This week I met a step mom at a luncheon. Her children were now grown after a 33 year career as a step mom. She said to me, “I’m done.” She continued to say, “After all of these years, I just don’t care anymore.” She went on to tell me stories of her hard work, while the bio mom did very little. She talked about how she attended all of the kids’ events and did the major caretaking. Yet, the kids never remembered her birthday.
The truth was that as soon as she said, “I’m done”, I could have finished the conversation without her. I knew what she was going to say. She was going to talk about being unacknowledged. She felt unappreciated. She felt invisible. (See my blog on the invisibility cloak). Before she could say anything more, I said, “The kids still want their mom, right?” She said, “Yes!” I tried to tell her my feelings about this painful, common feeling among stepmoms, but I think her eyes glazed over. She was completely burnt out. I get it.
I told her the following. At the end of the day, the bio parents’ divorce stands at the core of our children’s pain. It is an excrutiatingly raw wound that is almost impossible to heal. It is a terrifying event that creates fear in our children’s hearts. They wonder if they will be loved. They fear where they will live. Will they see their Dad or Mom again? They wonder if they had anything to do with the divorce. They also fear that they are doomed to a life that includes a future divorce for them. There is no escaping the fact that any step parent is a symbol of this devastating event in their life. Most people secretly wish that their bio parents were back together. They just want a normal life. This longing for parental cohesion and love never ends. Every step mom needs to understand and just know this. It’s not personal.
Secondly, step moms are tested. We must learn how to love/live unconditionally or our marriages are doomed. It is exactly this lesson that makes it so difficult for second marriages, with kids, to survive. We are forced to find that part of us that is pure and clean. It isn’t easy, but it’s not a bad way to go. Maybe, we’re the folks that are given the tough jobs because we are strong enough to overcome the obstacles.
Step moms often say, “If only I had known!” Frankly, I don’t think any of us would have it any other way. The mere uterrance of the words, “I’m done!” shows me that we will never be done and we will never stop loving our kids. I think the next time I hear, “I’m done!” from a step mom, I’ll just give her a hug.