My stepdaughter came home from school with a craft to complete for Mother’s Day. Her school works diligently to be aware of all of their students’ families and the variety of forms they can take, including when students have two homes. As a result, my girl dutifully unpacked her Elsa-themed backpack and pulled out two worksheets plastered with a disclaimer that moms were not allowed to peek at the contents.
I assumed one sheet was for each house since my stepdaughter has two moms who are split and now co-parenting: her Mama and her Mommy (I’m married to her Mama). So I offered to help her fill them out for each of them. She snatched them both out of my hands and said, “No Bethy, I did Mama’s at school today, This one is yours!”
My eyes burned with tears as I smiled and asked if she was sure — and she nodded that her teacher gave her three worksheets, but she filled one out at school already. It makes sense that she would extend this gesture to me too, and I’m still touched by it. However, I made sure the name at the top of my worksheet would still be “Bethy” and not “Mom.” I’m a mother in every sense of the word, but I’m not “Mom” — and I don’t want to be.
My wife and I got married two years ago, but I’ve been in my stepdaughter’s life regularly since she was three (she’s seven now). Our dynamic is unique because we’re all women, so there’s very little threat surrounding my place in this house as a primary “mother” figure. She has Mama in one house all the time and Mommy in the other, so I’m like the extra icing on the multi-layered Mom cake.
Yes, my stepdaughter sees me as a parent — one of her three — but she has never asked if she should call me “Mom.” We’ve never had a formal discussion over what name she should use when referring to me, and she has never seemed confused over who I am or how I got here. And yes, the word “stepmom” has unfairly earned a plethora of negative connotations over years — gee thanks, movies like Cinderella and Snow White, in which an evil new wife enters the picture and shatters the bond a little princess has with her parent. The only thing I’m here to shatter? The stigma surrounding the word “stepmom.” So I proudly take ownership of it.
The day after I married my wife, we were on our long drive home from a winery in Virginia when I took my newly official stepdaughter into a gas station for a potty break and a snack. She was feeling the wedding bliss just like I was, and she was reluctant to let go of my hand when we walked up to the register to pay. The cashier smiled at her affectionate nature and said, “How sweet, is that your Mom?” to which my stepdaughter replied proudly, “That’s my stepmom! We just got married!”
She’s right, of course. In a sense, we all did get married.
Just after I said my vows to my new wife, I turned to my stepdaughter, beaming at me and swinging the chiffon skirt of her little white dress filled with flower petals. I said my own vows to her too, which included a pledge to love her in all of the ways she wanted, to let her be in charge of our relationship, and to decide what that meant. To be “Stepmom.”
Whether it’s Bonus Mom, Stepmom, or Bethy, I’m over the moon about all of the different names I get to have to represent that relationship I’ve carefully and thoughtfully formed with my stepdaughter — relationships that no one else gets. I’m not Mom, so sometimes I get to hear special stepmom secrets, share “stepmom only” snuggles, and have spa nights that are reserved only for me. As a stepmom I’m not here to be Mom — I’m here to be me.
I do school drop-offs and prep for dance recitals. I cook dinners and pack lunches and give baths. I do not attend parent-teacher conferences, and I do not make major disciplinary decisions without the input of both of my stepdaughter’s other parents. These are not hard and fast rules every blended family should live by, but one thing that’s universally true is that boundaries should exist, no matter what they look like.
Kids are so pure and precious and sweet, and as stepmoms, we long for them to see us in the same steadfast light of permanence as their primary parents. But the reality is that it’s important to understand the differences that exist and to create a role and a name for ourselves that’s unlike what our stepkids share with anyone else. “Stepmom” shouldn’t be a title we have to hide behind in the desperation to rebuke the assumption that we’re here to replace anyone — or create a wedge between our stepchildren and their parents. I don’t want my stepkid to call me “Mom” because I’m not her. I’m her stepmom, and that’s the most important person I could possibly be.