I have decided to dust off the book I wrote a few years ago and publish it here on this blog. One post at a time, I will release a new section or chapter of the book. The book has been sitting on the shelf for more than 2 years now. It required edits and I just don’t have it in me to do any more edits or rewrites. Instead, I am going to release it here in its raw form because maybe there is someone out there who will benefit from reading it. Here goes…
Other Mothers – Introduction
“In terms of shame triggers for women, motherhood is a close second (after how we look). And bonus! You don’t have to be a mother to experience mother shame. Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound; therefore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mothers or potential mothers. Women are constantly asked why they haven’t married or, if they’re married, why they haven’t had children.” – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, P.86
Preface: “Not the Real Mom”
I am an other mother. I raised three children, but I did not birth any of them. I inherited them when I was 24 years old and fell in love with their mother. This was in 1995 when being a gay parent was still a bit shocking and considered socially unacceptable. I was young and naïve and thought love was all it took to raise a happy, healthy family. At the time, I did not realize what an important role societal norms and pressure played and how they added complications to an already challenging life responsibility; being a mother.
A few weeks before Mother’s Day 2012 when my youngest was 18 and about to graduate from high school I wrote the following blog post:
Mother’s Day is coming up. This is a tough one for me. Not as a daughter but as a mother. It is a day that I am reminded of how society often disregards the other mothers of the world. I am one of those other mothers.
The number one question every woman is asked is, “Do you have children?” You might think this is a simple yes or no answer; it is not. Many women “have” children but did not actually “have” them. It is a complicated question to answer. Some women struggle with how much of an answer to give, I know I did.
I raised 3 children. I changed their diapers, wiped their snotty noses, made their lunches, consoled their hurt feelings, drove the carpool, gave up my own dream of going to graduate school, stayed home from work with sick kids, lost my hair during their teenage years and many nights of sleep. I laughed, cried, enjoyed, loved and hated parenting. But, when someone asks me if I have children and I say yes, I feel like I am not telling the whole truth. I do have children, I have 3 but I did not birth these children, my partner did and we have raised them together with her ex-husband and his wife. If I tell people the whole story their response is often “oh, you are not the real mom.” Being labeled “not the real mom” made it so I was not allowed to ever complain about parenting or my kids because if I did other mothers would say, “it is different when it is your kid, or you wouldn’t understand since they are not actually your kids”.
These comments from others often shut me down, hurt me and made me wonder if it was okay to say, yes I have kids. These comments also isolated me from the “Mom’s club” I wanted and needed so badly to be in. The Mom’s club is any group of moms that becomes friends because of their kids, moms at the park, moms who have kids in the same class, etc. They hang out together while their kids are doing activities and provide support to each other, share their trials and tribulations of raising kids and learn from each other. I felt so alone as a mother. I felt ashamed wondering what the other mothers thought of me. I was young, I was a lesbian and I was the cause for my partner’s (the real mother) divorce. Looking back now that my kids are young adults I realize those worries of what the other mothers thought of me were all created in my own head. I never even gave a chance to those other mothers to get to know me. The few that I did allow in throughout the parenting years are some of my best friends now.
I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my mommy years wondering if I was good enough and realized that the fact that I was raising someone else’s kids was BETTER than good enough. I was sacrificing and doing things for those little snotty nosed people that usually only a “real” mother would do. I should NOT have been ashamed, I should have been celebrated. But a mother’s job doesn’t usually come with a lot of praise, I understand this.
The more I have talked with women, the more I have learned that this feeling like an ”other mother” is a common feeling. Even the traditional type of mom often feels like she doesn’t fit in; she’s too young, too old, too fat, too poor, not cool enough, works, doesn’t work, whatever it is, she feels she doesn’t fit in and she isolates herself from the other mothers.
Being in my position, the other mom, not the “REAL” mom and not even the stepmom pretty much makes me the invisible mom when it comes to acknowledgment from society and community support.
I imagine there are all sorts of women who could identify with being an other mother: lesbian moms, stepmoms, adoptive moms, foster moms, divorced moms, single moms, teen moms, immigrant moms, aunts, grandmas and other relatives raising children that are not their own, moms whose husbands are in prison or the military, women who chose not to be moms or were not able to be and fathers who have taken on the more traditional mommy role. I’m sure there are other ‘other mother’s who I have failed to mention here as well.
This blog post inspired the book you are reading now. I was so moved by the responses I received to that blog post. There are 50 comments on that post alone, many discussions around what it means to be a real mom, an other mother, a step-mom or not a mom on my social media pages and multiple women sent me private emails wanting to share their mom story with me.I learned the feeling is the same even when the situation is extremely different. A Christian mom on the East Coast who adopted a special needs child knew exactly how I felt as a lesbian other mother on the West Coast. She sent me this in an email: “I hear all the time that I am not the “real” mother, very frustrating and hurtful. I thought I was the only one who experienced this.”
I knew writing this book was something I had to do. So many women were able to relate to feeling like an “other mother”. I seem to have tapped into a common feeling of isolation and hurt. This common thread of feeling lonely, isolated and different may actually be something that brings us all together. Writing this book while history is being made with President Obama speaking out in favor of marriage equality is a wonderful thing. I feel we are at a tipping point in society where love and acceptance are winning out over judgment, exclusion, and discrimination.
Sometimes I wonder why there is so much societal pressure to have kids. Is it because misery loves company? Sure children are wonderful but they are also a pain in the ass! Get a group of moms together who have teenagers or older children, give them a few drinks and if they feel safe they will most likely admit to you in a guilty hushed way that if they knew how hard it was to be a parent they might not have had children. They always back this up saying they adore their children. Of course, they adore their children but do they adore the children they never had?
This book is not a celebration of the bliss of motherhood; that would be fiction. This book is about building a connection between all women and mothers.
Chapter 1: Other Mothers