I know, confusing headline,right? Let me explain.
I was a feminist before I knew what feminism was. However, my version of feminism was about to be shaken to its core after my thirtieth birthday.
I’m not interested in marriage, kids, living a suburban life – never was interested. From the time I was ten, I recall my dream was to live in a city, have a lot of friends and later in my teens, my dream to travel and be creative everyday, and I pretty much did it all by the time I was twenty-one. However, despite how good I was at my job, how often I would travel, or how many men I dated around the world, something was missing in my life. By the time I was thirty I decided to make a change. The solution to all my woes: I didn’t have a Bachelor degree and I wanted one. I had just gotten over two back-to-back toxic relationships, I rented my downtown condo, I didn’t have a child (thank the universe!!) – now was the time to realize my full potential.
My feminist dream never included being a mother. A few years ago when I was about to wave goodbye to Ottawa I met the love of my life, D, and the second love of my life, K. This was a situation I never would have allowed myself to get into if it wasn’t for my Executive Director who threw me in to accepting my first date with D. I never would have dated D strictly for the fact that he would effectively ruin my feminist life. He is a police officer, he has been married, he is in the middle of a tense divorce and the pièce de résistance (drum roll….), he has an eight-year-old boy.
What the experience has taught me thus far is that the type of life I thought would compromise my feminist identity, actually makes me a better feminist. In fact, the most growing I’ve done as a feminist is due to the fact that I have been offered the unique role as ‘step-mum’:
Constant Warfare with the ‘Other Mother’:
From day one I have had little to no relationship or acknowledgement from the ‘real’ mom. I thought the ‘real’ mom would have wanted to meet the woman who has her son half of the time. I certainly would have approached my ex for a quick meet and greet if I were in her shoes – but I digress….
Let me just start by saying, I KNOW I AM NOT HIS REAL MOM.
However, this statement doesn’t mean that I don’t parent. I am constantly reminded in subtle ways that I don’t exist. Why can’t she copy me on scheduling emails even though I am essentially care-giver more than she is every week? Keep me in the loop about changes she shares with D – in essence, act like I exist?? I am a good person who is not at all wanting to compete with her as a ‘real’ mom. Feminism teaches us that we have to respect, support and not judge other human beings. I take this sentiment to heart. Now, I’m a step-mum and whether I like it or not the ‘Other Mother’ is in my life for the long haul. I learn everyday to remind myself of my feminist ideals – the responsibility I have to show in action and words – be kind. What’s most important about this point is that what I say and do affects my precious 8-year-old. For him, I would do anything, including respect his relationship with his mum and encourage him to love his mother no matter what I may secretly be thinking.
The Evil Step-Mother:
There is a lot of negative stigma attached to the label step-mother– just think about the words and images associated with the label. In the beginning, I constantly had to brush aside the fact that my partner’s mom wouldn’t say my name. For the longest time, I was known as “that girl”. I realize this was not intentionally to hurt me; it was due to the hurt and mistrust she directed towards the real mom and had nothing to do with me. Dealing with this point is the hardest for me because I like to be liked and I also take criticism to heart quite easily in my personal life. Further, the stigma I experience as a thirty-something step-mom is exacerbated by the fact that I look like I am twenty-five, have re-started my career and have never been married. Oh my god, I must not be an adult!
Dealing with real moms is a lot like being the nerd in high school. I am not invited into the ‘mom club’ and when I am invited, I often have to defend the fact that I don’t want children of my own and also deal with comments like,”Well, you’d understand if you had your own”, “It’s different because K’s not yours”, or my favourite, “You’d understand if you were a full-time parent”. I hold my tongue… what I want to say is this…. just like biological parents, my ‘parenting’ never stops. I don’t flip a switch and stop being a parent. I constantly think about and worry about K when he’s not around. I hold him when he is scared, I make sure he is fed, safe and sheltered, I celebrate with him all the milestones that come along with growing up.
I bear the red mark– how can I be a good step-mum without having my own kids? It is not until I patiently wait to dazzle these women with my personality and experience that the myths are dispelled. I fight for respect and it’s tiring. Unlike my previous life, I can’t just walk away from these people. I have had to learn to deal with other adults that I likely will never enjoy spending time with – all in the name of my amazing 8-year-old.
Love Comes from the Womb:
When I worked at an international adoption agency, I would heara lot of different stories from adoptive parents. One such experience is the myth that adoptive mums can never know the true meaning of motherly love. In effect, unless a woman gives birth to a child, one can never experience the real mother/child bond. I find that this is something I experience as a step-mom and I’d like to say is one of the most incorrect assumptions of biological parents. I have never known a love like this, not even with D. I fiercely love, provide for and defend my child. That’s right, my sweet K.
I’m not going to say that I never let the above stigma and other people’s judgments bother me, or that I don’t experience self-doubt or in a way believe the statements to be true when times get tough. Because I do.
My journey into step-mum-hood has been filled with self-doubt, anxiety and fear of failure. But, I try to think mainly of the good stuff like my personal growth; more love, hope and silliness in my life since meeting my son. Although this experience doesn’t change my mind about going through that whole child-birth-motherhood-thing, K has brought to me the privilege of blowing on boo-boos to make him feel better, making his lunches (I don’t know why parent’s complain about lunches?), the delight to provide guidance when he needs help with friendships, school work or just enlighten him about his curiosities surrounding life, including his interest in feminism!! He has given me the gift of a child’s unconditional love.
I recognize and I am thankful for the fact that I am now a better person because I welcomed new descriptors into my feminist ideal.
I wouldn’t trade my life or my family for the world!