I Didn’t Know How

My stepdaughter Gretchen took offense at recent postings referring to her. She was hurt that I didn’t use her name, although I was simply trying to protect her from embarrassment. Then she went on a rant about how I wasn’t involved enough with her and her children, especially when the kids were young. She talked about how her own mother took the kids home with her for long periods and spent lots of time with them. When I explained that her father was an obstacle to me being a hands-on mom/grandma, that her mother had first dibs, and that the kids were often with their own father, she said I could have worked around all that. As I pondered this, my own feelings greatly hurt, I began to realize that perhaps I didn’t become one of those huggy grandma types because I didn’t know how to interact with kids. Not only have I never had my own, but I haven’t had much opportunity to be around children. Mine has always been an all-adult life. Dogs, I get. Children, not so much. So if I didn’t charge in and create a close relationship, I’m sorry. I thought I did pretty well, considering. I do know this; parenting is tough, and step-parenting is even harder.
One of my missions in this blog and my other writing is to make people understand that women who don’t have children miss a lot in life, including learning how to take care of them. Sorry, Gretchen.

A while back, I talked about men’s views of childlessness. I just finished reading a book called Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids, an anthology edited by Canadians Lynne Van Luven and Bruce Gillespie. It’s a good book. I can recommend it, although I’m not sure it gets to the heart of why so many men don’t want to have children. Among those writing here, quite a few are gay or were in marriages where they couldn’t conceive or carry a baby to term. Only a few say they just didn’t want to have kids. Men don’t seem to talk about these things with the same emotion that women do. The general view is, “I didn’t have kids because of X. Next subject.”

There, now I have probably offended Gretchen and any men that might be reading this blog.

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 you 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.