How Being a Stepmom Helped Me Understand My Mother

Today, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to Jill who’s sharing her unique journey to and through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Jill is mom to one sweet boy and stepmom to one teenage girl. She grew up in a family in which “denial, shaming and blaming were key coping strategies,” and has since built “walls of protection around her heart.” When Jill became a mom, and especially when she became a stepmom, she was forced to face the pain of her past. One year ago, Jill had a revelation which helped her understand her mother better than ever before. Friends, this is one of those posts you just have to read to understand. Jill has a unique and important perspective to offer this year’s Special Mamas series. I met her at a writer’s conference in October 2014 and can attest to the fact that she is indeed warm, caring and vibrant. Please extend a warm welcome to Jill.

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I didn’t have one of those childhoods that were all laughter and sunshine and pretty outfits. I had all of those things but my family was kind of the, umm, the different family. My mother didn’t really get along with other mothers. In fact she didn’t get along with many. My dad got along with everyone except his family. There was alcohol. There were drugs. There were mental and physical—taunts? Abuse? Anyway, things like those. I used to be able to talk about my family ad nauseam. Not to garner attention or sympathy (though sometimes I needed and indeed sought those), but more, in hindsight, to dissect and understand. Because my family doesn’t work out problems. We stuff, we avoid, we punish and discount the messenger.

I was the messenger for many years. I tried to get my family to talk. Really talk. I wanted to feel better. I wanted everyone to feel better. I didn’t know how to repair this situation so I’m sure I went about things very wrong. We needed a lot of help. More than I could take on. My parents and I tried a counseling session once, to address my out-of-control eating disorder. When the counselor suggested perhaps this issue of mine was also a family issue, my mother screamed and walked out of the session. Dad hung in there with me but soon thereafter I was told our insurance changed and I wasn’t allowed to see that counselor—and another ray of light faded.

I’m not writing any of this to blame my parents or shame anyone. I’m not saying my parents were all bad. I’m not saying my life was horror 24/7.  We had a nice house and some nice things. We were allowed to go to school and lived in America, which is a much better start than many kids. However, denial, shaming and blaming were key coping strategies in my family. We didn’t need those to get through the hard times.

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I don’t wish this next part on anyone, I really don’t: What I finally had to do was to give up. I walked away. I stopped trying to fit in to this family that didn’t seem to like me the way I was. I stopped trying to seek peace and affirmation. No one chased after me and I never ran back home. That was 18 years ago. There have been calls and visits. Some of my family members had huge walls of protection around their hearts though, and now I have them around mine. Huge, protective barriers that likely never will come down.

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The birth of my first baby gave us the chance to break down the walls, but the same patterns soon emerged and soon enough they were up again.

I could go on except that I’d be going to a mental place that doesn’t really help anyone. There is no resolution. There is no sturdy box and shiny bow for this gift of a broken family. A resolution? No, probably never. Complete peace in my heart? No to that, too. All sin and harm can be redeemed but there are scars.  Sometimes ugly ones—the kind that don’t fade, that you want to hide. The very, very best I will ever get is an ability to see that this is not all my fault. I was very sad in my kid years, very confused and emotional in my 20s and 30s and finally–very ill-equipped to become a mother myself in my 40s. 

Or so I thought.

You know why all of this is a gift? Let me tell you, dear readers. Through my pain, God provided me what I needed—and more. I quickly can see the brokenness and pain in adults and kids. Quite to my surprise, this makes me an excellent mama! I was sensitive and caring, and I knew what to do! Our baby boy came in 2007 and it has been a joy to be his competent, capable mother!

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I was still very confused though about my family of origin. Why was there such a lack of warmth? If it came naturally to me, why didn’t it to others?

It wasn’t until my step-daughter moved in with me that I really began to heal and understand. My teenage step-daughter, did I mention that? Her own mother has mostly removed herself from Lilly’s life, so Lilly needed me to step in and fill her absent mom’s shoes. Her dad (my hubby Aaron) is wonderful, but she needed creativity, a shopping companion, someone to talk with about girl stuff—and boy stuff. She needed me to be available. She needed the warmth and encouragement of a mama who cared deeply about her.

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From the first day I met Lilly many years ago I wanted to provide her with all of those things and I did!  When she moved in with us though, there were struggles.  I have an 8-year-old very active son to keep up with. I have a very bad back and I struggle with pain so bad it makes me want to cuss. Some days I want to have some wine or beer or whatever it is that will dull the pain just so I can keep my cussing at bay and be available and kind to everyone! But I don’t. And let me tell you it isn’t because I’m better or perfect or any of that. I stay away from that stuff only through the grace of God because I know what it’s like to have parents who indulged to excess.

A year ago, another gift! It hit me hard one night while my family needed me and I couldn’t summon my hurting body from bed.

This is what I remembered!  My mother also had a bad back!  She made different choices than I have but we both struggled with chronic pain and the demands of motherhood. In fact she had a tougher time than I did—she had three kiddos and one had some special needs. This is a gift that I didn’t expect step-parenting and God to provide me. I finally, truly understood the limitations of my parents. 

Will I ever tear down my walls? Not sure. Still praying. What I do know is that I’ll screw things up sometimes, but I have everything I need to face another day, to be a warm and loving mother even to the kids who “adopt” me as their mama. Even on my bad, bad pain days. Praising God for all these gifts and wishing you the same.

Jill B. Tucker is a commissioned painter, writer and book editor. She lives with her family near Indianapolis and she wants to connect with you at www.jillbtucker.com!

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SpecialMamas2016_smallThis post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 10 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. There, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!

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