Stepmoms Speak

2 12 2008

The L-Word

Guest columnist Izzy Rose is stepmom of two boys, The Tall One and The Young One. The following post is reprinted here with permission from her excellent blog at www.stepmothersmilk.com.

Earlier this summer, The Young One claimed he was suffering from “separation anxiety” (his words).He hadn’t seen his mom for months and he was missing her with intensity. His dismal mood was made evident by slumped shoulders, apathetic table manners and a dramatic display of affection. The kid was oozing with emotion, of the Soap Opera variety. For example, when his dad went out to the garage, The Young One would treat it as a formal departure.

“Bye, Daddy. I love you.” 

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to the garage.”

“I know. I just love you, anyway.”

He started throwing that L-word around like it was losing popularity.

“Bye, Daddy. I love you. Bye.”

Poor kid. Heartbreaking times. His nerves were fried. He’d reached his threshold of ten-year-old bravery. It had been too long. He needed his mom, the original, not the step. Mama Bird was still living in California and we’d moved on to Texas. Video-chat was not cutting it. He was tired of talking to her forehead.  

The husband recognized that his little man was no tough guy, and indulged him. “Love you, too.” With that, he’d close the door to the bathroom and leave The Young One standing in the hall, waving a tragic goodbye.

I know. You want to take him under your bird wing and let him cry it out, don’t you? Well, this essay is actually not about separation anxiety. It’s about the L-word.

 Let’s talk about love.

I noticed during The Young One’s mini-crisis that his freedom with the L-word left me feeling very uncomfortable with my own reluctance to release the sappy sentiment. Why was I withholding?

A recent story in New York magazine asks, do parents really love their adopted children differently than their own offspring? A similar question can be posed to stepparents. Can stepparents really love their stepkids like they were their own flesh and blood? I’ve got to be honest. I think the answer is yes and no.

This love business. It’s a tricky thing.

I believe that with stepchildren, falling in love isn’t always instant. Just because you adore their father doesn’t mean you immediately fancy his kids. Or them, you. Why would this relationship be automatic? Women screen men for years before they find one to truly cherish. Our love is selective, isn’t it?

As much as I like the blissful act of letting go, of finally giving in to love with reckless abandon, I don’t say the L-word until I really mean it. Not only is this my rule for the man; it’s my rule for his kids, too.

I believe that with stepchildren, falling in love isn’t always instant.

I’ve always felt like society expects women to feel tenderness for anything with a heartbeat. Just because I have lady-parts, I’m supposed to love all of humanity? How did this ridiculous rumor get started?

I admit it. This confession makes me wonder if I’m missing a maternal gene. Perhaps my DNA is botched. Whatever the case, I hope my honesty here gives me a little absolution.

When The Husband and I got together, there were many who assumed that I’d fallen for all three of them. They expected that since I’d become an overnight mother of sorts, my natural, maternal instincts kicked in. Again, sorry to disappoint, but I did not feel this way. I wasn’t going to donate a kidney should either one of them get sick. Not right away.

Now, let me be clear, I thought the boys were lovely and I was very fond of them. But neither party was gushing l’amour. We were not living out a fairy tale. It was awkward. And, I thought our hesitation made the situation very real and strangely, comforting.

It wasn’t until over three years into our relationship that the words escaped my lips. One evening, I sat on the edge of The Young One’s bed, feeling sad for him and his nostalgia for the way things were, and it just hit me. I love this kiddo. I said, “Hey weirdo, I love you.”

And instantly, I knew I meant it.

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