Stepmothers are the silent voices in the mothering community. This month at Literary Mama, many of our departments feature pieces by and about stepmothers. Since representing stepmothers has always been part of our mission, why this special focus on them now?
We focus on stepmothers this month because it took us almost three years to notice that they were severely underrepresented here at Literary Mama. Stepmothers — except those who are also biological or adoptive mothers — rarely visit Literary Mama, perhaps because of the word “Mama” in our title. Stepmothers, so often in our society, don’t even consider themselves mothers.
I should know. I was a stepmother for six years before I had a baby. And during those six years, I didn’t once consider myself a mom.
I became a stepmother when I was twenty-six, a punk-haired, unsettled, conceptual art student who fell in love with a hippie professor with two kids, aged 12 and 15. I wasn’t ready for motherhood, but I loved this man. And if he had these kids — these brilliant, sweet ‘n’ sour, untamed wild beast kids, well then, I would have them too. Even if there were only ten years between me and my stepson. Even if my stepdaughter was deep in early teen angst.
Yet while I married their father, lived with the kids Thursdays through Mondays, traveled with them for two months in Indonesia, talked to my stepdaughter about periods, and taught my stepson how to scrub a toilet, I never thought of myself as a mom. I didn’t call myself their stepmother, and neither did they.
“I am not a stepmother. You already have a mother. Just call me Ericka. Think of me as . . . sort of like an aunt.”
That label “Stepmother” was too scary, too demeaning for me to consider. Stepmothers weren’t real mothers. Stepmothers were evil, they were second choices, they “broke up families.” Stepmothers “didn’t count.”
Like so many stepmothers, I bumbled through — without a title, I didn’t even consider that I was having a particular kind of experience. A mothering experience.
Ironically, I learned about stepmothering not from living it, but from writing about it. In 1998, my publisher asked if I was interested in writing a how-to book on stepparenting. Writing the book, I learned what I had done right — to never complain about their mother in front of them — and what I had done wrong — to leave myself without a place, a title, an official role.
I finally learned to call myself a stepmother, and to claim it as an important part of who I am.
I have been a stepmother for twenty years now. My stepkids are like any other member of my family to me — family. Familiar. Sometimes fun, sometimes challenging; always, forever, deeply loved. Part of my life. And I love how they cherish my daughter, and how bonded she is to her brother and sister.
The stepmothering experience is so important, so common, so widely shared, so not-often-enough talked about. This month, we want to tell all the stepmothers out there something we’ve always believed, but haven’t said loudly or often enough: You are mothers. You are welcome here at Literary Mama. Here, you have a place and a voice.