Friday, February 29, 2008

Sometimes stepchildren get easier

My husband has three children from his first marriage. When we met, the youngest was only 7, a friendly little sprite who didn't quite get what was going on. His older sister was 15. She hated me. She refused to talk to me. And the oldest, who was 17, just sort of ignored me.

Part of it was my fault. Having never had kids or been around them much, I didn't reach out to Fred's children. I didn't know how. I think now about the aunt who used to take me shopping and talk about boys. She was an only child and had not had children yet. Where did she learn how to relate to kids like that?

In the early years of our marriage, the kids got into all kinds of trouble and drove us crazy. Did I ever feel like their mother? Heck no. I was the woman who was sleeping with their dad, the woman who was always in the kitchen preparing food, the woman who was not their mother.

But time can work miracles. Fred and I have together for 24 years. His "kids" are 31, 39 and 41. As I mentioned last week, we met the youngest two, Michael and Gretchen, in Portland for a couple of days, and Michael introduced me to his friends as his "mom."

Cool. But Mom is just a word. What really made it special was the genuine love we all felt for each other. Trust, too. I let Michael drive our car the whole time we were there and only had to close my eyes a few times. Boy, can that kid parallel park. Zip, and we're in. I'd be working on it for hours and probably ram another car in the process.

We were truly glad to see each other and sad to say goodbye. The hugs were real. Do we still do things that drive each other crazy? You bet. Will they forget my birthday next week? Probably. But now that the kids and I have known each other for most of their lives, the resentment has faded and we are all getting to accept each other as family. Past resentments are just memories now.

Fred and I will always be "Dad and Sue," never "Dad and Mom," but the love is there, and it doesn't matter what labels you put on it.

So, if you're a childless stepmother whose stepchildren give you nothing but headaches and don't fill the ache in your heart for a child of your own, there's hope. They will grow up. It doesn't always happen, but sometimes, if you hang in there long enough, you'll get used to each other and develop a relationship that is not mother-child but it's closer than the word "stepmother" implies.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

This is my . . . uh

We're sitting around the table at the restaurant where my stepson Michael works, and he's proudly introducing his family to his co-workers. This is our first visit to Portland, OR since he moved there, and you can tell he's proud to have his people seated in his favorite booth.
He starts with "This is my sister, Gretchen." Then he turns to my husband. "This is my father, Fred." And then I'm holding my breath. What will he say about me? "This is my mom, Sue." Ah. I know it's not quite true, but it's so sweet of him to say so. Back in the days when he was living with us, he'd do the same thing. As his friends trooped by my office, he'd point to me and say, "That's my mom. She's a writer." I loved it. Maybe sometimes, since I entered his life when he was only seven, he even thinks of me as a mom. I would love that.
But it's an awkward thing. When I go to introduce the three stepchildren, I may call them stepson or daughter, Fred's son or daughter, or more recently "our son" or "our daughter." I almost never say "my son" or "my daughter." A copout? Lack of self-esteem? Or am I just being accurate? I don't want to take anything away from their biological mother, who is a terrific person.
Most of the childless stepmothers I have interviewed say the kids call them by their first names. To my face, that's what mine do, too, although Gretchen tried the "Mom" thing for a while after I complained that no one would ever call me Mom. It didn't stick; it just didn't feel right. We love each other as Gretchen and Sue. But "Mom" is the former Mrs. Lick, not me.
It's a tricky thing. The "step" implies something negative, but to leave it out implies that your are claiming a role that isn't really yours. So what's a stepparent to do?
Do you have stepchildren? How do you refer to them? What do they call you? Do you secretly wish they'd call you something else? Let's talk about this.

Portland, by the way, is a fantastic city. Just don't try to drive there. And do visit the Blue Moon Cafe. Ask for Michael and tip big.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This blog has moved. Please switch over to the new site at All of the old posts have already been transferred over there, and it would make life easier if you would comment at that site. Thank you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Non-Mom Club

The other day at yoga class, I discovered that Nancy, who exercises next to me, never had children either. It wasn't a long discussion. While the mom-types were talking about their kids, she muttered something about not having done that. I said, "So you didn't have children either?" She said, "Nope," and that was it. No more discussion needed. It was time to cross our legs and walk our hands forward, stretching out our backs and focusing on our nasal breathing. Leave everything else outside. Let it go, the teacher said. Later I discovered she'd never had children either. Same story as mine. Husband with kids, vasectomy, not wanting any more.

But now it was time for yoga. We bent, we breathed. We spoke no more. Without knowing why or what had happened to make Nancy a non-mother, I felt less lonely and realized that although I will never be an official member of the Mom Club, I am part of an ever-growing Non-Mom club, women who for whatever reason never had children. At this point, among women over 40, that's approximately 25 percent of us. Wherever I go, aside from obvious child-centered places like schools and kiddie playgrounds, I'm going to find others like me. It was a good and comforting feeling.

All I really know about Nancy is that she's a nurse at the local hospital, currently cross-training to work in pre-op. She has a perfect figure but uncontrollable curly hair, and she is more flexible than I am. She can get her head all the way to the floor. Oh, and she has the most beautiful flowered green yoga mat.

There's got to be a better name for the Non-Mom club, something more mellifluous. Help me out with a name. I'm won't accept the "Childfree Club" because some of us really wanted children and feel the loss. But the "Childless Club" sounds so sad and doesn't include those who are just fine with not having kids.

Whatever we're called, we didn't have children. However we feel about it, we're in good company.

Thanks, Nancy.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This blog has moved. Please switch over to the new site at All of the old posts have already been transferred over there, and it would make life easier if you would comment at that site. Thank you.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Have You Ever Lied About It?

Have you ever lied about not having children? I have. Well, actually the only time I flat-out lied was in a game called two truths and a lie. The truths were that I was a published author and professional musician. The lie was that I had two sons. I even gave them names and personalities. The other contestants bought it completely. Why not? Most women my age had kids. I won that game.
For years, I wrote for a parenting publication. I did have a stepson at home, but he joined our household when he was almost 12. I wrote lots of articles about children and their problems. Most of the time, I could fit right in. No need to mention that my only claim to the Mom Club was my stepson. People might ask, "Was it like that when yours were small?" and I'd nod. "Uh-huh." Kind of a lie. How would I know what he and the other steps were like when they were little? I wasn't there.
The only time I really got into trouble was when people started telling birth stories. If somebody asked me, "How long were you in labor?" well, I was stuck. I had to 'fess up that I had never been pregnant.
But hey, I write about lots of things I've never personally experienced. I just ask enough questions to write the story.
In real life, when you do have stepchildren, even if you only hear from them once or twice a year, sometimes it's just easier to fall into the mom discussions without bothering to clarify the situation.
How about you? Have you ever let people think you had children when you didn't?

Sorry I've been so slow blogging here lately. I have been immersed in my chapter on stepparenting. Boy, is that a tough one. You love 'em and you hate 'em. Sometimes you feel like a parent and sometimes you don't. More on that later. 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This blog has moved. Please switch over to the new site at All of the old posts have already been transferred over there, and it would make life easier if you would comment at that site. Thank you.