This weekend in Australia was Mother's Day.
I grew up in a family where Mother's Day was not actively encouraged.
My mother often expressed concern about the Americanisation of our culture as we were growing up. She also believed that one shouldn't need a day of the year to be told to tell your mother that you love her (the irony being that my family never said 'I love you' at any time!)
As we got older, we all deplored the commercialisation of the day and actively avoided buying into it. During our adult years, Mother's Day evolved into a phone call if we lived away or a luncheon if we were visiting.
It took a lot of time, maturity and emotional work in my 20's and 30's to see how my parents showed their love for us in lots of practical ways every day, year after year...because as a child, all I ever wanted was for someone to say a smultzy, American-style 'I love you'.
When my first serious boyfriend told me he loved me at the age of 16, I was in danger of laying down my life for him and doing anything he wanted, simply to hear those words again, again and again. Those three little words were incredibly powerful; they made me feel so good about myself; they made me feel safe and secure; they made me feel special. For the first time I felt truly validated.
Allowing myself to love and to be loved has been the main work of my adult life. Learning how to express this love has been my on-going thesis.
When I became a stepmother I didn't initially feel that Mother's Day was for me.
I was content if my efforts to make our new family a happy one were acknowledged, but I was not the boys' mother. I didn't see myself as trying to replace her or transplant her place in their lives.
Thanks to my teaching background and a growing brood of nieces and nephews, I saw my role as more of a live-in aunty with a few handy behaviour management techniques under my belt!
Over time, our roles and relationships have evolved a lot. I do a mother's work. I wash, I clean, I feed. I keep the peace, I listen, I nag. I cheer from the sidelines, applaud at school assemblies & welcome their friends into our home. I look after them when they're sick, I hold them when they're hurt. I spend hours and hours discussing their futures, their personalities, their behaviours with their father. And I love and protect them with a fierceness I didn't know was possible 9 years ago.
We're now a typical family unit with complex, nuanced, interwoven threads of feelings, experiences & beliefs. We have a shared history, family jokes & personal grievances. We've created family traditions & rituals (including our own version of Mother's Day appreciation). Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way, but most of the time, we sail along pretty smoothly.
What has got me thinking about all these issues?
Over the weekend I started reading Stepmother Love by Sally Collins.
The cover says it all. Ten stories about women living similar but different lives to me.
It has been validating to read of common fears and frustrations particular to being a step-parent.
However I gradually realised with each story that Stepmother Love was highlighting something that I already knew but didn't know that I knew!
Stepfamilies & blended families are just like any other family.
Some are good; some are bad.
But most families simply muddle along somewhere in the middle - doing the best they can - with love in their hearts & good intentions in mind.
Sally also has a website and blog devoted to being a stepmother.