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Imke Wernicke - Stepmothering


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in yet another one of my ‘sleepless nights’. I wake up at an ungodly hour and worry about the things that need doing, the things I can’t change, but mostly about all the things I want to be doing rather than making lunches and driving my aging parents to their doctor’s appointments. So, once the fretting ends and I still can’t sleep, I invariably find myself on Instagram seeing what the rest of the world is up to. Hence I ended up at Grace Club that night and found myself drawn to the call-out for women to speak at their next meeting on Mothering.   

Putting together what I wanted to say at Grace Club really required me to take inventory of the past decade and sift through all the joy, pain and heartache that has been my life as a stepmother to two wonderful children, a 14 year old girl, and a 13 year old boy with Downs Syndrome. I spent much time writing it all down only to find myself at the end, renewed, lighter, and at the place I always end up: my ‘go to’ place of simple direct words calling the shit out and keeping it raw and real.  A poem.

So today, a few days after my participation in this wonderful event, I am fully immersed in the knowledge that what I do matters and what I do is enough. Sharing with a group of women and listening to other women sharing their experiences truly makes me grateful for my place in this world, from the lunches to the eldercare. 

Thanks for the request to share.  Here is my poem.

I am a Stepmother.

By definition I am only a wife,

of the biological father;

The wife of a child’s father by a later marriage. 

So by definition, there is no mother in stepmother.


So am I not a mother? 


I tell you this:

I am a mother

I am stepmother

I am not here to take your children

I thank you for birthing them.

I am not here to replace you

I do not want what you have

I did not wreck your home

I cannot help you bridge a gap

None of this was my fault

I thank you for being their mommy.


I am a stepmother

I have no legal right to these children

They did not come from my hooha

They are not my property

And apparently according to most,

I am not an authority on who they are

How they were born

Their medical history

How their broken heart can mend

Through surgery or otherwise

I don’t have access to their academic records

At best I am an emergency contact.

Legally and on paper I don’t exist.


Yet I’m here.

I’m here to help

To Support

And perhaps be a foundation

Where their small feet may stand, solid and secure


Knowing they can come here, to me, everyday

The message will be the same- this is not your fault, you are safe here

I will keep my promises, all of them whether favorable or not

I will be firm and I will expect you to do some things the same every day

You will not always like this

You will understand this in time.


I am a stepmother to a girl and a boy.

Their pain is my pain now.



I dreamt of you before we met

The year you were born actually.

I wished for such a child like you, with special abilities.

What a blessing, a gift from God, my wonderful undoing.


Daddy says you have the god gene, that extra chromosome.

This also gave you your broken heart.

They poked you and cut you til you were on the mend.

You are a fighter.


You are the joy whisperer and a happy day activist.

We wear our happy hats because of you.

Your little self called me Kaka,

And one day you call out to me, louder than before

Your little digits cup my face

And ever so softly

And triumphantly you say


And I am home.



She is a handful and destined for greatness.

I know, you all say this about your child too.


I tell my girl

You can call me Imke, in the south: Ms. Imke

Ignoring the request, you call me Mama.

I bend and insist on Mama Imke

You cannot be told, you will listen sometimes and call my name

But mostly you call me Mama and I listen

I sing you songs

Hush little baby don’t you cry

Daddy’s gonna buy you a mocking bird and if that mockingbird don’t sing

Daddy’s gonna buy you

I don’t dare sing Mama songs.


Your little hands hold my finger,

don’t let go until your body lets go into sleep.

Even then, I fail at my attempts to sneak out of the room

2 out of 5 nights I am successful.

Only to have you crawl into our bed hours later.

These are the very tired years.  I am finding joy and also can’t seem to find a stride.

I am facilitating your relationship with a woman I keep hoping will behave like your mother.

I keep waiting, so do you.


Sometimes people come up to me and say

With their heads tilted just so, with that ‘bless your heart’ kinda face

Wow, that’s so brave and selfless of you to take care of such a boy in his condition, and one that’s not your own.

I reply:

Yes I know SHE’s a handful, difficult to love at times, and yet I chose her too.

I chose all of them,

my husband, the most loving man,

with ADD and a learning disability

no short term memory.

He is consistently inconsistent

and that’s what I can count on.

My boy his little heart, he saved me from myself

and my girl, her intense need for me, fuels me.

I chose this life.  I am a lucky stepmother.



How does a stepmother parent?  Probably a lot like a mother.


Sure I had dreamy plans

Pretty rooms and wooden toys

A tickle trunk filled with happy play clothes

And lofty goals of calm and quiet words

Avoiding NO and DON’T’ and SHOULDN’T

And definitely no bribery.  Ha.



It was chaos,

It was messy. I was messy

I mothered from a place of fear

Parented out of desperation

From necessity, or in opposition to what was going on.

I was damage control.

I responded to the needs of each moment.

I was not going to be fun mom.

I would be super mom

Reliable and consistent.

I was living the words of a dear friend who had just the right insight

Coming from a similar place

She said:

It’s going to suck and it’s going to be boring

And you’re going to wish you could be more creative and do things differently,

But the best thing you can do for these children is be there,

Be their rock, their safe harbour

No matter what

The same

every time.

Take care of them

Cook their meals

Be firm in your love

Be your word.


So that’s what I did

I kept my word

I did what I said

I meant what I did and

I didn’t stray off the path, not once

for five years



Sure there was play and there was fun,

It was just organized and scheduled,

Again so they could count on it.


And the times for spontaneity occurred when it was safe…

I wanted things to be different most days,

Yet I found it best just to affect each day, as it came, one day at a time.

I knew I had the ability of be the light in each day.

And turns out, that’s what I was.

Besides an ‘Angel sent from heaven’

Freddy’s family refers to me as plan maker, Jesus helper, love generator


I was not an evil stepmother.  I was fierce in my love.


And it was not easy.  There is nothing easy about parenting, never mind co-parenting. 

Being a parent, whatever your role, is tough. 

Care-giving is tough.


What surprises me most about being a mother?

The fear

The rage

The sadness

The joy,


Not so much these feelings, but the depth of them.


Take rage,


The night you drove our children

You should not have been driving

You fell down, my girl saw you

She was scared and put brother in the back

She couldn’t buckle him

You said: Neva mind, we’re almost home.

You didn’t make it home.  You made it to emergency.

That was the night that rage introduced herself to me

I hadn’t met her before.

You endangered our kids.

That would not happen again. 

But it did.

Again and again.

Then the judge finally said Enough.

And took the kids from you.

Some might say that was a win

It was not.

It was a deeply sad day and although you won’t have it

We pray for you

your healing, your sobriety.

We are grateful for your part in our lives.


So yes there were many challenges,

there still are.

The kids are in their teens.  Let’s talk in ten years.


Did I feel pressure as a stepmother? 

Yes.  I had to do everything faster, better, more efficiently, with greater kindness love and sugar on top.  And don’t forget to smile.

Not unlike being a woman.

Perhaps some of this stemmed from my lack of rights or existence as a stepmother.

My only proof was a marriage certificate.

The greater verification came from the kids and their use of the label


Yet today, as full-time stepmother

I can say I’m thriving in some ways.  

I have become softer and calmer,

A lot less fear.    

Our house has four pillars: Faith, forgiveness patience and gratitude.

For me, mothering is about acceptance.  This is my daily lesson.

I embrace it.








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