As Mother’s Day approaches, I believe stepmothers deserve their own, special something. I have an appreciation for you.
About a week before the start of sixth grade, I was excited because I was about to go shopping for clothes with my second stepmother.
This was going to be the first time I would go to a store with my second stepmother. This shopping thing was a big occasion for another reason. I would also be going with my brand-new stepsister. She was 13. I was 11.
Our first venture together was a disaster, and it was all my fault. It was part of the perils of being a stepmother. I was keen to watch anything I deemed favoritism toward my stepsister, her daughter.
For the first few minutes, she was buying stuff for my stepsister. I was seething. “You’re buying everything for her,” I exploded.
As the words spilled out of my mouth, I could see the hurt on her face. What I didn’t understand was that the store we were in was where she usually bought stuff for her daughter, and it was the first stop on our journey. She was heading to another store for me later.
The damage was done. She stopped and took us home. She quietly headed straight for the bedroom and closed the door. I went to my grandmother to relay “my” side of the story.
A couple of days later, my stepmother and I visited some stores all by ourselves. It was tough for both of us, then and for a while.
Experts on this kind of thing say stepmothers should not expect that big happy family feeling or immediate acceptance in the early days.
And, besides, I was not too long removed from reading the “wicked stepmother” stories.
In an article about the difficulties of being a stepmom, Tamar Fox said stepmothers are hampered because they didn’t have those early years of bonding with the stepchild like they would with their own child. They have to play the game of catch-up, which usually doesn’t happen.
Also, when a stepmom brings her own child into the mix, she has to be adroit enough not to show favoritism to that child. It’s virtually impossible.
And it’s difficult for a stepmom to complain about the stepchild to others and to share parenting with an outside parent.
Fox also warns that no matter how much you do to help your spouse and stepchild, you may never get the credit you deserve. Yep, I witnessed that.
Then there was this: I never called her mom. I never called anyone mom, for that matter. It was never discussed. But I wonder now how it must have made her feel.
There were those awkward moments when one of her friends she hadn’t seen in a while would notice her and me together and would say, “I don’t remember you having a son,” or “How old is he? I don’t remember you having a second child."
It took a couple of years before she stopped being hesitant to openly criticize me, although I know I did stuff that deserved scolding. Instead she would tell my dad.
She and my grandmother never really got along, but coexisted. I was at the center of the standoff, and she knew it was risky trying to encroach on that relationship.
Yet she and I built somewhat of a bond by the time I reached high school — and a greater one as I crossed into adulthood. I was more mature and could understand and appreciate what she had experienced.
My two best memories of our relationship are striking because they're so different.
One summer day, she saw me walking down the street with my hair caked with Murray’s grease. I was 10 and trying to copy the processed hair of the popular soul singers at the time. Although she and my dad were not married yet, she pulled me into her beautician shop and washed it out.
The second memory involved the time she felt my dad had been harsh in a public display of anger toward me at a little league baseball game. She came home and sat next to me on the back steps and asked if I was all right.
To all of the amazing stepmothers out there who are making or have made the family thing work, I say a special Happy Stepmother’s Mother’s Day to you. You've earned it.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.