I associate secrets with shame. Shame is humiliation or deep, painful feelings because for whatever reason, I’ve decided that how I feel is not okay.
For me, when I’m asked what my deepest secrets are, I think about the thing that makes me feel the most shame. Surface level, I feel shameful about my weight, my big mouth and my inability to let things go. Deep down? Like really deep down, I feel the most shame about the fact that being a step-mom is not awesome, and I truthfully hate a lot of the role.
On Facebook and Instagram, I look happy; like everything is great. I show up and work hard. There are smiling kids and I have a smiling face in these pictures. I go to kickboxing. Help with homework. Try to encourage and give the kids a balanced diet. I initiate conversations at dinner. Check in with the kids daily to see where they’re at. I go to every parent-teacher conference. I support their father in his parenting decisions. We do fun things on the weekends. I play games and interact in what the kids want to do. Everything looks hunky-dory.
But, at the core, my biggest shame comes from the place of hating being a step-mom and hating a lot of this role.
I swear I’m not a monster! The hate I have for being a step-mom does not come from a place of hating the kids. That’s not even a little bit of the truth. I love and care about each of them a lot. This hate comes from a place where society has forced me to pretend that I love it, put on a happy face and if I don’t, I’m not enough. The misogyny and patriarchal expectations of a woman’s role within the family home has created an unbalanced and unfair pressure that I just can’t shake.
This is what I mean, there are two different scenarios:
A step-dad comes on the scene, does bare minimum (basically not screwing the kids up) and they get socially praised for raising someone else’s kid. They’re the neighbourhood hero. They just have to go to a tee-ball game or attend a concert every quarter and people think he’s great.
Meanwhile, step-moms who decide that they want to create boundaries, choosing to attend a tee-ball game every now and again, or show up to a quarterly concert will be made to feel like they aren’t doing enough for “the kids they signed up for”.
The fact that a step-dad can make decisions about the role that is within his comfort level without calling it a boundary is annoying in and of itself. Everything that I choose to not take on within this role gets called a boundary because otherwise it becomes an expectation…and I think it’s expected just because I am a woman. I hate this. I hate that I have to go all in, in order to meet the requirements of the role.
On the flip side, if a step-dad takes care of the day to days, does homework, makes dinner, pays for field-trips, gets the children to their extracurriculars and goes to parent-teacher interviews; AGAIN…viewed as an amazing man. Someone who really showed up and is praised for his devotion to the children. A step-mom who does the same is seen as a bitch who is over-stepping and trying to “play mommy”. Within this role, the step-mom is always seen as doing something wrong. Always. I can never get it right. And this is where my hatred comes from. My shameful, secretive hate.
I remember when I came on the scene and I was threatened by the bio-mom on many occasions. I was told to “stay away from HER kids”. On a regular basis I was told that I was nothing to the kids and I became extremely self-conscious about my interactions and was on high alert all the time.
Was I being too much?
Or was I not giving enough?
Was I over-stepping?
Or was I meeting the unspoken expectations of the role?
Was I being loving enough?
Or was I being too loving?
OH. MY. GOD! How can you enjoy anything when you’re analyzing and breaking down every moment to accommodate other people’s comfort level? It was exhausting! All of this pressure over the last seven years has made me extremely resentful and I grew hatred for this role as a result, but how can you not? How can you see the good in something when there are so many contradictions in expectations?
I am friends with many parents and I interact with parents all day long at work. I know the role really well and I know that guilt is the foundation of every good parent. It comes as a nice little package attached to your positive pregnancy test. It is so normal to feel the guilt and I don’t think I have met a parent that is not riddled with it. But that feeling begins and ends with you and the child and the decisions that you make or don’t make within that child’s life.
I have guilt too. But on top of that guilt I also carry shame. Shame is something different. It is the internal struggle of loathing yourself, being embarrassed of yourself and your performance every day. It is judging and scrutinizing every minute because of your involvement. I sit and think and dwell and shame myself in every moment that I am with the kids. I don’t do it because I think I have done anything wrong in particular, I do it because of the external pressures. It comes from the little detectives that live in my house that report back to their bio-mom. It comes from the unspoken expectations that my husband has, the school has or the parents of the kid’s friends.
This is seven years later and this is still the way that it is. This is my biggest, darkest, saddest secret. The person that I worry and fear about the most in reading this is my husband. I am scared that in saying that I hate being a step-mom that he will read it as I hate the kids. Which is not true. They are completely separate entities. They are not even in the same category.
I hate that this role comes with pressure from the world, the kids, the bio-mom, HIM, myself, social expectations and gender expectations. That being a step-mom means that I’m not quite part of the parenting team because that would mean that I’m over-stepping, but I’m not quite part of the single squad because that would mean that I am a mean, selfish bitch.
I hate the fact that I will never be first choice by the kids when every day I put them first in all my decision making.
That I still don’t get “I love yous” from some of the kids when I so desperately want and need that to know that I’m doing right by them.
I hate that no matter how many tears I shed and how many nights I feel shame and desperation that I still won’t be doing it “right”. I’m never going to be enough. I’m constantly going to be judged under the microscope. I don’t have the luxury of being able to mess up royally and the kids still love me unconditionally like bio-parents.
Honestly, I hate the fact that I am never enough. Never. And never will be. The hardest thing for me is not being liked and this role, regularly reminds me how disliked I really am.
I have never been quiet about the fact that there are challenges within step-parenting but saying “I hate the step-mom role” is so hard to say out loud, because what kind of evil witch “hates being a step-parent”? This one, right here! This is the hardest and worst job there is. I don’t wish this pain, confusion and shame on anyone. I’m scared about what kind of feedback I am going to receive from this post, but if I’m feeling it I figure someone else might be too. I am terrified that somehow my words will be twisted and altered into something that I did not intend.
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.