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.

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Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

The novel I’ve been reading, A Place of Her Own by Janet Fisher, takes place in the 1800s. It’s based on the true story of a woman who came to Oregon by covered wagon and settled not far from where I live. The heroine, Martha, married at 15, has one baby after another, 11 in all. She’d probably have had more, but her husband died. I almost want to add “thank God.” He was an abusive SOB.

But that’s not my point. The story takes place in the 1850s and ’60s. Martha has no access to birth control, abortion doesn’t even occur to her, and there is no such thing as a vasectomy or tubal ligation. If you have sex–and her husband isn’t going to take no for an answer–you have babies. She spends the 21 years of their marriage either pregnant or nursing. Think about that. One baby after another, with no way to stop them from coming.

There comes a point in the novel where she has had two babies die in infancy and discovers she’s pregnant again. “I don’t want to have another baby,” she cries. She already has so many to take care of and she can’t stand the thought of losing another one.

Her husband treats her horribly, at one point beating her with a whip. She leaves him for a while and tries to divorce him, but discovers the laws at that time  allow him to take all of their seven living children away from her. So when he promises never to hurt her again, she goes back. She has two more babies.

Why am I telling you about this when you and I don’t have any babies at all? Think about how few choices women had back then, long before they earned the right to vote. When Martha, as a widow, went to buy land, the guy selling it preferred to deal with her 11-year-old son because he was male.

Only in recent times have we had any say about whether or not we would get pregnant and have babies or when we would have them. When I was born in the 1950s, abortion and birth control were not legally available. Nor did women have many career options. Most became wives and mothers. They started their families young, long before age-related infertility might be a factor. We never heard about spouses refusing to have children. I’m sure it happened but not nearly as often as it does now.

Today we have so many choices it’s frightening. We make those choices and then we wonder if we’ll regret them later, whether it be birth control, abortion, vasectomy, or committing our lives to someone who is not able or willing to make babies with us. In these days when divorce is common, we’re often the second or third spouse, and our partners have already created families with their exes. They’ve had their children, but we have not. They want us to be happy taking care of their children, but it’s rarely enough.

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so many choices. Life was less complicated in the 1860s. But to be honest, I would no more want to have 11 babies and have two of them die than I would want to have none. Also, considering the lack of choices back in the 1800s (when my great-great grandmother had 13 children who lived), why would any of us let anyone else decide this most important life choice for us now?

What do you think about all this?

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Last week’s stepmom post has created quite a hot discussion. Take a look at https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2017/01/12/he-already-has-his-kids-but-i-dont/.