Mother’s Day for an Adoptive Mother

Today is my first Mother’s Day as Amelia’s legal mother.

I don’t care that it is a Hallmark holiday because I deserve all the cards and all the candy and all the flowers.
Here is my “being a stepmother is the hardest thing in all the land so pity me” post. I warned you it might be coming. It’s here.

It is not just Disney movies that view stepmothers as evil, everyone does. Stepfathers are considered awesome for stepping up, but stepmothers are evil women trying to take the mother’s place. We get lambasted in court and public opinion and rarely get a chance to defend ourselves.

We need to love the children, but not too much. We don’t get a say in schedules, but we need to be willing to forget any of our own plans. We can’t offer to help, but we better be willing to help when we are told to.

I have been (and still am) a stepmother in various situations. Each version has it’s own reason for causing a person to need medication, because I really am not exaggerating when I say how hard it is. Our feelings and needs are the very last ones on the list to be considered, and we are lucky if they even are. It’s not just my experience, but every other step mother I have talked to and every other testimonial I have read online. Sure, you can find the sappy “look how great it’s all working out!” posts and articles, but even they usually come after a period of turmoil and they are celebrated because of how rare they are.

First, let’s look at my journey (and I use that word for Brian’s sake) with my daughter. I wrote about her adoption, but it was a rocky path to get there. Dating Brian was hard: he would often have to cancel or leave early because he got a sudden call to pick up Amelia…or else. One day I was seen putting a coat on his oldest as someone drove by his house and looked in his window, and that was the end of him seeing Amelia for almost a year after having her practically daily. I have that guilt, whether it is justified or not.

Throughout the next decade I watched as this little girl I loved was abused, and my husband put through hell, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop or lessen any of it. All I could do was support my husband the best I could and hold the little girl as she cried. I had to remain silent as I was attacked through my husband, attacked in court, attacked on line, attacked at work, attacked in person and finally attacked in the safety of my own home.

Through everything however, no matter what you do, it is never good enough for anyone. If I was too aloof it was “why don’t you care more?” if I seemed to care more it was “she already has a mother.” I was told to “butt out” but also asked why I didn’t do more.

It was trying to tell Amelia that I loved her, but she couldn’t call me “mom.” It was convincing Amelia to make her mother a mother’s day gift and telling her she couldn’t give the one she made in school to me. It was having to tell her that yes, she had to go and see the person that hit her but that I would be here waiting to hold her if it happened again. It was watching her face drop when I told people “no, I am her stepmom.” It was feeling my heart hurt all the time.

It is obvious to see how hard being a stepmother was with Amelia, maybe not as easy to see when it comes to my oldest. I will not use his name because I don’t have his permission. At first, being a stepmom to him was easy. His mom and I got along, she would even call me when she needed a babysitter. He was adorable and one of the funniest kids ever, especially when he ate the heads of gummy bears.

But one day, weeks before my husband was being deployed, Brian’s oldest told us he was moving to Florida days after Brian was leaving. He wasn’t supposed to tell us, but he was 5. Brian had no recourse, he was not going to put him through a court battle as they are hard on everyone and he knew he had a good mother. Brian also knew then that it would be the end; he correctly predicted that calls would be unanswered, information never relayed, and the promised visits would never materialize or be allowed to happen.

We did have one great trip a year after the move, but I took the backseat because I knew bonding with me was not needed—it was the time with dad and sister that was. I wish I would have hugged him more, I wish I would have said “this time he rides with me!”

Over the past 8 years I have supported my husband through this grieving process, while trying to maneuver that as a stepmother (especially such a short-time one) it’s not really understood for me to have one. The few times that he does reach out I want so badly to grab the phone, but I understand that he doesn’t want/need that and it might scare him off. He needs to talk to his father, he needs to talk to his sister. Not going to lie—I get a little jealous, because in the short years before he moved I couldn’t help but love him. Love him because he is part of my husband, and love him because he was so amazing.

I understand, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

They can say “you know what you were getting into” but the truth is that you can never know. You can never know when there can be so many twists and turns, especially when emotions can be so high.

I read my newsfeed this morning. Loving posts to mothers, links to articles about mothers who have suffered a loss, and links to articles about how to deal if for whatever reason you don’t have a mother, but there are no posts and no articles about stepmothers. Some sites have created a “Stepmother’s Day” for next Sunday, but that’s stupid. No one really cares about that day, and stepmothers need to stop hoping that one day that will change. We take our appreciation from our husbands and our stepchildren’s smiles. If that isn’t enough for you, then I have nothing else to say. Learn from a stepmother who also thought there should be more, but learned over time that there never will be.

That is why today I should get everything, because for years I was nothing*.

*And before you say “you weren’t ‘nothing,'” I need to remind you, that when it comes to the court’s eyes (and a lot of society) that is what stepmothers really are when it comes to the children. And we feel it, oh boy, do we feel it.


Leah is Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine. She's a special educator, former school director for Manheim Central School District in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and mother to Amelia and Nezzie. She's usually tolerant of her husband, Brian.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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