My husband and I began dating shortly before his birthday. When the big day rolled around, his three teenage children graciously invited me to birthday dinner at a local restaurant. His younger daughter had recently broken her right wrist and was having trouble cutting her steak. I pondered the idea of cutting the steak for her, but thought it would be best if I remained in the background. After several attempts at cutting with her left hand, the right- handed kid turned to me and asked if I would help her. Of course! I had been watching her struggle with her dinner for the past five minutes! It would be a relief to cut that steak finally.
That first dinner six years ago set a precedent for me. I felt a genuine need from these children to participate in their lives. I wanted to be the mother they didn’t have. However, having no children of my own, I wasn’t certain how that scenario looked. It’s no secret that as women we experience pressure regarding preconceived gender roles. It is presumed that women will naturally exhibit mothering skills no matter the fact that they have no children. Thus began my full-blown attempt at mothering perfection. Betty Crocker, watch out!
Long before our wedding, I became Super Stepmom. I did kids’ laundry. I made kids’ beds. I ate hot dogs as I sat on bleachers in countless gyms cheering at volleyball and basketball games. I studied recipes and made four-course meals. I played bingo on family vacations. I did homework until midnight. I bought Easter dresses, prom dresses, knock-around shoes and underwear.
But I also went to the gym less. I read fewer books. (Only stepmom guides made the bedside table.) I made little time for friends. I worked fewer hours. I became less me. My husband started to take notice. It was unsettling to him that in my efforts to fulfill a preconceived notion of motherhood I was losing myself. I wasn’t enjoying my family because I was busy attempting to make certain all of their needs were met. My concern for my stepchildren’s well-being was detracting from their actual well-being. I was a nervous “mother” making everyone else nervous too.
In the midst of my exhaustion, God began speaking to my heart. I was reminded that I am made in God’s image. I am possessed of inherent worth and dignity simply because I am a child of God.He led me to this family and I knew I was meant to be a part of it. But I needed to be me. God’s will for me was that of a real life role model for my stepchildren, not that of the “milk and cookies” mom I was striving, with great difficulty, to be. My own expectations were getting in the way of the life I was meant to live.
My, how things have changed! On a recent family vacation, my stepson failed to pack pants. (Yes, really.) A few years ago, this would have set me into a tizzy. What would I do? Where would I find pants? What would people think of a woman who allowed her children to exit the house without first checking their suitcases?
First and foremost, I have learned that I will not live my life attempting to live up to society’s expectations of mothering. Secondly, I have learned that my stepson, a college freshman, should be able to pack his own pants.
God is still working with my unfinished soul. Today, I am happy to report that my parenting and life choices reflect my values more than the Susie Homemaker image to which I once aspired. I choose to continue to pursue my career wholeheartedly. We frequent the local Cracker Barrel for dinner. A lot. And I now refuse to do the laundry of anyone to whom I am not legally betrothed! Still, despite my attempts at a blissful familial setting, all does not go as planned. However, God’s will for me as a stepmother is written on my heart and my stepchildren know it.
Oh, and about those pants...thank goodness my husband and stepson are about the same size!
Gara Hoke Lacy
(Excerpted from Stepping With Purpose, Stories of Strength and Faith for StepMothers , compiled by Heather Hetchler and Gayla Grace, May 2011.)