Of all of the titles I've had, step mom has to be the hardest earned, least appreciated, and most polarizing of them all.
It suggests to some that I'm not the real mom-- and I guess if you define a real mom by genetics and gestation periods, then you would be right. But my “real mom” standards are different. To me, a real mom is more than giving birth or being able to sign my name on the legal documents at the DMV.
Fixing her hair just the way she wants it for school/homecoming/like she saw on Pinterest ... and getting it jussssssst right. It's giving her a high five after her first kiss, hoping heartbreak avoids her, yet knowing it won't. Then helping her pick out her best outfit for school the day after heartbreak happens. It means going to her piano recitals, gymnastics meets, and making sure she knows I'm cheering her on in every part of her life, whether it's from the sidelines of a volleyball game, or via email from halfway across the world. It's teaching her that she has the power to make a difference in a world full of injustice that she is all too familiar with as a child of divorce.
It's making him cookies when homework is long and tedious. Or asking him to run to the store to get bread for dinner when he's been grounded for the last two days-- and you know he needs to feel just a little bit of freedom. It's not feeling bad for yourself when the Mother's Day cards, treats, and jewelry come home addressed to the other woman in his life … because it's not about the cards and tangled up bracelet anyway. It's carpooling 4 of his friends to soccer practice with a screaming baby in the car, because there is no tapping out when it comes to step mothering in real life. It's loving him through disappointment, sadness, and grief-- and letting him know it's okay to feel those kinds of emotions. In fact, the act of feeling actually makes you a whole person.
It means knowing when they want your advice, and when they just need someone to listen to them. It is offering unconditional love, and conditional taxi rides based on clean rooms and homework getting done. It's apologizing when you are wrong, or after losing it over something really dumb.
I occasionally hear, "those kids are lucky to have you!", and although intended as a compliment, it doesn’t really feel like one. We're lucky to have each other. And when someone assumes that you won't miss your step kids as much when they leave the family nest, because, well, "you're just the step mom", and "it's just not the same”-- know that it is the same for me.
I want all of the things for my step kids that I want for my biological kids- the best education, a good night's sleep, clean, presentable clothes, well rounded meals, safe cars (and extra insurance), a chance to make whatever athletic team they're trying out for, a strong work ethic, success in almost everything they do paired with enough failure to keep them humble, and the same rules, disciplines, and expectations in every day life-- like, call your mom at least once a week, "and that means BOTH of us!"
It's a long list of hard work and big sacrifices, with little to no credit. I never wanted to compete for the title of Mom, or to try to win their affection in that role. I knew going into it that I would be second in command, the understudy to another woman, another supportive voice. The step mom gig is a hard one. People often say, "they'll appreciate you when they're older", and you never believe them. But when the day comes, you'll wear that "Thanks for everything, mom!" like the badge of honor that it is. Because you earned that title-- without the dreaded prefix-- in the trenches of unconditional love, which requires more than your signature at the DMV.