“Family isn’t defined only by last names or by blood; it’s defined by commitment and by love” – Dave Willis
- Stepparents can be loving and caring too
- The stigma revolving around stepparenting
Growing up, we were brainwashed as kids that step-parents…well, mostly step-moms are wicked, heartless and evil. There was Cinderella who her stepmother and stepsisters ill-treated, then there was Snow White who the Queen poisoned, her own stepmother!
With all these negative remarks being thrown at stepparents, we can’t help but wonder, “Are they really cold-hearted?”. It was just then we stumbled upon a young, beautiful woman who was facing the stigma of being a stepmother. As we read her first children’s picture book, ‘Two Homes, One Family’, which explains the life of her blended family, we wanted to know more about her journey as a stepmother.
Yuri Tiru Pillai Schneider – A lovely young woman shared with us the common stereotypes and challenges of being a stepmother
As we shook hands and sat down for coffee with Yuri Tiru Pillai Schneider, there was an instant connection. She clearly emanated positive energy that made us feel welcomed and at ease. Her cheerful demeanour gave the impression that she was carefree, but we felt deep down there was a greater narrative to be told.
Sharing the love of two families
“We are a very diverse family. My husband’s German, my son Ian’s biological mother is Chinese, and I’m Chindian. Even the food we consume is so varied! In fact, when Ian was one and a half years old, cooking was what first helped us bond. He would come to the kitchen to help me and I would get him a bunch of green beans to let him toss in the pot,” Yuri shared with glee.
Yuri has never raised a child, nor babysat and changed diapers of a baby; the first diaper was Ian’s. She did plenty of research on the internet to grasp the information she needed on parenting.
Mother and son – a bond that can’t be broken.
“He was one and a half years old when we met. I would often go over to meet Ian and try to bond with him, but it wasn’t an easy process. Children at that age forget things easily. In order to help him remember me, I created a routine that included singing, using the same perfume, and giving him a certain tap before bed. Ian eventually accepted me after six months.”
Knowing the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with Ian’s ‘Mami’, Yuri shared her first meeting with Ian’s biological mother during one of his visits on Christmas. When Mami came by to pick up Ian, they introduced one another and exchanged presents. “She’s really an awesome and sweet mother. She’s the kind of mom that will call me on Mother’s day to wish me, unlike some who don’t consider stepmothers as real mothers.”
The harsh stigma of stepparenting
Like how we were all drawn to Disney fairytales in our childhood, Yuri also grew up watching Disney princesses. She recalled the times when she’d carry the broom and sing, hoping someday a prince would come and save her, just like in the movies. Yuri agrees that this negative perception was built within us from childhood, hence perceiving them as something right and accurate representation of stepparenting.
She frequently encountered prejudice, even from people of her own gender. She would frequently hear comments like “When you have your own baby you will get it” when discussing each other’s households. It was clear that not everyone saw her as a mother. She also encountered those who viewed stepparents as homewreckers and would ask, “How could you do that?”
“It’s coming from the gender that is supposedly supporting because you assume they know how it feels as a woman. It makes me question who am I and would feel left out. I cannot really seek out advice from any of my social circle and this is the hardest part, even harder than parenting Ian,” Yuri expressed.
However, she felt lucky because her family was supportive, especially toward Ian. Her parents and brother were always there for her. They accepted Ian the first day they met each other. When they did so, Yuri took it as a sign of them accepting her as Ian’s mother as well. She’s more confident today because of this acceptance.
“My husband is also my biggest supporter and strongest pillar. He always leads the conversation related to Ian and the parenting with the biological mother. Despite the struggles, he always put them aside and searched for a solution.”
Two Homes, One Family
Yuri’s effort to bond with Ian wasn’t an easy one. There were times Ian would pick up his toys and place the characters of their family, except Yuri was never a part of those characters. “It was always, Papa, Mami, and Oma (Ian’s grandmother). “There was a time I almost gave up, but after several discussions with my husband”, said Yuri, “he would encourage me to voice out my feelings. Since then, when Ian plays with his toys, I would add in another character to say that’s Mimi, which is what he calls me. Hoping that Ian blends with this idea, Ian’s biological mother also does the same when we send him over.”
The author of the children’s book “TWO HOMES ONE FAMILY”.
Having a child is no doubt blissful, especially when you come home to their warm greetings and hugs. Every time Ian’s father enters the house, Ian never fails to greet him. Unfortunately, Yuri didn’t get the same treatment, which broke her as she could not share that warmth. But, Yuri had some tricks up her sleeve.
She came up with a strategy to do a funny dance every time she came back home. Ian did not immediately react to it. It took her 365 days of dancing until her efforts paid off! With so much excitement, she said, “One day, after all that dance, I decided to keep quiet and walk away but who knew I would hear a soft little voice coming to me saying “Hi, Mimi” and he gave me a hug. I teared up so badly until Ian asked if I was okay. That moment will always be close to my heart”.
Yuri wanted Ian to accept her as his own, and after seeing how heartbroken she was, Yuri’s husband suggested she write her own story. She believed one way to help Ian understand his blended family is through a picture book about Ian and his family.
“I wrote this book as a gift for Ian’s fifth birthday. Just like in the story, Ian starts questioning the difference in my skin tone at the age of four. He noticed all of his friend’s family has the same skin tone, but we didn’t. We tried searching for books or toys that could explain this to Ian, but there are not many resources here”.
After publishing the book, Yuri decided to focus fully on the distribution of this book. She shares it with people around her to raise awareness about step-parenting. she wishes to tell kids that having more than one father or mother is fine rather than giving them false information and abandoning them to feel lost and confused.
“Adults who grew up in similar backgrounds come to me and say they wish they had a similar book when they were young too. Because of this, I wish that I could at least make a small dent and speak for the stepparents in this community,” her determination showed in her expressions.
Stepmothers are moms too
“Family is not necessarily someone related by blood. In my case, a boy shows up and becomes my son. The signing of the paper does not justify the meaning of a family, it’s really the person who shows up for you when you’re in your darkest times, or even at your happy moments. That’s family for me.”
A child’s happiness is a treasure to all mothers.
“First, accept who you are as a stepparent. It took me years to fully accept who I was. There’s no shame in being a stepmother. Secondly, commitment to your child is essential. They might reject you, but you must show up to them every day, believing they will accept us one day. Third, keep the right people around you. Keep the right community, those that will not leave you, pull you down, or even tell you that you’re nobody without their own awareness.”
Apart from hard work and commitment, Yuri shares that ensuring a harmonious relationship between the biological parents is a must. Get their consent, let both biological parents lead the conversation, or make decisions and be inclusive.
“I remember picking up Ian during CMCO, and we had to cross four districts to fetch him. However, due to the travel restrictions, I went to the police station to get the approval letter. When the officer asked if I was Ian’s mother, I said I’m his stepmother. Her immediate answer was it doesn’t matter if you’re the biological mother or not, as long as you address your purpose here. That was the moment I realised how people kept telling me I’m just a stepmother, I carry that narrative close for two years.”
Yuri went all prepared with the documents, including her marriage certificate and Ian’s birth certificate. It took her by surprise when the officers only asked her for the approval letter and nothing else. As she passed through every roadblock, it took off a chain in her heart. By the time they arrived, it was then she realised Ian was her son and she was his mother too. Because of listening to the wrong people, she doubted her identity.
You belong too
“You have a place and voice in this world. However, you should master that strength to use your voice. You don’t have to use this strength to affect the co-parenting relationship, but you have to tell people you exist. By that, we could only allow them to make way for people like us in the family unit.”
All your hard work will pay off, just like it did for Yuri.
Concluding her interview, Yuri believes there are people out there who have the same insecurity as her. “We need more people around to lift them up. I was so ashamed last time and would be quiet as possible. I tried to avoid people asking me about my relationship with Ian as I was so scared to say I’m his stepmother. It took me two years to step out of this misery and realized that there are many more beautiful people out there.”