When it comes to describing my role in our family, I just can’t do all that “Bonus Mom“ stuff.
At Bonus Families, they have this to say about why they chose the “bonus” label:
….because most people say that “step” implies negative things — wicked, evil, we decided it was time to scrap the old concept of step and offer a new more positive model.
A time may, perhaps, come when the Boys, or some of them, consider my presence in their family a “bonus”.
People often say “Oh, when they’re older they’ll really see and appreciate all you’ve done for them!”
Ummm, maybe. Maybe not. I’m certainly not taking it as a given.
I’m not entirely comfortable with the mom/mum bit, either.
Being a “mum” has so much cultural coding as a concept, so many layers of expectations. And, hopefully, so much joy attached.
There’s joy in stepfamily life, it’s true, but a little bit needs to be rationed out to go a long way!
Being a stepmother can seem all ‘step’, precious little ‘mum’.
Or lots of “mum”, if your definition is solely activity-based, i.e. laundry, packing lunches, making industrial quantities of toast, poddling about under the table on hands and knees scraping up table windfalls from last night’s butter chicken….
One of the ironies of stepfamily life for stepmothers is that it is so often a simultaneous “all and nothing” experience of mothering.
On the one hand, the mother-type duties and responsibilities can seem endless. So it’s not surprising, although it is unfortunate, that stepmothers can get very caught up in wanting recognition for the “mothering” part of the role – from the children’s mother, from the children themselves (“I’d love you kids to call me Mum!”), as well as more generally.
It doesn’t take long to realise that those particular hopes are generally on a hiding to nothing.
On the other hand, the emotional payoff that first family mothers experience as their return on the drudgery invested in mothering is often missing, or limited, or contingent for stepmothers. No wonder we can feel depleted.
So the “mother” part of the stepmother label often feels like a bad fit for me – and, of course, for the kids, for whom the “M” word is a sacred, inviolable thing that belongs EXCLUSIVELY to She Who Birthed Them.
And fair enough, too. I know very well that if my parents had divorced there would be no way that I would have been comfortable describing any new partner of my Dad’s with a “mum” tag.
So I don’t tend to describe myself in front of the Boys as their stepmum. There, I’m just B. Or sometimes “Dad’s girlfriend/Dad’s partner”. Which, like Stef, I’m not a big fan of either; defining myself solely in relation to the Lovely Man jabs sharply at my feminist reflexes. Like pretty much everything in step life, it’s complicated.
(Although Boy C did recently describe me as “a great… um… kind of parent”. Bless him.)
The trouble is that there is no other phrase or word that honestly describes what stepmothers do. And having a name for what we do is such an important part of raising awareness, both within ourselves as a way of acknowledging the value of our contributions, and “out there” in society.
Being a stepmother is a hard job. I’m proud to acknowledge that I am tough enough to do it. And, mostly, I think I do it well.
Accordingly, while I’m a bit squirmy with the stepmother label in some respects, I also don’t like to ice the cake with “Other Mother”-type euphemisms.
Lots of people seem to resist the word “step”. But it’s honest, at least. I am not the children’s “Other Mother”. They don’t see me that way and nor do I.
For me, “Other Mother” and “Bonus Mother” labels hide the often knobbly, gristly reality of stepfamily life.
I’m not accepting of pretty labels that pretend being in a stepfamily is “just like” being in a first family. I’m not going to hunt up creative or cutesy ways of describing my family to hide from the wicked stepmother myth. Or avoid using the word “step” because it makes people uncomfortable.
There are as many different opinions about this as there are step-parents, but, for me, it’s time we recognise that “step” is not a dirty word. Divorce happens. Remarriages and repartnerings happen. And these new partners generally bring a lot of good things to the family table.
What we do, caring for these kids who are not our own, is big. It’s hard. It’s important.
We need to come out of the closet.
Do you routinely describe yourself as a stepmother? In what situations do you use the s-word?