The Evil Stepmother Label

“Oy.” – Me

I have been stewing over something lately. I discussed it with my fiance and  while he did his best to understand (as he always does) he still kinda looked at me with that “i don’t get it” kinda look. It is possible he did not get it because I did not explain it well. That happens when I am still trying to untangle how I feel about something. I cannot articulate to someone else until I know what it means to me.

I need to make sense of it first and then I make sense of it for others.

I am still trying.

The issue is best illustrated by a citing a recent dinner.

Present at dinner was my  mother, my two sons, my fiance, his two sons, and me. It was the first time my mother had met my fiances son (age 16 and 19) and we went to Bertuccis and the six of us crammed into a booth better fit for four.

My mother was her usual chatty engaging self. She conversed freely with fiance’s sons and they did the same with her. There was much laughter, sharing and good food.  I was slightly anxious about the evening beforehand but it turned out pretty well until my mother said this:

“So, now I have 15 grandchildren! Christmas should be even more fun!”

As those words erupted from my mothers mouth, something inside me turned. My head whipped quickly to the left in a mini-Linda Blair motion and I scanned the faces of my fiance’s sons as well as those of my own children for a reaction. My auditory processing was heightened and I listened carefully for some sort of response.

There wasn’t one. There was only a few grins and odd pause.  And dinner continued.

My concern? My anxiety?

My mother had just staked claim to another woman’s grandchildren. My mother had just suggested to two teenage boys that barely know her that they should consider her their grandmother. I felt sick.

I realize, intellectually, my mother did nothing wrong. In fact, she probably did everything right (based upon the fact the young men later told my fiance they “really liked” my mom.)

But it bothered me.

And it has been bothering me even before that dinner. This whole blending of families thing is not easy for me. Well, that’s not quite right. It is easy for me to love my fiances sons. They are very good boys, young men really. My fiance and his ex wife did a fabulous job in raising them. They are men I welcome my sons to associate with and even emulate. I enjoy their company in our home and I gladly help and support them in any way I can.

But they are not my sons, they are not my mothers grand sons. I struggle with the idea of step-mother. I am not their mother. They have a mother. A good one. A mother that loves them. I don’t like claiming any portion of her title even if hyphenated with “step”. Can’t I just be Suz or dads future wife or something? I felt protective of their mother. Don’t take any part of her motherhood away from her. Even a title. (You readers of course surely see where this is going and what is at the root, don’t you?)

I really really really don’t want to be called step-mot…. I believe I can love and care for my fiances sons without that title. Can’t I?

During my processing of this stuff, I find that most people might find I am being ridiculous. They might give me that “I don’t get it” look my fiance gave me. They might say that I am over thinking this and reading too much into it. And they might be right. But that doesnt help me find a resting place for this confusion. (Are my fiances sons the next adoption trauma contestants? More collateral damage?)

I am not taking the boys from their mother. I am not even mothering them. They are young adults. We are friends. And yet, I cringe each time someone chooses to give them, or me, or my mother some sort of label.  I realize of course, that adoption trauma, is at the core of this confusion. Had my own motherhood not been taken from me I would likely not think twice about indulging in the social construct of the step-mother label.

But my mother title was taken from me. I was erased and I therefore tread terribly lightly on any ground owned by another mother. I will not do, to any degree, to another mother, what was done to me. Her children are her children.

And yet, I wonder, if I had ever been acknowledged by anyone that really mattered, that I was my daughters mother, would I be comfortable with the idea of stepmother?  For then, in that situation, I would have been taught that you can have two “mothers” love you and they can both matter.

But I wasn’t taught that, was I? 

I was taught there is only one mother and it is not me.

9 Thoughts.

  1. I recently read a book (Stepmonster) about stepmothering, thinking it might give me more insight into my thinking about being a non-legal second mother. It really didn’t help me much, but I like appreciate reading about how your dynamics you bring to this relationship complicate things more than the “standard” narrative the book discussed. It sounds like a rough situation for you because of your history, as you say. Did your mother count your daughter when giving the number of grandchildren she has?

  2. Thorn, I believe she did count Suz’s daughter…
    Suz, I don’t find you being ridiculous or anything of the sort, rather you are being your usual kind, considerating, caring self as you always are..which again reinforces why I love you so much, : )
    I think my boys will settle on calling you Suz, I have no concerns in this area…

  3. Wow, Suz. I completely understand where you are coming from. I have more of an issue with the *step grandmother* title than I do with step mother. I was never the step mother to three of my husbands 4 children. My husband is 27 years older than me. I was 25 when I met him and he was 52. His oldest son IS my age. We even were born a couple of days apart. His next two children were also adults when we met. However, his youngest child/daughter at the time was only 11 yerars old. His adult children had more of a problem with our age difference than they did with calling me the step monster. But all of that is another story. However, the title *step/grandmother* started coming up soon after the babies started popping out. It really became an issue when two of the grandbabies were baptiized. The babies godmother handed me a pin to wear that said, *grandmother.* I was down right offended and it wasn’t because of my young age. I turned to my husband and said that I wasn’t going to wear this. Then he got upset, because he couldn’t figure out why. I said that it’s because they already have a grandmother and she is sitting over there. But, my husband said that she gave you that pin to wear out of respect, because she doesn’t want you to feel you are *just* the *step-grandmother.* Oh, did I mention that the grandbabies godmother was also my oldest *step-daughter.* So I put on the damn pin, but I couldn’t look at those grandbabies’ rightful grandmother the rest of the time. I felt as if I was robbing her of the legacy of motherhood. This is what I finally did. I do not have the children call me step grandma, grandma, grandmother, granny, or anything that even sounds close to the word grandmother, I have them call me….Crazy Bobby. They have their grandma(s) and their grandpa(s) and I am their Crazy Bobby. Now at first when the kids heard them call me that, they yelled at them for being disrespectful to me, I had to explain *why* I have them call me that. The kids still think it’s a bit disrespectful, but I don’t care, because I am Not their GRANDMOTHER, because and I am not their MOTHER.


  4. OMG. I love CRAZY BOBBY. Literally and figuratively. Thats awesome Bobby. I like that better than gramma or granny, etc. Crazy Bobby is so personal, so you where as the other titles are so impersonal! I LOVE CRAZY BOBBY IN ALL HER FORMS.

  5. Another repercussion of adoption that I honestly would not have thought of without hearing it as you share it here. Much to think about.

  6. I understand your sensitivity to the mother/grandmother title. My step-grandchildren (my son’s fourth marriage, now ex) were young enough that I could slip easily into the role. They had two grandmothers already, but I am just one more person who loves and cares for them. I have not deserted them, even though my son has. I think your mom was just trying to be inclusive, make your fiance’s boys feel welcome. The unfortunate part was the “outing” of you and your lost daughter. I understand the fear of what they will think of you. I worried when I was pregnant, living with a woman and her two young daughters, that the girls would think I didn’t like children when they realized why I was there and what was to come. Also, my stepson (my husband’s son, a teen when we married) — I never told him until I reunited with my son, and he was much older then. It turned out to be a non-issue.

    You’ll get through this. Try not to worry. Because I know, even though we’ve never met in person, that you are incredibly lovable and that will be the boys’ first impression, not what comes after.

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