Confessions of a stepmother

My thoughts on Mother’s Day

By Melinda Yeoh 

“I will love this child as my own. Raise her together with my husband and give her a stable home. We can build a happy, loving family.” More than a decade ago—I said this to myself with all honesty and naivety. Zero ideas of what I was getting myself into.

“Love will prevail” was my pure and simple answer to questions I didn’t ask myself before marrying him.

“Does she like you?”
“Why don’t you have one of your own?”
“It’s different, you know.”

Nobody asks me any of the above questions when husband and I were still dating. No, they somehow chose to ask me after we were married. Like, right after.

Some friends asked me. Two fathers asked me. But mostly mothers.

Thanks to those “well-meaning” advice, I’ve entered into marriage as a new wife and instant mum—handicapped from day one because I’ve listened to those lies.

That because I didn’t have this umbilical cord connected to her, I didn’t carry her for nine months, I didn’t scream in pain; therefore we will always be different.

Because there’s no blood bond. I will always lack. I will always be handicapped; no matter what I do.

“You are not her real mother.”
“Just accept that you can’t replace her mother.”
“Oh, leave the disciplining to her father. Don’t do it as a step mum.”

And get this, “You are her spiritual mother.” As if, I’m the fairy godmother with the fake, blond hair.

Now, the thing is, I don’t want to replace her mother. I can’t. Because I can’t reverse the process, stuff the kid in my womb and give birth to who had been born. It’s impossible. Did you guys study science in school?

“Love will prevail” was tainted then because I believed the lies. And I lived them out.

Try loving someone yet having this taunting sensor in you; constantly checking if that someone loves you back. If so—how much. And if it’s lacking, of course! That darn handicap. I can never live up to be a mother to her.

She also lived out those lies being sown by others into her young heart. With both of us living out those evil lies, it was like throwing the kerosene-soaked paper into a burning pile of mess.

So, the poor girl grew up in a world of confusion. From the separation of her biological parents to now having this insecure-lied-to-person taking up the role of a mother; at one time, loving her with all her heart, and another, shrinking back after rejections (perceived and real).

My heart goes out to her. I want her to know that it’s never her fault. It’s never anything that she can do. It’s the adults who messed up big time.

And I’m so sorry she had to bear the consequences.

Yet, I have fresh wounds to deal with regularly. So though I want to do my best to protect her from this pain, I was grimacing in mine.

I also didn’t know then that I was carrying a subconscious dream of having an ideal family, one where the parents have a good marriage, and lovingly raising their kids (biological or not!) together. Because I didn’t have that, not my generation, not my mum’s generation.

I looked longingly at other families: husband, wife, kids. Somehow just being together as one unit feels right, perfect, safe for me. And I wanted that for her—right and safe—especially after such a traumatic situation of her biological parents getting divorced.

So, I tried. I tried with all my might, all my strength, all my will. Especially after I’ve known the unconditional love of God and accepted Christ into my life.

I tried to love despite the hurts. I tried to love despite not receiving anything back. I tried to love despite the lies in my head—”you will always lack because you didn’t give birth to her”.

I feel silly whenever my church celebrates Mother’s Day by asking all the mothers to stand and be recognised, given a gift, and for the kids and husband to pray for them.

Bless the church’s heart and intention, but when I hesitantly, yet bravely stood up, and my then nine years old daughter refused to budge and come over to my side—that was my first taste of being publicly humiliated. I felt ashamed as I imagined the eyes of people sitting around us looking, judging.

I tried in vain to stop the tears from pouring throughout the service, but I couldn’t listen to a word from the sermon.

It sure made me feel like an imposter. It sure made me not wanting to step into the church for Mother’s Day again for years after that.

I also doubt my love for her when I got angry and resentful of her. Was it because we don’t have that elusive biological bond; thus, I love her less? How else to explain these feelings of anger?

I went on carrying those lies in my heart that I’m not a mother—when the reality is—I had to be one, and I am one.

The thing that screws up my mind is—what do you mean by “you can’t replace her mother?” Does it mean that there can only be one mother?

But, erm, if I’m the one raising her together with her father—what role am I playing then? A nanny? A sister? An aunt?

What role am I playing that requires these crazy sacrifices and loving-despite-the-hurts love?

A substitute non-mother?

Does it mean that all I can do is know my place and accept whatever situation, just because she didn’t come out from my womb?

It wasn’t until recently when I heard from friends—stories of them and their respective biological mum; that I saw the truth: being bonded by blood doesn’t mean there will be bonding in the hearts.

A healthy relationship depends on what we put in, what we take out, respecting each other, and (add in other ingredients). In other words, healthy relationship development is organic. Nope, there’s no instant relationship.

With that, the “curse” is broken, and I saw the lies for the first time. The lies that crippled me for more than a decade. And I saw the truth.

I’m a mother.

I didn’t give birth to her. But I take care of her. Place her needs before mine. Do things for her benefit. Guide her. Love her despite the hurts.

I’m a mother. I am not her biological mother. But I’m her mother.

A stepmother is a peculiar role to be. I still struggle as I am learning to live out the truth, quieten those lies, and secure my identity in Christ.

By the way, the sweetest icing on the cake (zero calories), her message to me on last year’s Mother’s Day:

P.S. Perhaps when I’m ready, I’ll write about my late mother and me. Till then, enjoy this latest song from the talented JJ Heller. 

P.P.S. For some, you might wanna get some tissues ready.

JJ Heller – A Mother Like You (Official Music Video)

JJ Heller – A Mother Like You (Official Music Video)
By Brandon Heath, David Heller, and JJ Heller

v1. You gave me a drawer in your kitchen
You gave me the room with a view of the yard
Whatever the hurt, you knew right where to kiss it
You gave me the best of your heart

v2. And you carried my rocks in your pocket
Flowers and feathers and butterfly wings
You had an answer for all of my questions
You showed me wonderful things

v3. I know that it hasn’t been easy
I hope that I love like you do
‘Cause I know that this world would be better
If everyone had a mother like you

v4. You make the best macaroni
We never cared that it came from a box
The mom in the stands always clapping her hands
Started cheering and still haven’t stopped

v5. And you held me when I came home crying
‘Cause someone said something that just wasn’t true
I always said that Janelle was my best friend
But really it’s always been you

v6. I know that I haven’t been easy
I hope that I love like you do
‘Cause I know that this world would be better
If everyone had a mother like you

v7. Our second was born in September
I still can’t believe I have kids of my own
I look in their eyes and I can’t help but wonder
Who will they be when they’re grown?

v8. I know it won’t always be easy
I hope I can love like you do
‘Cause I know that my kids will be better
If they have a mother like you
If I am a mother like you
‘Cause I had a mother like you

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Introducing Melinda Yeoh

Through her website and newsletter—HopeMail, Melinda writes from her heart about having hope and living with joy in the ups and downs of life. There are also resources from where to seek support for depression and anxiety, to prayer for different situations. Receive HopeMail on Sundays.


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