Sunday, May 20, 2012

Happy Stepmother's Day!

Today is Stepmother's Day, a legally recognized holiday established in 2000 when a young girl requested for a special day for stepmothers around the United States. This holiday is always celebrated the Sunday after Mother's Day.

While I think it is extremely important for stepmothers to be recognized for the tremendous sacrifices they make and the love they bestow upon children they didn't give birth to, I always have mixed feelings about Stepmother's Day. To me, if stepmothers were truly honored and revered in society, there would be no need for a separate day - stepmothers could be honored alongside mothers on Mother's Day. But, I know every family and their preferences are different. I wouldn't want dear Ashley to honor me on Stepmother's Day with the younger belles because I'm not really their stepmother anymore. I mean, technically I am, but I have been raising them for so long, it seems silly to still refer to myself as their stepmother unless it's important for legal purposes. Most people in our daily lives now aren't even aware that I'm their stepmother.

However, I am still a stepmother to Oldest Belle. And in that spirit, I think it's important to address today why I'm not an active stepparent anymore to her.

Once upon a time, Oldest Belle's mother followed the visitation plan pretty well. We had Oldest Belle in our home every other weekend, some holidays and for the summer. Things were never perfect between her mother and Ashley, but it seemed that the tense years after their split had finally died down. Oldest Belle's mom was never too happy with my role in her life. Actually, if you had asked her, she would say I never had a role at all. She preferred to think of me and Ashley as glorified babysitters rather than active parents. The problem was the closer that Oldest Belle and I got, the harder her mom would make our relationship. Never mind that I had zero interest in replacing her, but I was a Capital T Threat.

The change was noticeable. Oldest Belle started backtalking me more. She began being outright rude to my family at various family functions, people who had loved her and embraced her as another family member without question. When Ashley sat Oldest Belle down to talk to her about her unacceptable behavior and told her she was not going to disrespect me - her stepmother who loved her dearly - she replied that "Southern Step/Mom isn't my stepmother!" as we weren't married at that time. This coming from a child who had been calling me her stepmother for years at this point. It was then that I realized that there was a lot of bashing of me and Ashley going on at her mother's house, more than we had previously realized.

Shortly after this, we found out that Oldest Belle's mother had been plotting to bring Ashley back to court again, for the umpteenth time over 11 years by then. She also had convinced Oldest Belle that she should testify against Ashley in court, fabricating whatever necessary in order to prove her loyalty to her mother. Ashley and her mother did go back to court over Oldest Belle one last time, and the judge refused to change anything in regards to custody. Oldest Belle's mother made it clear to Ashley then that she would not cooperate with visitation any longer, and Ashley had already brought her back to court several times by then to charge her with contempt for violating the parenting plan, only for the judges to do nothing. Her punishments were nothing more than a "slap on the wrist," a "Don't do it again" warning.

So at that point, what do you do? Most people say to continue fighting, to not give up. But what damage does that continue to do to the child when there's a parent who is unrelenting in her quest to destroy the relationship between the other parent and the child? Do you continue bringing the other parent to court, giving her more ammunition against you? Or do you back off and hope that when the child gets older, they'll understand that you backed off in hopes that the other parent would stop psychologically abusing them for simply loving you?

For more information about Parental Alienation Sydrome, here is a great introductory article. (
"Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood...It is our feeling that when attempted PAS has been identified, successful or not, it must be dealt with swiftly by the court. If it is not, it will contaminate and quietly control all other parenting issues and then lead only to unhappiness, frustration, and, lastly, parental estrangement."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A letter to my girls on Mother's Day

"Once there were two women who never knew each other. One you do not remember, the other you call Mother...The first one gave you life, and the second taught you to live it. The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it." - Unknown

This is the sixth Mother's Day we've now shared together, and I hope you know how each year, you make it more special for me. I know as you get older, you'll probably have some more questions about our family and about you and me. I feel like today is a good day for me to explain why the special things you and Daddy do for me on Mother's Day mean so much, so that maybe when you are older, you'll understand better.

See, I don't know what you looked like when you were born. I mean, I DO, but not from memory, just from pictures I've seen. I don't remember the feeling of you kicking inside me that everyone says is pretty cool, but I have no first hand knowledge of. I can't tell you what your first word was, or when you took your first step. I don't know when you got your first tooth, and I don't remember your first cry. I don't know any of these things because when I met you, you were two towheaded toddlers.

And I didn't have a clue about parenting. I was terrified, actually. I didn't do much babysitting growing up, and I didn't have any siblings, so I didn't know what I was doing. I'm pretty sure I had only changed a diaper twice in my life before I met you. I'd never really been responsible for anyone other than myself before, so I didn't really know what to do, and I made a lot of mistakes. See, when people have babies the "traditional" way, they at least get nine months to prepare. There's also lots of books on how to be a good parent that you usually get time to read before you become a parent. But with you two, I didn't get any prep time. So as Daddy and I were trying to work our way into our relationship, you girls needed a mom pronto, so I had to learn along the way. Actually, I'm still learning!

But yes, I can't tell you any of those things you did before I met you. I haven't a clue what you were like as babies. But I do remember the look of pride on your face as you graduated from Pre-K. I remember the first time you called me Mom. I remember how much I cried after I put you on the bus to Kindergarten. I remember when you lost your first tooth and how terrified I was that you'd see me sneaking into your room to play Tooth Fairy. I remember you telling me "I'm OK, Mom! Bye!" when I dropped you off at your new class. I can sing every Disney Channel theme song from the past five years. I took you on your first plane ride and remember how you beamed with excitement when you got your pilot wings. I remember holding you as you cried the first time a friend broke your heart and trying to keep my own tears at bay. All of these things I remember, and I carry with me in my heart, because you are important to me. I didn't have to give birth to you to care about you and to remember all of the little milestones of your life.

I hope when you are older, you will know how much I cried from joy and relief the day the judge said I could adopt you. It was one of the best days of my life. See, I think there is something special about being chosen. I may not have given birth to you, but I have chosen to be your mom. Because I want to, because I love you. You are so special that God led me right to you. That is something to truly cherish, especially when you have doubts about me or us or our family.

I know you will have questions about your biological mom one day. I don't know why things happened the way they did, and I can't answer that because I wasn't there and I don't know her. But I will say this - sometimes, some people know the best thing they can do for their children is to have someone else be their parent. It doesn't mean you are not a good kid or that you are not loved - it means that you are so special that you deserve parents who can take care of you. I can only guess that she must have known that Daddy and I were the best parents to do that.

Our family will probably change as the two of you get older. Daddy and I would like to have a baby in a few years, but I hope you understand that it doesn't mean I will love you any less. If anything, I will love you more because you've taught me how to be a mom. I have the two of you to thank for that. And I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

I love you both,

"Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn't grow under my heart - but in it." - Fleur Conkling Heylinger