An open letter to a stepmum
By Mandy Nolan
No one ever dreams of becoming a stepmother.
When I was a little girl playing with my dolls I never imagined two were mine from my first marriage and the new doll was the doll from another mother who I now cared for on Wednesdays and every other weekend. I didn’t drop that doll off at another person’s house and wonder if she missed me as much as I missed her.
I may have planned for my kids, but I didn’t plan for my ‘step’ daughter, Rachel. She came into my life when she was 12 years old and she came with another mother; another family and, most importantly, a father whom I loved.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this girl would be a blessing. A remarkable young woman whom I didn’t even have to gestate!
I would have to widen my circle of love to include her, of course. It’s what we mums do, as I’m sure you know. But with the coming of each new child, partner, lover, in-law, pet or friend in our lives we’re reminded that love isn’t finite. We don’t run out. Thank goodness.
I was excited to be developing a relationship with Rachel, because I’m of the belief that becoming a significant person in a child’s life is a privilege. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it made me nervous. What if she hated me? For a start, there were those terrible stories. The Stepmother isn’t represented well in Fairy tales. Look at what the Wicked Step Mother did to Hansel and Gretel, for example. She sent them into the forest so she could shack up with their Dad without the responsibility of two pesky kids. And what about poor Cinderella? She was made to cook and clean for her Step Mum. What hope do we step mums have when we’re up against this kind of literature!
What about a story where the Step Mum teaches her step kids how to surf, or takes them horse riding, or holds them at night in bed when they wake crying from a bad dream? Amazing step mums, loving step mums, step mums to the rescue!
As a stepmother we are forces of love. Because we CHOOSE to love the kids who come into our lives; kids who, at first anyway, aren’t our own.
I never wanted to treat my daughter Rachel differently to how I treated my own daughters. I never wanted her to feel like ‘the Cinderella’ of our brood. So very early on we stopped using the word ‘step.’
She’s my daughter, I’m her mum. I started introducing her as my ‘daughter’ to people. I have another daughter six months older, people who didn’t know me started trying to do the math on the gap. I let them. You don’t have to explain anything to anyone. There’s still a woman I met at a school function who thinks I got pregnant while I was pregnant...
People would ask in front of her ‘How many kids do you have?’ I have given birth to four, and I have Rachel. One day I went to say ‘Four’ – but I was standing there with Rachel as well. How would she feel if I left her out of the kid count? So I said ‘Five’. I looked at her face, I could see her cheeks pink with the quiet happiness of a kid who’s been included. She told me once that she always wanted to have a big family, so joining our family gave her something she thought she was never going to have.
That's one of the important things we have to do as Step Mothers – develop unique loving relationships with our step children, but never expect to occupy that space in their heart and their lives that is for their mum. I totally get that. As Mums, regardless of circumstance, we support each other.
Of course Rachel has a ‘real’ mother. A real mother who she loves in the same way she loves her ‘real’ father, my husband. That's one of the important things we have to do as stepmothers – develop a unique loving relationship with our step children, but never expect to occupy the space in their heart for their mum. I totally get that. As Mums, regardless of circumstance, we support each other.
So I am her ‘other’ mother. I think this is a better word. Other mother. As her other mother I have developed a relationship very different to the one she has with her mother. We share a mother-child bond, but we also share a closeness which means we can talk about things that may be uncomfortable to discuss with her actual mum. Like when she wanted a belly button piercing, for example. Or when she started liking boys. With my other kids I always got the ‘Please don’t tell me that, I don’t want to hear it’ look, but I didn’t have it with Rachel. I found I could talk to her without judgement. She could tell me anything and I could hear it without freaking out. I’m a Mother to her, but I am also an older friend who loves her.
So from this ‘Other Mother’ to all the ‘Other Mothers’ out there, well done. We may not have had to dilate our cervixes 10 cm for these children, but we have dilated our hearts and our lives to include them. And that’s pretty ‘wicked’ if you ask me.
Bio: Mandy Nolan is a funny woman.
A stand up comedian for over 2 decades audiences adore Mandy.
Multi-talented Nolan is an accomplished comedian, artist and journalist. Her humour is sharp, honest, sometimes self-depreciating, somewhat outrageous, but never cruel or pretentious. Frequently irreverent, it speaks to a diverse audience with no set demographic, no gender, race or religion, occupation or tribe.
A thrice published author, she writes for the Byron Echo where her weekly Soapbox has attracted the admiration and loyalty of readers for almost two decades. In addition, she writes for Mamamia, was a contributor for Wendy Harmer’s Online magazine The Hoopla and has been a featured guest on ABC’s Q&A and SBS’s Mums The Word.
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