Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I'm Not His Mum.

I haven't posted on this blog for over a year and I don't think anyone actually reads it any more, so I guess this is a safe place to put this so that I can link to it when I need to.

Lately, a few friends have referred casually to my stepson's "two mums", or called me a "mum". I know this comes from the best of places - love for me, and genuine recognition of the effort I put in to my stepson's life. But it's really triggering, and also not true.

I can see why people might think it's all but true. I do just about everything that his mother does. I pay, I fetch and carry, I soothe, I feed, I discipline, I cook and prepare and wash and pack and find and entertain. I have been a full-time parent to him for four and a half years - well over half his lifetime and since before he can remember.

The reason why I'm not his mum is one that people don't like to talk about much these days. It's become very unfashionable to talk about a parent's rights over their child, and perhaps rightly so, as the focus has shifted towards the child's rights and the parent's responsibilities. But it remains true that the parents who are on the birth or adoption certificate have certain rights that non-parents don't have. Some of them are encoded in law, such as the right to make medical decisions, but most are simply by convention. The right to choose a child's school, the right to choose how a child is raised, the right to decide what behaviour or language will fly in our house and what won't, the right to decide a child's diet, and so on.

I am a lucky stepmum, in that my wife values my opinion in these things, but there is never any doubt that the decision is hers. Where our ideas and values clash, I have no choice but to give way, as I have no ground on which to negotiate.

I'm not his mum because I don't have the right to be.

If we were both his legal parent, we'd both be required to compromise over these things, but there's no requirement for compromise in this situation. She's his mother, I am not, and the decision is hers.

Thankfully, most of the things I would have vetoed or insisted upon are minor - changing into play clothes after school, or not saying 'bum' and 'telly', for example, Many of them are based in a class-culture clash that occasionally plays out between my wife's upbringing and mine. But they add up to a very glaring and obvious difference between 'mum' and 'not-mum'.

That's why, when people call me his mum, it hurts. Because I want to be someone's mum very badly, but I am not. Because I carry all of the responsibilities a mother has towards this child, but have none of the rights motherhood entails. Because he's not growing up with 'my child' stamped upon his being. He's my wife's son. I'm not his mum.


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