“I will love this child as my own. Raise her together with my husband, and give her a stable home. We can build a happy, loving family.” 11 years ago—I said this to myself with all honesty and naivety. Zero ideas of what I was getting myself into.
“Love will prevail” was my pure and simple answer to questions I didn’t ask myself before marrying him.
“Does she like you?”
“Why don’t you have one of your own?”
“It’s different, you know.”
Nobody asks me any of the above questions when husband and I were still dating. No, they somehow chose to ask me after we got married. Like, right after.
Some friends ask me. Two fathers ask me (I.remember.who.you.are). But mostly mothers, oh, those mothers who have given painful birth to their own.
Thanks to those “well-meaning” advice, I’ve gone into a marriage as a new wife and instant mum—handicapped from day one because I’ve listened to those lies.
That because I didn’t have this umbilical cord connected to her, I didn’t carry her for nine months, I didn’t scream in pain; therefore we will always be different.
Because there’s no blood bond. I will always lack. I will always be handicapped; no matter what I do.
“You are not her real mother.”
“Just accept that you can’t replace her mother.”
“Oh, leave the disciplining to her father. Don’t do it as a stepmum.”
and get this, “you are her spiritual mother.” As if, I’m the fairy godmother with the fake, blond hair.
Now, the thing is, I don’t want to replace her mother. I can’t. Because I can’t reverse the process, stuff the kid in my womb and give birth to who had been born. It’s impossible. Did you guys study science in school?
“Love will prevail” was tainted then because I believe the lies. And I lived them out.
Try loving someone yet having this taunting sensor in you; constantly checking if that someone loves you back. If so—how much. And if it’s lacking, of course! That darn handicap. I can never live up to be a mother to her.
She also lived out those lies being sown by others into her young heart. With both of us living out those evil lies, it was like throwing kerosene-soaked paper into a burning pile of mess.
So, the poor girl grew up in a world of confusion. From the separation of her biological parents to now having this insecure-lied-to-person taking up the role of a mother; at one time, loving her with all her heart, and another, shrinking back after a rejection (perceived and real).
My heart goes out to her. I want her to know that it’s never her fault.
It’s never anything that she can do. It’s the adults who messed up big time.
And I’m so sorry that she had to bear the consequences.
Yet, I have fresh wounds to deal with regularly. So though I want to do my best to protect her from these pain, I was grimacing in mine.
I also didn’t know then that I was carrying a subconscious dream of having an ideal family, one where the parents have a good marriage, and lovingly raising their kids (biological or not!) together. Because I didn’t have that, not my generation, not my mum’s generation.
I looked longingly at other families: husband, wife, kids. Somehow just being together as one unit feels right, perfect, safe for me. And I wanted that for her—right and safe—especially after such a traumatic situation of her biological parents getting divorced.
So, I tried. I tried with all my might, all my strength, all my will. Especially after I’ve known the unconditional love of God and accepted Christ into my life.
I tried to love despite the hurts. I tried to love despite not receiving anything back. I tried to love despite the lies in my head—”you will always lack because you didn’t give birth to her”.
I feel silly whenever my church celebrates Mother’s Day by asking all the mothers to stand and be recognised, given a gift, and for the kids and husband to pray for them.
Bless the church’s heart and intention, but when I hesitantly, yet bravely stood up, and my then nine years old daughter refused to budge and come over to my side—that was my first taste of being publicly humiliated. I felt ashamed as I imagined the eyes of people sitting around us looking, judging.
I tried in vain to stop the tears from pouring throughout the service. I couldn’t listen to a word from the sermon.
It sure made me feel like an imposter. It sure made me not to step into the church for Mother’s Day again for years after that.
I also doubt my love for her when I got angry and resentful of her. Was it because we don’t have that elusive biological bond; thus I love her less? How else to explain these feelings of anger?
I went on carrying those lies in my heart that I’m not a mother—when the reality is—I had to be one, and I am one.
The thing that screws up my mind is—what do you mean by “you can’t replace her mother?” Does it mean that there can only be one mother?
But, erm, if I’m the one raising her together with her father—what role am I playing then? A nanny? A sister? An aunt?
What role am I playing that requires these crazy sacrifices and loving-despite-the-hurts love?
A substitute non-mother?
Does it mean that all I can do is know my place and accept whatever situation, just because she didn’t come out from my womb?
It wasn’t until recently when I heard from friends—stories of them and their respective biological mum; that I saw the truth: being bonded by blood doesn’t mean there will be bonding in the hearts.
A healthy relationship depends on what we put in, what we take out, respecting each other, and (add in other ingredients). In other words, healthy relationship development is organic.
Nope, there’s no instant relationship.
With that, the “curse” is broken, and I saw the lies for the first time. The lies that crippled me for 11 years.
I didn’t give birth to her. But I took care of her. Place her needs before mine. Do things for her benefit. Guide her.
Love her despite the hurts. I’m a mother. I am not her biological mother. But I’m her mother.
A stepmother is a peculiar role to be.
I still struggle when the Devil who wants to steal, kill, and destroy (families, relationships, joy, life!) repeats those lies to me. But, I chose to believe in the truth.
And I chose to live out this role with gratitude and a heck lot of prayer. Amen.
By the way, the sweetest icing on the cake (zero calories), her message to me on this year’s Mother’s Day:
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Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash