I have received a lot of questioning and doubting of my role in my stepkids lives recently and so I felt the need to revisit and revise my first blog post about whether or not I would consider myself a mom. Are these kids biologically mine? No. Am I married to their dad? No. Does that make me any less of a mom? Absolutely not. What about parents of adopted children or foster parents? Are they not considered real moms and dads? What defines what it means to be a parent? This is something I’m still figuring out.
Harlow Monkey Love Experiments
Quite frankly, the doubting and judgment from outsiders can be rough to take. But, it made me think about the whole nature vs. nurture debate and reminded me about the classic psychology experiment with the Harlow monkeys. For those that don’t know, the monkey love experiments were conducted in the 1950s by a psychologist named Harry Harlow. He separated baby monkeys shortly after birth and introduced them to a sort of mock, wire “mother” machine, that was equipped to feed the monkeys milk. He gave them two options: drink from the standard wire “mother” or drink from the same “mother” but wrapped in a terry cloth. Evidence showed that when given the choice, monkeys more often than not chose to receive milk from the terry cloth “mother”.
Harlow conducted further experiments, this time separating monkeys not giving them the choice of what “mother” would be providing them with food. He found that the monkeys with the soft “mothers” had a much stronger emotional than the ones that just received food from the wire contraption. They received the exact same food and proportions, but the ones with a more nurturing mother were the ones that thrived in comparison.
Why am I talking about this? Because the experiment helped prove that “mother love was emotional rather than physiological” (1). Just because you provide your child the necessities of life – food, water, and shelter – that isn’t what defines you as a mom.
“I see a lot of me in them too”
I do help provide the basic necessities to my boyfriend’s kids, but I am also there for emotional and physical support day in and day out. When I think about the “nature” aspect, these kids definitely have a lot of their parents in them. My stepdaughter is extremely caring and creative, just like her mother, while my stepson gets his resourcefulness and problem-solving skills from his dad. But, I look at them and even though I haven’t been around for that long, I see a lot of me in them too.
I taught my stepson to spell his name and how to make a sandwich. I taught my stepdaughter how to simplify fractions and helped perfect her handstands. I have helped teach them emotional intelligence. I have taught them kindness, manners, and responsibility. I have taught them to be respectful and humble. I have admitted when I am wrong, so they can learn from my mistakes as well as their own. I have been there to wipe tears, to kiss their boo-boos, to give hugs and high fives. I ask them how their day was, about their friends, their goals, their dreams, etc. Most importantly, I listen.
Another aspect that psychologists often study when it comes to children and their parent relationships is this idea of attachment. “Attachment [is] defined as the psychological connection between people that permits them to have significance to one another” (2). Kids feel a positive attachment when they have a need and parents consistently respond to that need, whether emotional or physical. It builds over time as a child feels safe and secure in that relationship.
While it may be hard to listen to the nay-sayers out there, my boyfriend reminded me that it doesn’t matter what they think – it’s what the kids think. My relationship with the kids is the most important thing to me. While they may not be biologically mine, these kids are attached to me and love me all the same. The other day, after they returned from a visit at their mom’s, our three-year-old turned to me and said that he has two moms and that makes him super happy. My stepdaughter also says she is lucky to have two moms because she gets double the love, double the support, and double the snuggles.
So, it isn’t nature versus nurture – they go hand in hand. While I had nothing to do with the nature side, I am there every single day to nurture those children as if they are my own. I play a major role in those kids lives. They chose to allow me to be another mom in their lives; I never forced that on them. They accepted me into their lives and for that I am forever grateful. I will continue to be there for them always, just like any other mom.