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‘Kamala Harris was described as “childless”. As a fellow stepmum, it hurt.'

On the night my first daughter was born, I lay in bed utterly exhausted staring at our beautiful baby when my husband turned to me and said, ‘don’t you just love her with all your heart?’ 

I said, ‘I have loved her since long before she was born but I don’t think I like her just yet. I need to get to know her first’. 

I think he was surprised by my response, but I am nothing if not honest. 

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And in time, as we spent endless hours together feeding, playing, cuddling and getting to know each other, our relationship grew, as did my love for her, and without a doubt my like for her. 

Her quirky need to always have her hands clean. Her hatred for the vacuum cleaner. Her love for the peace and quiet of nature. Her preference for fruit over cake. Her fear of sand. Some of these likes and dislikes have long gone, but remain part of my memory of her. 

But what of the mother I was for many years before? The stepmother. 

Image: Supplied.

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Recently, I read an article about Kamala Harris, future Vice President of the United States, which described her as "childless". I had read articles about her before and presumed childless meant exactly that, but I soon realised that she is a stepmother who has made significant commitments and sacrifices for her stepchildren. 

And not only that, she once wrote, "They are my endless source of love and pure joy. I can say one thing with certainty, my heart wouldn’t be whole, nor my life full, without them."

She loves and cares for her stepchildren but somehow she is deemed to be ‘childless’. Is this how society views stepmothers? Not a real mother? Not meaningful? What is it that defines a mother and how do you get into ‘the club’? 

The English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott once said, "There is no baby without a mother".

The mother and baby are inexplicably intertwined, and just as the mother is essential in the making of the baby, the baby is essential in the making of the mother. 

At least in my case this holds true. When she was born, my daughter made me a mother in the eyes of society. 

And as for stepmothers? Well, fairy tales tell us that stepmothers despise their stepchildren and would rather hide them in the basement or poison them with a magic apple.

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There is no doubt that some stepmothers have a very difficult time of it, but why the ongoing stigma? There are also many biological mothers who find it very difficult to learn to love and like their children, but we don’t judge them for it. We employ compassion, empathy and understanding for the difficult path that is motherhood.

To be a stepmother is to choose to care for and love another’s children without the biological imperative to do so. To get to know them and like them for the people they are. And for most of us, the relationship with our stepchildren does not begin within the protective bubble of infancy but when they are in childhood or during the tumultuous period of adolescence. 

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Image: Supplied.

To foster a relationship at this age takes patience, perseverance, and most importantly, time. Not just the passage of time but the ability to spend time together - unhurried time - chatting about everything and nothing, sitting on the couch watching terrible reality TV, searching online for the coolest sneakers, listening to songs from musicals, lecturing them about going to bed at a decent hour, attending their school performances and footy finals, making crepes in the morning for their birthdays, getting annoyed at them for not listening the first time, taking pride in their achievements and marvelling at how quickly they have grown, worrying about them and striving to protect them.

From all my kids on Mother's Day. Image: Supplied.

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I would die for my children and stepchildren. And I love all of them. I'm confident Kamala Harris would feel the same way.

So, for the sake of the stepmothers who do their best day after day, can we please end the narrative of the detached and disinterested stepmother and start a new one?

Feature Image: Getty.

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