On behalf of stepmothers everywhere.
“You have seven kids? Wow! That’s a lot… I only see six. ….Oh? He’s your stepson… so he lives with you? …………….No? Oh, so you have six kids of your own………..”
“You have seven kids?! What’s the age range? …………………Oh, so one is your stepson. So you really have six kids, then.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard comments like these, or countless variations on them. Almost all of them are conversation with well meaning, kind, good people. I am certain that if they knew how hurtful and upsetting these comments are, they wouldn’t dream of saying such things.
I am an “Ima” to seven children. The first, my stepson, who I love and who yes, does not live with me, chose the name of this blog. So, yes, I am an “Ima” to seven children. My relationship with my stepson is different than my relationship with the other six of my children. My relationship with each of my children is different. I have one child who has another parent, another house, another way of doing things. It is different. Not less, not more. Different.
I could write a long post about the credentials that give me the “right” to say that I have seven children, although I did, yes, give birth to six, and I do, yes, have six children living in my house. I could regale you with tales of cleaning up vomit, wiping tushies, midnight peepee accidents, holding hands during scary stuff, scheduling and logistical gymnastics, school meetings, laundry, flexibility on every tiny detail of life, etc. I could talk about tailoring meals, trying to build character, discipline and learning from as well as teaching to this child. I could, in short, tell you the story of 11 years of parenting.
I could tell you that I would jump in front of a bus to save seven children without a moment’s thought. I could tell you that stepparenting can take more time, more energy, more patience than parenting a biological child living in your home.
I could also write about how adopted children are “counted” by strangers as our children. Children who go to boarding school are “counted”. Neither womb dwelling nor number of days living in one’s house each year constitute parenting.
There are women with children who have addiction problems (G-d forbid) that they are not in touch with, or barely see. There are women who don’t even have a speaking relationship with their children. And I seriously doubt that someone they just met would suggest to them that they need to edit or clarify the number of children they “actually” have.
But I don’t think any of that really gets to the point. The bottom line is that when I say I have seven children, I have seven children…..because if you could shrink yourself and get teeny tiny and crawl inside of my heart, you would find special little spaces that have grown in it. Spaces that weren’t there before, spaces that have caused me growth and pain and joy and limitless capacity for love.
And there are seven of those spaces.
The next time you meet a mom and she tells you the number of children she has, and she mentions that one/some of them are stepchildren, I hope you don’t qualify her numbers for her. I hope you don’t ask if they live with her. I hope you smile.
I really cannot presume to know how much this does or does not bother all other stepmoms. I also cannot, however, believe that it is just me.