To My Daughter’s “Real” Mother,
I remember the day that I met your daughter.
She was bright-eyed and inquisitive, barely out of her toddler years, and I was scared of her. Or rather, not of her, but of what she was – my future stepdaughter, a mysterious child whom I hadn’t raised. I was out of my comfort zone that day, afraid that she would dismiss me with prejudice. I was comfortable in my role as mother to my own two rough-and-tumble sons, but she was new, different, and unknown, and I feared that I would somehow fail in our first meeting.
Worrying proved to be unnecessary – she inserted herself seamlessly into the games my sons were playing, and the sounds of their laughter quickly filled the air. She regarded me with polite curiosity and excitedly chatted with me about her Daddy, my future husband. My sons and I gave her a small gift before she left, and her goodbye to us was a distracted one as she eagerly busied herself with her new present as her grandmother steered her towards the door.
I didn’t meet you that day. You were a mystery to me in those early days, the unspoken presence in my mind whenever I saw your daughter. Her father rarely spoke of you, but the brief flashes of pain and frustration that flickered across his face when I mentioned your name were enough to tell me that the road we were starting down on might not be as golden and harmonic as I would have preferred. I prayed that God would grant me a discerning, fair heart and that He would lend me the wisdom, compassion, and toughness needed to be a stepmom and “the new wife”.
I read the books about how to be a stepparent, and I familiarized myself with the largely unspoken code of conduct that I, as your daughter's stepmother, would be expected to follow. I recognized that deep within myself I was nervous, afraid of the unknown, and worried that I might grow to resent your daughter simply for being the embodiment of my husband's previous relationship with you. I was afraid that she would take measure and render me as inadequate and deficient compared to you, and that my husband would adopt the same mindset after seeing how your daughter responded to me. Everywhere around me, it seemed, were horror stories of evil stepmothers, bratty stepchildren, fathers stuck in the middle and unable or unwilling to advocate for their new wives, and mothers hell-bent on invading and destroying ex-husband's lives. My mind raced with unspoken fears, unable to voice them because I barely understood them myself.
I braced myself for the daunting task of fitting into your daughter's life not quite as a mother but not as a stranger either. I told myself that I was prepared for the inevitable temper tantrums and expressions of defiance that were sure to ensue as your little girl adjusted to having me in her life.
They never came.
Instead of being subjected to attacks rooted in hostility and resentment, I found myself entangled in a giggling mess of arms and legs as she constantly threw herself into my embrace. Instead of being ignored or disdainfully rebelled against, she demanded nothing less than my undivided attention after I got home from work, and she unabashedly folded herself into my arms while listening to her father read a bedtime story to her, her stepbrothers, and, two years after her father and I were married, her new little sister.
Before I’d married her father, I’d heard a story of warning from another stepmother about the hate notes she received from her stepchildren, and I feared that her experiences might become mine. To my surprise, a few months after your daughter’s father and I were married, I began finding little drawings, little messages of love throughout the house, brazenly declaring her love for her father and I. The notes were always addressed to “Mom and Dad”. The first time I found one of these, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I couldn’t comprehend how this sweet child could so easily decide that I was fit to fill the role of “mother” in her life.
As time went on, I began to understand. Your daughter was, in every sense of the word, incapable of holding back her desperate need to love and be loved. She began to share a part of herself that she’d been holding in, a part of herself that was raw, confused, and neglected. Her account of her life as she’d lived it so far spilled from her mouth, and I realized that this child was spending the vast majority of her life in the care of anyone and everyone except for you. The times that she was with you, she was neglected in every sense of the word.
She told us of the many home visits from “the men in the black uniforms”, and solemnly showed off her shorn hair during one particular stay at our house. She explained in a serious tone that her mommy chopped off her hair so the scary men and women wouldn’t come snooping around her house anymore. My heart sank as this precocious kindergartner explained your tricks for staying beneath the radar of Child Welfare and law enforcement agencies.
Your daughter has always been such a brilliant girl, perceptive and quick-witted. She may not have known the details of the events over which she had no power as a young child at the mercy of your whims, but she knew that things were not as they should be. And it left her longing for a mother who cared, a mother who wanted to be with her. She hungered for a nurturing voice, a gentle embrace, an affirmation of worth that only a mother can give. I’ve lost count of the number of times in which she’s cried in my arms or in her father’s arms, sobbing because she believes in her beautiful, innocent heart that her “real” mother doesn’t want her.
"Mom, my other mom says you aren’t my ‘real’ mom. But I think you are just like a real mom, because you love me and spend time with me. You make me happy."
Those words haunt me at night and, on some days, are all that keeps me going when I feel discouraged by your hateful words and actions.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m telling you these things. Perhaps you’re even feeling pangs of shame, though I doubt it. When your daughter’s father tried to explain to you last month that your daughter was scared because her baby half-sister was having a risky and long surgery very soon, you nastily dismissed his words with a refusal to let him speak to your daughter after the surgery to let her know that her baby sister was okay.
"Don't bore me with your family drama, because I don't care. I'm not your personal therapist".
So no, that’s not why I’m telling you these things.
I’m telling you these things to let you know that you’ve done something right. And that I’m so very thankful for you.
Your indifference towards and rejection of your daughter has helped her far more than your presence in her life ever has. Because of your indifference, you’ve largely left her in the care of others, others who have thankfully taught her to think for herself. Your daughter is such a strong, thoughtful, intelligent little girl, and she’s learned not to follow in your footsteps. She’s learned, and she continues to learn, to make her own decisions, to judge others based on what she herself witnesses and believes, rather than to blindly follow your views.
My heart aches for her, that she would have to learn such lessons, especially at such a tender age. But it also rejoices, for she is a strong, beautiful child who will grow up to be a strong, beautiful woman.
And, God-willing, I will be there alongside her, to work together with her father in molding her into this strong, beautiful woman. And I wish so deeply that you will one day join us.
There is not a day that goes by when I do not wish that you and I could be friends, that we could co-parent together for the sake of our daughter. There is not a day that goes by that my heart does not ache for you as well, for I know that you are floundering and desperately trying to find where you belong in this world. You just don't realize that you're already there.
My prayer for you is that one day, you will acknowledge the value of an additional set of arms to wrap around your daughter when she needs to feel them most, an additional heart to beat with the purpose of loving your daughter’s beautiful heart, and an additional soul to nurture and care for your daughter as only a mother can.
I will always be “mom” to your daughter, for as long as she wishes. And for this gift, I will never stop being grateful to you.