The Mediocre Mother

When it comes to being a mother, I have an impressive resume of mediocrity that spans almost fourteen years.

The highlights of this career include a wide expanse of duties (mostly unsavory) which include (but are not limited to)

  • feeding another person with my body
  • absorbing vomit with my hair
  • bribery
  • collusion
  • sleeping at awkward angles
  • watching The Muppets on repeat
  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • making up words
  • creating games that end up being lies just to get other people to cooperate
While I would never claim to be GOOD at the job of being a mother, I can claim, with assuredness, that I am, at least, experienced.  Compare it, if you will, to the waitress at the diner.  She often dislikes her work, the patrons, the location and the cuisine.  Every day her job is the same.  Everyday her clientele is hungry.  And angry. She pours coffee, serves the same food (sometimes the EXACT same food–CHICKEN NUGGETS, for example), day after day.
 There’s no job incentive plan, no real hope of promotion.  But it’s a job and while she isn’t exactly great, she’s just good enough not to have to send them to therapy get fired.
That’s like my job, except I don’t get paid.
Pretty great, huh?
There ARE some perks though.  Sometimes they do good things and I get to take credit for it with “good parenting” and no one even laughs.
Other times my children kiss me and hug me and tell me I am the very bestest mommy in the entire world.  And they seem to believe it. Which is truly amazing.

See, that’s the thing, people.
The advantage of being a MOTHER, the one who births the children and rears them, is that they (the children) have no idea what kind of job you’re doing.  There’s no frame of reference!
You could be the absolute worst cook or the lamest reader of Ruby’s voice in the Max and Ruby books, but the joy in being their mom is THEY HAVE NO CLUE HOW GOOD OTHER MOMS ARE at these things!  They have nothing to compare you too!  And after a kid or two you figure this out and it works to your advantage!
You learn to under-promise and over-deliver.  You learn to keep their expectations low to moderate and then save the day.  You do your best and your best is always, ALWAYS good enough.
It’s awesome!
Sure, sure—eventually they go to school and they realize that not all moms make pancakes with one side burnt and the other completely raw.  They realize that not all moms make you listen to The Best of Dean Martin on repeat on long car trips. They realize that other moms wear real clothes when they leave the house and other moms own irons.
They might realize these things and feel immediately a wee bit disappointed.  They might secretly dislike you–for just a little for a while. They feel irritated over your bizarre car dancing, over your creation of all their childhood games, such as your personal favorite, “Guess Who’s Sleeping?”.
But it’s OKAY because you have a history together.  You go way back, back to the beginning. This is what they have and with a resignation and acceptance, they know they can’t do any better. Really, they CAN’T DO ANY BETTER.
And so they have no other choice but to roll the dice and take their turn waiting to go upstairs when the alarm goes off to see who is napping under mommy’s comforter.  Surprise!  It’s Mommy! You won!
But none of this is true for step-children.
They have a history, but it is not your history.
They have a frame of reference that expands on a much bigger horizon, in a different bedroom, in a different house, in a different town.
Someone else is Mommy, someone else reads them their stories and tucks them into bed.
They know things, those step-children.
They have seen better pancakes.
They have heard better Ruby’s.
The first time you suggest a rousing round of Guess Who’s Sleeping they look at you like you are speaking in a foreign tongue.  What the hell is this lame made up game lady?  They exchange silent conversations with your biological children:  This is the worst game ever, we know.  But we win every freaking time, dude.  She sucks at it. And somehow she’s always the one who is caught sleeping!  Don’t knock it, she gives us kit-kats.
And so, since the regular Mommy is better at most things than you, you quickly realize that being Mommy Two to your step-children is out of the question.
So you think that maybe you will just try to be their friend.
 But just saying the phrase, “I just want to be your friend” to a second grader makes you feel incredibly pathetic.  You know you can’t be her friend, she doesn’t even like the same things you like to drink. There’s 30 years between you. She only will ever know a Kirk Cameron who wants to marginalize women and eschew secularism, not the hottie in the leather coat with the best friend named Boner.  Besides, what 7 year old in curls wants a 36 year old woman in yesterday’s yoga pants as her BFF?
It will never work.  And you both know it.
You can not, I can not–would not dare–to offer them something they already have, nor can you ask them to pretend that you are something you will never be.  It’s not possible.
And so you can only be Nicole.
  • Creator of silly song lyrics and bedroom scavenger hunts.
  • Maker of lopsided cakes, who saves the spatula for licking
  • Keeper of the coats at the art museum
  • Sharer of Chap-stick and bubble gum
  • Sometimes forgetter of mittens
  • Frequent laugher of long, loud laughs
This is who you are and who you have always been. To everyone.
And you realize it will have to be good enough for the time being.
They didn’t ask to have me around, didn’t start their lives hoping to add to my resume of parent-hood.
They are patient with me while I learn the rules of my new job as Step-Mother.
I had to learn the rules of being a Mother the very same way.
Over time.
We make the rules up as we go, them and I.
I understand that this title, Mother or Step-Mother, comes with immense responsibility.
I understand they didn’t get to choose me for the position.
I think–I hope that–they will all accept me in spite of-or perhaps because of–my imperfection.
Loving.  Funny. Patient.
Messy.  Tired. Loud.

Mediocre, but lovably so.

As a mother.
As a step-mother.
As Nicole.

Because that’s all I ever really aspired to be.


  1. Nicole, I just found your blog and loved this post. I, too, am a mediocre mother, but I only have three little people in my entourage so I’m not sure it it really counts. I’m a single mom. I’m thirty-two. Still navigating the treacherous waters of a divorce that was recently finalized.

    Because I’m still sort-of young (ha!), and I really don’t wish to spend the rest of my life without a partner, of course I’ve considered possibility of becoming a step-mom one day. It’s a huge responsibility. Being so deeply invested in the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of another’s children. But it’s beautiful, too. And you encapsulated it beautifully. Can’t wait to go back and read more!

  2. Mother of two girls, step-mother of two boys that think their mom hung the moon. You are right, so right. I can’t be their mom, I am not their friend. So I decided a while back I will try to be their favorite and best Jocelyn. Thank you Nicole for a great post, and overall amazing blog.

    • Favorite and Best Jocelyn, thank you so much! It’s awfully hard (and awfully rewarding), isn’t it. So thankful that you took the time to read the post and to comment too—and that it resonated with you also.
      Best Nicole I can be. 🙂

  3. I decided to treat my step-mother role like my auntie/much older sister roles I was already well-accustomed to. I do fun things with him, mock-threaten bodily harm, nag him to clean his room and do his chores, bust him when he’s done something wrong, and speak up when I think his dad is mistaken and about to punish him. The boy knows I’m fair, and it’s important to me that he does.

    But Mom and Dad are in charge… I’m a supplement. But we are very close, and I’m having a ball with him. I’ve even developed a close relationship with his mother’s younger daughter– a bonus kid!

    I do wonder if it helps or hurts that I have no children of my own… and it’s looking like it’s unlikely to happen. I’d love to get your take on that.


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