Have you ever pretended to be a Mom?

“Our kids.” “My son.” “Being a mom . . .”

I have been going through old writings from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Most are columns or essays, some of them published in the community newspapers where I worked or sent out as freelance pieces to various magazines and newspapers. In addition to being embarrassed—I really thought that was good?—I’m surprised to read frequent phrases like the above that implied I had children. Did I really consider myself a mom or was I trying to fit in with the rest of the world?

I had three stepchildren. The older two, in their teens when Fred and I got married, did not live with us. The youngest, only 7 when we met, lived with us from age 12 to 20, flying to Texas to spend time with his mom for holidays and summer vacation. Sure, I was doing full-time mom duty for a while, but did I really think of myself that way? Certainly not on Mother’s Day when the honors went to Fred’s ex. Certainly not when it came to decisions about “our son’s” religion, extracurricular activities, or his future. Certainly not when other women talked about their children’s birth and younger years. Certainly not when I tried to hug my stepson and he backed away.

I was kind of a mom, but in my writing, I seemed to imply that I was a full-fledged just-like-everybody-else mom. So why did my “son” call me “Sue?” Maybe it was just too complicated to explain that these were stepchildren, that I had not given birth to them. Or was I embarrassed, feeling that I had failed?

Who was to know different? Not the photographer who kept calling me “Mom” as he posed us for a family portrait. Not the school secretary who called to tell me young Mr. Lick had not shown up for class. Not the Boy Scout leader who wanted me to bring two dozen cookies. Not the other moms who sent their kids to our house to play. In most cases, I did not set them straight.

It’s as difficult to put myself back in that head space as it is to fit into the skinny clothes I wore then. I know I wanted desperately to be a mom. I guess I claimed as much of that status as I could, aware that it could be taken away at any minute.

These days, with Fred gone and no contact with the kids beyond Facebook, I just tell people I never had any children. That’s not quite true either, is it? I still love Fred’s kids and pray for them every day. But they’ve got a mom. I’m just Sue.

This seems like an odd post. Things have been odd lately for me, going through all these old writings, dealing with some worrisome medical issues, and slogging through the rainy days of winter. But maybe you have experienced some of this, too.

My questions for today: Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad when you’re not? If you have stepchildren, do you feel like their parent? Do you claim that status among other people? Please comment. I want to know what you think. Tell me I’m not the only one.

6 thoughts on “Have you ever pretended to be a Mom?

  1. Hi Sue, in 20 years I think I’ve said “my son” or “my kids” once, maybe twice. They have a mom they are close to, and I try to respect her boundaries. Plus, they do distance themselves from me, and I them, from time to time, with the ebb and flow of family drama.

    What I don’t get is this “bonus son” or “bonus daughter.” Or even “daughter in love” (replacing daughter in law).

    I want to say to women who say that, you’re not fooling anyone. I mean, what inside of them causes them to think they have to use a fancy label or be ashamed of the normal words people use? Do they think the rest of us who don’t use those words are not as devoted, caring or loving? I just find the usage of those words as fake, I guess.


  2. You may be Sue, not Mom, but rest assured you’re not “just Sue.” You’re a Sue who was tremendously important in the lives of your stepsons, especially the youngest. Everything you did for him in those eight years was, in fact, being a mom. Don’t downplay your role just because you didn’t have the label. You don’t deserve that. And neither does your relationship with your stepsons.

    And anyway, a StepMom is a mom but slightly (ever so slightly in some cases) different.


  3. I never had much of an opportunity to pretend. Once we took some nieces and a nephew on a little day trip. I guess I pretended inside my head. Probably my husband did too.

    When I took my niece to the bathroom someone complimented her boots and asked me where I got them. I sort of shrugged and looked to my niece to answer. The other person assumed I was her mom and had purchased the footwear. I was a little surprised and very happy to think that I pulled off the illusion of motherhood. Years later, I still remember the boots, the funny little bathroom and that whole day with pleasure. It meant something to me then even if it makes me a little sad to remember that part of it.

    I agree with Mali who says that you are not “just Sue.” I think of you often, especially now as I deal with my own health issues and looming childlessness. (I’m feeling especially unhinged today). This blog has been a “safe place” for me over the years. The work you do and the way you put yourself out there is important and meaningful. Thank you!

    Health issues make you take stock. How do I want the rest of my life to look? How long will I be here? Am I investing properly in the relationships I have? I’m feeling selfish these days and quite unlike myself. I suspect you are, too. I offer you my prayers for peace.


    • Anonymous, I’m so glad I can provide a safe space for you. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. Like you, I’m dealing with health issues, and it sure does make you take stock. It’s okay to be a little selfish. Thanks for being here.


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