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May 9, 2019

Motherhood: An act of Selfless Service

Mothers are special.

This core belief is a strongly and lovingly held universal one. When one chooses to describe a relationship with a female by stating, ‘she is/was like a mother to me,’ no further explanation is needed. The listener immediately understands that there is an unbreakable bond that this relationship entails. In its most natural and biological form, the bond that exists between a mother and a child is incomparable to any other simply from the vantage point that the child is formed of and within the physical being of the mother. For me this is unconditional love.

The relationships we form with our mothers – whether they are supportive or strained – ultimately affect our relationship with ourselves and how we navigate every other relationship in the world.

For this Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to reflect upon a variation of this relationship; namely the one that exists between a stepmother and a stepdaughter. It seems that no matter where one is from or how one chooses to worship, the dynamics in such interactions are courteous at best and tumultuous in their darkest hour. Hardly if ever, are they easy.

Why is this? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a stepmother is: ‘the wife of one’s parent when distinct from one’s natural or legal mother.’

Usually, the stepmother enters the equation either through death or divorce if matrimony is a part of the equation. Either way, chances are the offspring is experiencing some sort of grief and in some cases trauma as a result of disintegration of their family structure. The offspring’s loss, is separate and apart from that of their father. And of course level of impact correlates directly with the age at which this change happens.

As a start, we justifiably assume that our mothers will always be there for us. When she goes away [or is taken away from us], our foundations of trust and safety are shaken to the core. To be abandoned and betrayed by the very person who brought forth life can sometimes feel like a curse worth than death. The child is left feeling as though they are fighting for their right to exist. Rarely if ever, does the father [figure] allow space for the child to grieve the loss of their biological mother. Perhaps in their own grief they lack the emotional intelligence to do so, as they too grapple with their own muddled feelings of anger, betrayal, and disappointment, hurt and such.

I was 16 years old the first time I met the woman that would become my stepmother. I was asked or told – both of them meant the same in my dictatorial upbringing – ‘please get along with her because she means a lot to me.’ While one woman took an oath in sickness or in health, the other, a frightened and overweight teenager, vowed to honor her father’s words – by any means necessary.

As one who works in the business of transformation, I often meet clients who are trying to ‘iron out’ difficult relationships, especially concerning stepparents.

Remember Cinderella? At the demise of her father, she is left to be raised by her cruel stepmother and share space with her evil stepsisters. She tries her utmost to be ‘good’ yet all of her efforts within her dysfunctional family situation are futile. Chances are you know the rest of that story.

Mother’s Day 2018 had me reflecting deeply upon the notion of being a stepmother and/or being a stepchild. Even the term denotes some element of ‘rank and file.’ In the words of one dear friend of mine who wears this weighty crown, a stepmother is required to step down, not up. One week following this day, my father passed away, surrounded by 7 women – his beloved wife by his side held his hand until his very last breath.

As I continue to mourn the deep loss of my father, last week, while riding my bike here in Bali, a thought occurred to me, one that prompted me to re-visit this discourse and share it on this Mother’s Day. It is unrealistic to attempt to liken the relationship between a stepmother and a child to that of the one that a birth mother and child share. Step-relationships are based on the conditionality of the absence of the birth mother for one reason or another. Any attempt to try to replace one’s birth mother’s unconditional love with another woman is self-serving to the man and potentially an abject and unconscious cruelty meted out to the children involved.

I am at the age and stage in life where I have dated men with children and as such found myself in the role of potentially being a stepmother. I have intentionally avoided meeting these men’s children until our relationship is at a level that warrants such introductions. Children require consistency, stability and love – not a parade of their father’s desires traipsing across their vulnerable landscapes.

Personal experience has led me to the following conclusion: Let the woman and the child choose how they wish to address and therefore relate to each other.

This will take tremendous pressure away from both parties who rightfully feel that their respective positions ought to be honored and respected. Rather than have a relationship forced upon either one, allow both beings to come to love each other in their own way. If we let love lead, each person will find their way to love – in the right space and time. Remember, each and every relationship promises a gift and a lesson; especially those ones that demand us to confront ourselves.

This Mother’s Day I choose to acknowledge ALL mothers, but ESPECIALLY those who from an act of selfless love, are willing to assume the responsibility of parenting children that are not their own. A noble act indeed; one that deserves commendation. And so it is!

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