"I can't work until 6 o'clock on Wednesday, remember? I will need to pick up the kids by quarter to 6."
"Oh, yeah, I totally forgot! Can't leave your kids waiting...you're a great mom!"
In my stepmother mind:
Yes, that is correct. I certainly have to pick up the kids but they are not my kids--even though I have interactions with them that mirror interactions I would initiate with my own progeny.
I go out of my way to say "THE kids" as opposed to "MY kids." The difference is subtle yet difference still remains. Some people might protest and charge me with being absolutely ridiculous: What difference does "the" or "my" truly make? On the other hand, several bio-parents might be thinking, "Damn right! She better say 'the' kids; they're not hers!"
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the STEP language game.
There's a subtle yet powerfully effective double standard weighing on the shoulders and mouths of step-moms everywhere.
Mom, Judy, is sitting on the bleachers at Timmy's soccer game engaging in a bit of girl talk with the other moms. Judy proceeds to say that Timmy needs to be a bit less like his father and quit procrastinating with getting his homework completed after game time. A ways down the bleachers, step-mom Jane comments on how stepson Tommy probably needs to devote a bit more time practicing soccer so he can improve at goalie position.
Mind you, I have created fake names, but the framework of the scenario is indeed a real one. I have witnessed Mom Jane's comments be received back within the circle of parents with understanding and camaraderie. Even if one or more of the parents think Mom Jane's comment off-putting, her statement is still one that CAN be made. On the other hand, step-mom Jane's constructive criticism of Tommy is admonished. She is met with the statement, "Um, he is not your son; you shouldn't be so rude or critical." (Moreover, most steps probably wouldn't say anything at all. The STEP language motto becoming, "Keep your head down and your mouth shut!")
Incredulous? Disbelieving? Sound ridiculous?
As soon as I say, "Oh, my stepdaughter..." I immediately become marked and ultimately discredited in a certain way (the marking being polarizing). Then my statement is followed by a series of questions: Do you have any kids of your own? Do you want to have kids of your own? Are you planning on having any? AND I am thinking: So, can I finish talking about my plans with my step-daughter this weekend now? Or can I not talk about that until I pop out a baby? And what if I do not ever have kids of MY OWN? So what?
"That's my girl."
"He looks just like me."
Step-mom cannot say this, especially CHILDLESS steps; this language of possession as it concerns another human being(s) can never be broached by step-mom. What can step-mom say? What is her field of statements?
"She doesn't look like me."
"His mannerisms are nothing like my own."
WHAT CAN BIO AND STEP SAY ALIKE?
"I love her!"
"I enjoy his laughter."
I may not be able to claim my step-kids in a very literal sense of claiming: I was outside of their conception and birth, outside of their naming, and still I exist outside of seeing myself reflected back in their faces. Yet I love them and enjoy them and celebrate them. Language has coloured me evil, but my language NOW is LOVE. A pure love when considered that the deeds that I perform in honor of these children are indeed for them, having literally STEPPED into a situation overwrought with complexity, complication, and strife. A situation that requires courage, bravery, and selflessness.
Step-moms be encouraged in your magnificent ascent to LOVE. Love, simply. And for those who know step-mom, spur her on in her bravery in order that she may continue to thrive through a role that has long been entrenched in a site of isolation, limitation and misunderstanding.
Do you have any experience with the STEP-language-game? If so, please share your experiences for the edification of us all.
Humbly Pressing On,