Happy Mother's Day. Written by a step-mum.
I always figured I would have children of my own. That was usually just how it rolled then. When I was 16 years old, I bought one of those tiny hard-covered books from a newsagency with lots of cute hand-drawn illustrations inside and cheezie quotes. It had a bright pink cover with a big white love heart on it and it was titled “Love”. It was going to be given to the person I would one day marry.
Twenty-five years later, I gave the book to my first husband*. Being a little obsessive-compulsive, it was still in pristine condition and (I think) after hearing the story behind it, he felt special to receive it, and perhaps a little frightened. Getting married for the first time at 41-years-old to someone who already had a daughter put my childhood thoughts of having my own children into debate. Would we, wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t.
I went from living in my own bachelorette, French-inspired, seaside apartment for ten years to living with my new husband, his 14-year-old daughter, and their two cats that I was highly allergic to. You may have your own thoughts now that I was bordering on being a bit nutty. If not nutty, then certainly delusional, and most definitely looking at life through rose-coloured glasses.
Well, you may be right. But … only about the rose-coloured glasses bit.
I’m not going to write a fanciful story that our step-family has sailed through life without any moments of tension. Is there any family that does? Here’s what I’ve learned:
I made a decision, quite early on, that I was going to be a part of my step-daughter’s life. I was going to contribute. We all have strengths so I would use my strengths to contribute as positively as I could to her life. I wasn’t going to compare myself to others, or try to describe or label the role I played in her life. This Mother's Day, she told me I was the person who gave her a love of reading. I could live off this “thank you gift” for the rest of my life.
Lesson: Don’t try to be “like an aunty” or “like a close adult friend” - just be your best self and make a decision to make the best contribution you can possibly make. Regardless of whether you are a step-parent every other weekend, every other week, or full time; be your best self.
Learn to love
The first time I heard my father tell me that he loved me was about two years ago. I wasn’t in any doubt that he did but he was from an era that didn’t express it openly. Hugging him can feel not dissimilar to hugging an ironing board when you’ve folded it up to put it away. My husband and step-daughter are from the opposite era. They openly express and give their love to each other, and over time I’ve learnt from them. Saying “I love you” out loud to my step daughter not only expresses how I feel, but it strengthens how I feel.
Lesson: Allow connection by learning to love without imposing boundaries on how it should feel.
I haven’t always been positive. However, it’s been a habit I’ve been cultivating now for a number of years. It’s a way of thinking that has had enormous impact on how I experience life, how I impact the lives of others, and how I’ve experienced my life as a step-mum. Positivity reaps positive experiences. Regardless of whether you’re a mother, sister, daughter, or step-mother, you can choose how you respond to experiences in life. Choosing a positive response doesn’t mean you’re saying “yes” when you want to say “no” or curtailing to unfair requests. It means you’re choosing your response to create the most positive experience possible.
Lesson: Choose positivity over negativity every time. Ask yourself if your decision/your choice is going to contribute in a positive or negative way to the outcome.
Being a step-mother has been (and is) a wonderful choice and gift. Being an atheist, I’m not going to say I feel blessed, but I do feel incredibly fortunate to have her in my life so I can teach her, and she can teach me. She has taught me all of these lessons and continues to inspire me every day. Love you Al. x
*First and only husband. He still treasures the cheesie Love book.