I am privileged to have been raised by a wonderful stepmother (I call her mama), to who I owe what I am and everything I hope to be. Our relationship started one evening when I was six years old. Mama came home from work and found a little strange girl playing with her seven-year old daughter. She later learnt that the little girl was the output of an affair her husband had had with a certain woman-who she had never met or heard of. She also learnt that the girl was probably going to stay because her mother was nowhere to be seen. That little girl was me.
Yesterday I asked mama why she choose to look after me and how easy it was to raise a child of another woman-and not just another woman but a woman who her husband cheated on her with. Below are the highlights of the conversation;
- Separate the wrong from the child
Mama said that children don’t choose their parents. They certainly don’t choose the circumstances of their birth. To her, I was an innocent child worthy of love, care and everything she could afford to give me. Everything she could give her own children or strangers, she could surely give me too. It took time, it took determination and it took her will. So day by day she learnt and chose to care, love and provide for me. She even paid for my education, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article today, if it weren’t for her. There are things she couldn’t give me though, these- she said I would get in future if I had a good education. I am on track.
- The world is big enough, there is a place for every child who is already here
Mama had four children of her own; three boys and one daughter-her last born who is a year older than me. When we were growing up, my sister and I looked like age mates, so mama called and introduced us as her twins. Some people in the neighbourhood believed that we were indeed twins.
Mama always observed all her children (including me) as we grew up. In addition to the skills we picked up at school, mama realized from a tender age the role each child played in the family and modelled them accordingly. My key strengths according to her, were in organising things, managing events and bringing harmony when there were disagreements. Today I live miles and miles away from all my siblings and mama but when there are issues in our family, I often feel I have to intervene, I need to intervene in attempt to restore unity-this comes naturally. Perhaps mama was right.
She emphasized that every child has a place in this world otherwise the creator wouldn’t let them be, in spite of the mistakes of the parents. Every child has a role they play in their family, later in their community and in the world. A parent’s role is to help a child be the best he/she can be in preparation for service to his or her community. She said that if there is no place in the family, surely a place can be made and this is not to condone bad behaviour, she was quick to point out.
- Bad behaviour can be a reaction to separation
I wasn’t the best of children; I misbehaved, I fought my sister, said some bad things and did some terrible things children do. These and more according to mama didn’t make me any different. She had to learn to be gentle, especially with me because I was dealing with the challenges every child deals with while growing up. I was also growing up with out my mother. She therefore interpreted some of my bad behaviour as a reaction to the separation from my mother. It needed tenderness on her part instead of harshness, understanding rather than scolding and above all, it needed empathy. She admitted that it was indeed challenging, however putting herself in my shoes helped her see things from my tender point of view. After all, she was the adult and I the child, she argued. I turned out a good child-probably in part due to the choices she made.
- Avoid disparaging names
What names do you call that child or even strangers? I have heard some people call them very derogatory names (names I dare not include in my article because they are despicable). To mama, I was a child, she didn’t need to call me anything else. I was simply Carol or Caroline, a child worthy of love and care. She demanded that her relatives and children call me as such. So to my siblings, I was simply their little sister, I was Carol. I will always be their little sister-this was the status quo whether I behaved well or badly. Today, my siblings are very fond of me and I love them to bits, this is in part due to the fact that mama loved me, treated me well and in so doing, she taught me to love and give love and set an example for her children and relatives to live by.
Bringing it all together, have you recently found yourself in mama’s shoes for one reason or another? Or do you find yourself with people who are not like you or people you simply think are not worth loving? Mama’s message to you is that it can be very tough, expensive even however, we all have the capacity to share the little we have, give just a little bit of love, sometimes that is all a child or somebody needs. If you have chosen to love your partner who fathered or mothered the child that you now find yourself with, you are certainly capable of extending some of that love to that child, reach out to them today, it will make our world a better place. Happy Mothers’ day