When a Step Mother Gets Called "Mom"!

Heart and Mind SERIES

America, is still full of families. We might not be the best at marriage - one time for a long time, but it seems we really favor Serial Monogamy. We keep working at Family Hood.

And the Core of America’s Family Hood is the ever evolving concept of the Step Family. The size and shape of the Step Family is of course, flexible. For the sake of our article it has Yours, Mine and Ours. It matters not how any particular family’s shape fits the “ideal”. The point is, every member plays a special role. And the Mother/Step Mother sits at the Center of this magical happening.

“Ooh, I’m Sorry, I Called You Mom”

The little 8 year old was sipping orange juice, and the family was discussing what to do on Mother’s Day. His natural mother had not seen him in a couple years. She had a drug problem. He loved her. He loved the memory of her, mostly. But he was getting used to this new mother. His next statement slipped out because of bubbling joy. “Hey Mom, have you ever been to the Zoo?”

There was a silence that could not be helped. The Dad noticed it first. The Mom winked at her Father who sat sipping his Mimosa. “Oh, I’m sorry. I called you “Mom”, is that Okay?”

She said, “Sure”. The boy himself got befuddled. “Are there bears at our Zoo?”

How to call each other seems easy enough, but it emerges from a sea of psychological currents deep in the depths of Family. It may seem easy and automatic, but often it is neither.

The Same Woman Can Be Mother and Step Mother

On this Mother’s Day it serves to honor not just the pure role of Motherhood, but the more real and current and flexible Step Mother. The first thing to observe is that these days, a Mother is also a Step Mother. In our modern families, the same woman holds both roles. Divorce and Remarriage makes people realign, move, change schools, goes through visitation, exercises and re-establish the family narratives as siblings become new. But always, in the Queen’s throne, the Mother/Step Mother sits in primacy.

Besides knowing what to call each other – “Mom” if the other mother is out of state, and both feel comfortable, or “First Name” if the comfort level goes that way. Contemplating all of the adjustments that people have to make is monumental, and life befuddling. The changes range from happy, to traumatizing to troublesome. But whatever the adjustments and personality changing that has to go on, there is one thing that has to happen:

Regardless of how much she loves the kid’s father, the step mother must be something special. She does not have the inherent biological connection, nor the cultural and ethnic connections, but she must attempt to play the role of Step Mother.

1) Communication - Communication is conspicuously unnaturally natural. If you have a 12 year old girl, or an 8 year old boy, or a 16 year old boy, all of the rules of communication have to be governed by their maturity and your new relationship. This requires an attention and devotion that is always a challenge. The unit cannot allow a sullen solitary retreat of one of its members. Talk should always be encouraged, allowed and generated.

2) Patience - The constant diplomatic realignment of kid’s requests for toys and physical possessions must be established by some unwritten, but well understood mediator. “This is what goes to your 12 year old, and this is what goes to my 16 year old”. Again, these kinds of negotiations are unique to the Step Family, and require a love for “truth and justice”. If for some reason the family seems skewed, there is always time to realign. The structure and strength and vitality of the unit must be patiently awaited.

3) Faith - You can’t give up on this. It is constantly being created and renewed, and built up. Two steps forward, one step back. What if “your” kid does badly, and “his” kid is doing better. Is the “ours” kid getting his due? Giving yourself report cards all along, you try not to panic, nor get too emotional, nor lose patience. You believe in your family like you believe in your union. And most of all the family believes in the Mother/Step Mother.

4) Love - The Step Mother knows she has a special role to play. It is for her to decide the shape of that role, and the power and responsibility in that role. She knows she is going to be “played” and manipulated. She knows sometimes she will feel exultant. Other times she will just feel exhausted. She also knows the Father is also a Step Father, and that these roles will flex along the way. She also feels that the great power of Love will help them reach beyond reason, beyond hurt feelings, beyond family histories and beyond the Fears about the Future. The whole family feels that this enterprise is worth the trouble, because she believes it is and she sends love out in torrents.

None of Her Kids Were Tragedies. The Tragedy was the Step Kid.

Graduation Day. You know, one of those perfect days in June. The Step Mom stood stalwart and proud. Why? All of her kids were winners. They were in the crowd. The graduate was her Step Child. A couple big fights as a pre teen. Drinking bouts as a teenager. A DUI. Helping her study to get her out of high school. Then she frowned when the girl decided on college. More work. More patience. More love from somewhere, and this one time “Loser” was graduating 10th in her class.

Dad was a good guy. But both of them knew that it was Motherhood that the girl needed. There was no doubt of that. He helped in every way he could, but the key moments. The key ugly fights, the big tear jerking emotional tail spins, the staying up all night talks --- all had to be done by “Mom”. The “tragedy” was now the beaming and joyous “red-haired step-child”.

When she got her diploma, she went straight to “Mom” and said. First day you saw me, when I was a little kid; I bet you didn’t think, Damn, I am going to have to go to college a second time to get rid of her.”

The Mom looked at her husband. “No. I did not foresee that possibility”. Then they hugged for a long time. Ask her today if it took any real trouble to raise her “winner” kids. She will tell you “Not really. Not like….her.”

The Grafted Branch

All around America Step Families with strong Step Mothers and Step Fathers put their resources together to help the “grafted” parts of their families to become hearty and strong, producing fruit. Because of the transcendent love of the Mother/Step Mother, and her belief in what she is doing, the Family Unit keeps growing and thriving. We may be a Nation of Serial Monogamists but more and more as time goes by “step” loses its distinctiveness; half brother is not used as much as just “brother”. It seems that the desire to move into a conscious amalgam of newness, the souls have quiet subconscious agreements that they are just going to be a family. And the more that happens, the more the love spills over onto the family garden, the more the Step Mother can be given the credit. Let us all be thankful for the strength that moves into the next generation because of this process.

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