The Alternative Mom

Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many people. I share in the discomfort of those who live on the edge of parenthood. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve read my rants about not wanting children, apart from my seven year old step-daughter who lives 2,000 miles away; but that wasn’t always my perspective. A decade ago, I was newly married (to someone else) and daydreaming about becoming a mother. I spent pretty much my entire early adolescence babysitting and helping parents with their children, so much so that even my friends in middle school told me I’d be a good mom. My dad called me “mother hen”…because mothering was an instinctual behavior. But when the time came to actually try to conceive, it took me four years, only to miscarry in the first ten weeks. It was disappointing to say the least.

But in the years since my divorce and remarriage, parenting has taken on a new meaning. I’m more keenly aware that it’s a lifelong commitment…which I don’t think everyone realizes. Some people approach procreation like it’s as trivial and temporary as purchasing a new car. But now I realize how much work goes into raising children. No breaks, no vacations, no fucking sleep, even less money. Until either you or the child passes to the next life. Parenting=investment.

Needless to say, it shocked a lot of people when I wasn’t jumping the gun to get pregnant after I remarried. Even the conversations my husband and I have had about adding to our family have been more to please others’ expectations, because isn’t it written somewhere that as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to have tons of fat children (even more so if you’re over 30, which we basically are)? Thanks, but I think I’d like to have tons of uninterrupted sex first.

When I met my husband, he wasn’t connected to his daughter due to the substantial distance and the fact that she was being parented by her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather. Her paternal needs were being met. Last year, his daughter’s needs changed and it became vital that we step in to help build a permanent relationship with her, despite the distance and difficulties. Since then, we’ve visited her and she’s visited us, and we’re planning for her to stay with us for a month this summer. I went from wife to parent in one phone call. There’s a bedroom full of Little Mermaid toys and a closet full of tiny human clothes in our apartment. I’ve been organizing day camps and social outings and making schedules. It’s surreal. If you saw her face, you’d know why it’s all worth it.

Some people don’t understand though. They wonder why my husband and I have chosen to be airport parents, why we’ve given up passports and husband/wife-only dreams and even the idea of bearing more children. I have an easy answer—because each one of those activities takes away from the possibility of affording airfare for her visits or doing fun things while she’s here. It cuts in on her provisions and I’ve been told kids like to eat, at least twice a day…or maybe I’m getting them confused with pets. 

I do a lot of work for a child that isn’t even mine. (That’s another long story.) She’ll never be mine. Even her mom thanks me for “mothering her baby.” It’s sort of an awkward place to be…in that limbo between not wanting more children but also wanting the ONE child that will never truly be mine. On Mother’s Day, I feel trapped in the space in between. Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for moms parenting children they bore from their bodies or children they adopted. But what about the step-moms…the alternative moms who only see their kids for a few days every three months? Those for whom the “mother” label feels like a misnomer? If my husband and I never have children together, he’ll still always be a father, but I’ll always be on the edge of motherhood. I’ll still be parenting someone else’s baby, mothering someone else’s daughter. I’ll still be the alternative mom.

 

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