Personal – Not the Mama


Photo from Pexels
Photo from Pexels

I am a nebulous creature without a name.  I am an adult helping to care for children that I live with, that are a part of my life.  Nobody is paying me to care for them, I do it out of love for their father and the fact that I care deeply for them and their well-being.  But the fact remains that their father and I are not married, and while that may happen in the future, right now, I am not their stepmother, and I am definitely not their mother.  I am some nebulous in-between-being that is slightly more elevated than “live-in-girlfriend” (because I too own the house they live in), and still without legal standing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Boy’s work schedule has gotten busier as of late.  More travel required, and so he’s usually gone a night or two each week.  It’s been easier to handle those since we’ve been living together, because I’ll see him at night or whenever he gets back, and I’m not “competing” for time and attention with his daughters.  It can all happen at once, and it’s much easier and more convenient this way.  But his ex does shift work, and for a couple of trips in the recent past and in the near future, there are times when she would be working overnight, and he is just gone.  Somebody needs to take the children to school.  And because I’m a capable adult who can handle this kind of thing, I said I could.  So there have been nights when I have been the one to yell about too much running around after school, that they’ve completed their homework, I’ve been the one tucking them into bed, making their lunches, seeing that they get breakfast and brush their teeth in the morning, and physically taken them to school.  I am literally acting in loco parentis.

And I’m starting to feel like I’ve made a huge leap in my parental experience at this point.  Not in a bad way – they are sweet girls who behave the way most preteens do, and I’m still able to be the boss.  The problem is that I feel like a fraud – most parents are raising and caring for their child from birth onward.  I’m coming in at elementary school age, and any parent (or any adult with eyes) can tell you that children make enormous changes even beyond just the physical from babyhood to toddlerhood before becoming real kids.  And I haven’t had to deal with that.  So I start to feel like I’m faking it.

Though I think that even people who have their own children probably still feel like they’re faking it sometimes.  Unless you’ve already raised children of the age that your oldest is at, you are breaking new ground.  And I think the advantage for most people is that they either have that path behind them to look in on, or a legal and biological title of “Parent” that gives them a level of forgiveness in whatever their choices may be.  Right now, I have the small path that we’ve gone together, but no official title in their lives.  I’ve got the same legal standing as a babysitter.  When I drive them to school, I am not recognized as anything except “the responsible adult dropping the children off”.

Very early on in our relationship, the Boy said he was not looking for a mother for his children – their mother is still around, and she’s doing a good job and he trusts her with their care.  But he knew that I would be a person in their lives, and so we took our time in introducing me and developing that relationship in a natural way.  And here we are, years in – living together, committed.  And I have no title.  Maybe that’s just me being insecure.  But as someone who is not their mother, but who is taking on roles and responsibilities that parents would…it would be nice to be recognized, even in name only.

So – discussion time, and this is a time when I really need your input and advice.  Am I being silly?  Is it weird to be so hung up on having any kind of official role or title in their life?  As a step-parent (or as a child of a parent who was in committed relationships when you were young) do you think it makes a difference?  Does a role need to be defined to make a lasting impact?  I’m open to all thoughts here – even the one that says I’m being ridiculous and need to get over myself.  But in that case – how?

4 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    Personally, and of course I mean no offense in this, I think you’re feeling overly insecure in this area. And, you know, it’s fine to feel that. Your feelings are valid. But I don’t think you should expect anything from the girls or from their parents to alleviate that insecurity, because that’s just not how that works. The feeling is temporary; it will naturally go away with time, and to put any expectations of rights of titles or such on any of them would be to force the issue, in my opinion.
    Reading your words, it kind of sounds like the hurt you feel is coming more from your own sense of pride, and you can’t let that get out of check. Real parents offer love and care and put up with all the challenges and frustrations of parenting because they can’t help it; not because they expect anything back. The love and respect a child gives their caregivers (biological or otherwise) develops naturally, and cannot be demanded or created with the allocation of rights or titles. And if you have that love and respect, that is all that matters. What else is there to give? Love and trust will develop naturally, but it may take many years, and you, as the third caregiver, must just simply accept that fact, and keep giving the love you have anyway because you want to give it to them; not because you want anything back.
    What makes a family has absolutely nothing to do with titles and defined roles – it only has to do with who is there for you when you are young, who loves you unconditionally, and who cares for you selflessly.
    I refer to my “parents” and mean my mother and my grandmother, and no one else because that’s what I understood “parents” to be when I was growing up, and my grandmother was one of those for me. One day, the girls might refer to their parents and mean “Mom, Dad, and Maggie.” Or they might not, and yet still love you just the same. There are tons and tons of kids out there who feel that way about their step-parents. And there are many who don’t. The difference is defined by the feelings shared between the two individual humans (step parent, and step child), not the titles that were given to either of them.
    Maybe they’ll grow up to just refer to you as “their Maggie,” with no other title, but even then, if they love you and come to you when they need help as teenagers, who cares what your title is??

    When the situation changes, and you and [The Boy] marry, then you can have a conversation with the girls about what they are comfortable with you all calling each other. But you don’t get any legal rights before that, and that is how that should be. And even once you are married, you will still be third in line for Big decisions (like emergency health care) though you will be able to take some part in those because [he] loves and trusts you and will discuss it with you. But that is just how it is going to be, and you’re going to have to wrestle with that internally, and come to a sense of security about your place in their lives yourself. You don’t need a title to achieve that, and you can’t expect someone else to give it to you either.
    Just love them as much as you can, let them love you, and be satisfied with that. Anything else is ego.

    1. maggie says: Reply

      Oh, I’m sure a lot of it is insecurity, but I guess I didn’t accurately portray the fact that I’m ok being third, I’m ok with not being up there – it’s just these physical acts of parenting without being either the babysitter or a parent are weird for me, and doubly weird as someone who is going straight from free-and-single life to … this. It’s not bad – it’s just a weird and different situation that I can’t imagine there are that many people in.

      And as far as titles, it’s just because it’s so far along and because saying “I’m their fathers girlfriend” makes me sound like the lady he’s been seeing for a couple months instead of the lady with whom he owns a house.

      And it’s during the times when I am the adult in charge that it would be nice to have ~some~ kind of title that connotes authority with both other adults and with the girls.

      1. Nicole Holstein says:

        Ok, I understand. But you are definitely vastly underestimating how common your situation is. I mean, it is truly as common as dirt.
        The girlfriend title does feel inherently less important than saying “fiance” or “wife,” and this too is a universal experience for every person who has ever been in a truly committed relationship, I think. I certainly felt it. John Mulaney even has an entire bit about it. But until you actually are a fiance or a wife, it just is what it is, and you have to realize that it will change eventually.
        As for the authority, I mean, I still think it comes down to pride and how you are thinking other people are perceiving you (which they may not be at all). If you have been left alone with the girls, you have the authority. The girls know it, and a title won’t make them behave better or worse. They’re not going to respect you more because you have been enshrined with some kind of title – they’re going to respect you because you have developed trust and mutual respect between you.
        And so what if other adults are judgey? Considering how truly common your situation actually is, I bet much of that is being built up in your mind, stemming from your insecurity, and no one is actually thinking you are less important than is demonstrated by the obvious relationship you have with the girls.
        You still have the authority their father gave to you, and when that matters in a legal sense, like being able to take them out of school or something, there are usually set procedures for making sure that authority is transferred from the biological parents to non-biological caregivers.
        It sounds to me like this is all stemming from a desire for external validation of your role. Obviously, that’s not important compared to the reality that exists within your amalgamated family, and you know your place and your importance there.
        But if the perception of other people really bothers you, then just stop saying “girlfriend” and call yourself his “partner.” That is in fact more accurate for you guys anyway, and connotes a more committed relationship to others.

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