposed to do. Regardless, the slight wasn’t lost on my mother.
It wasn’t that my brother and I had nothing to present to her. There was always a school created craft. Also, as we got a little older, my brother and I used to pay special attention to the neighborhood curbside trash and yard sales for treasures we thought she might like. We brought home things like second-hand wallets, old bottles of perfume and umbrella’s. Sometimes, we’d scrape-up enough loose change and walk to the Hallmark store in town to pick out a small magnet or a mini-figurine.
Sometimes, we would pick flowers from garden beds throughout town and attempt to fashion a bouquet. We also made her breakfast in bed, which usually consisted of a loaf of soggy french toast, cereal, pop-tarts and whatever beverage was on-hand.
If my mother ever appreciated our efforts, it was lost in her anger at my father for his failure to help us purchase more suitable gifts. She would rant and rave, call him and leave screeching messages on his answering machine and grill my brother and I about what he’d purchased for our step-mother. She would cry and tell us how badly her feelings had been hurt, how sad she felt at not having anything to open, how hard she worked and how she deserved more. The day would be lost to her disappointment.
The weight of it all was not something we should have been expected to help carry. We were just little kids. But, carry it we did. Every approaching holiday would leave me feeling crippled with dread and anxiety. I worried endlessly about how we were going to be able to provide my mother with enough to make her happy.
As I got older and eventually began earning money of my own, it became easier to get through these events, but I would still spend weeks worrying that I hadn’t gotten enough, or the exact right thing. I also knew that no matter what, my mother would want to compare it to whatever had been purchased for my step-mother.
When I reached adulthood, Mother’s Day began to take on a feeling of dreaded obligation, rather than a feeling of joy at celebrating the woman who had given birth to me. When my relationship with my mother came to a final end, I was relieved not to have to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations. It became just another day.
When I became a step-mother, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Mother’s Day. In the beginning, it continued to feel like just another day. I felt no maternal stirrings for my step-children, so I had no emotional connection to Mother’s Day. I was not their mother. I’m still not their mother, but I am something.
Being a step-parent is the most complex and complicated relationship I’ve ever been a part of. I know that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my case, the biological mother of my step-children pretty much hates me. Though we’ve not once had a single conversation in the nearly 10 years I’ve been around and though I had nothing to do with the demise of her marriage, I seem to be symbolic of something she can’t handle. As for what that might be, I can only speculate.
When I embarked on the journey of step-parenting, I was without great expectations. I knew we wouldn’t love each other right away. I expected there would be feelings of jealousy and resentment on their part and mine. I knew there would be loyalty conflicts and lines drawn and hurt feelings. I didn’t push.
When the kids were with us, I gave them plenty of room to spend time with their father without my being present. I didn’t force affection or attempt to intrude on certain routines without an invitation from one of the kids.
I didn’t attempt to discipline or direct them. I wasn’t a playmate or a counterpart, but I also didn’t cast myself in the light of a parental figure either. I was just there. I didn’t want to be their mother, any more than they wanted to be my children, but I did want them to feel happy and safe when they were with us.
I let them get to know me and I got to know them. When their mother’s negative commentary seeped into our household, I refused to become what I knew she wanted me to be. Overtime, I think the kids slowly began to see the motives behind what they were hearing versus what they were seeing. Not that this caused them to love their mother any less and like me any more, but I think they began to form their own opinions and to open themselves up to a growing relationship with me.
I like to think I’ve been a positive influence. When I first met the kids, they were often paralyzed by any new experience, whether it be trying a new food, visiting a new place, or trying a new activity. It seemed they believed the world was fraught with danger.
Little by little, I worked to crack that shell. I took them rock climbing and hiking and camping while patiently and continually reassuring them that they would, in fact, not plummet to the earth and die, get lost and starve, be kidnapped and eaten by hillbillies and/or obtain some type of biological disease carried by random woodland creatures.
I introduced new foods, my dad taught them to fish, I sought out fun and interesting places to visit, coaxed them onto their first plane ride, taught them to golf and finally, this past year, I took them skiing for their first time. My step-son is now obsessed, but my step-daughter is still afraid that she will crash, head first into a tree….on the treeless bunny slopes. We’re working on it.
But still, I’ve often said that if my step-children grow-up and do amazing things, some will say it happened despite my presence in their lives. If they grow-up and become serial killers, it will be all my fault.
As the years have passed and our relationships with one another have continued to evolve and seek definition, I’ve continued to have no expectations of recognition on Mother’s Day. In part, I’m sure it’s to save myself from hurt feelings, but at the same time, I know I am not their mother and if the day holds an exclusive meaning for them, I would never seek to intrude.
With that being said, I’ve not gone without it. At some point, they began getting me a card and a small gift. The card typically has the word “Step” written by one of them in front of the word “Mom” anywhere it’s printed on the card. I’ve never viewed it as a negative, only as a boundary. I am their step-mom. It’s not the same as being their mom. I like the distinction.
My husband has always insisted he has not influenced the kids to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he may have planted the seed. However, one year, when my step-son was ten, he presented me with a school craft he’d made. It was a long piece of construction paper that included a picture of himself holding a giant sunflower. Underneath the photo, it said, “Happy Mother’s Day” and printed below was a list of things he loved about me.
I’m not a particularly emotional person, but when he gave it to me, I’ll admit that I thought my heart might burst. I thanked him and told him it was the best gift I’d ever been given and I meant it. Later, I took it to my room and cried. Then I framed it and hung it.
Then, I became a mom in the traditional sense of the word. All this week, I’ve been reading the various editorials written about the mom’s out there. The harried and frazzled, the mother’s who have lost children, the women who have lost their mother’s, the foster and adoptive mom’s and the all the other women who stepped in and took on the role of a mother when they were needed most. I’ve laughed, sympathized, felt sad, but mostly, I’ve felt grateful.
I still don’t want or expect grandiose gestures for Mother’s Day. I’m definitely on board with the mom’s who say, “For the love of God, please do not take me to brunch!” though. Other than that, I just want to enjoy a quiet, simple day with my little family.
I hope all you moms out there get what you need this Mother’s Day too.