What’s in a name? A name helps us be known by others, to connect. When I named my two girls, I chose names that spoke value and caught a glimpse into their character and who they might become.
My parents set the stage for choosing names. They chose mine because of a movie: True Grit. While my mom liked the tenacity of the main female character, Mattie, she wasn’t fond of her name. She did, however, like the name of the actress who played Mattie in the 1969 version of the movie: Kim Darby.
Thus, I was named.
Through the years, I’ve been called Kim, Princess, Kimberly, Auntie Kimmy, and of course, the full blown Kimberly Dawn anytime I was in trouble. Which wasn’t very often. Honest.
I’m also called by another name. A name I don’t hear quite as often these days, but one I dearly love: Mom
There’s so much wrapped up in that name. Love and care. Relationship and belonging. History, present, and a future. A connection and a bond that is like nothing else in the world. When my girls called me Mom, I knew we belonged together and nothing, not even death, could take that away.
But, then, there’s another name I’m called, not directly, but one that describes me: stepmom.
My guess is as soon as you read that word, an image popped into your mind. It might’ve been Cinderella’s evil stepmother or perhaps a stepmom you know. And as you think about her, she evokes feelings—some good, many not.
On one hand, stepmoms get a bad rap. The storylines of the evil, mean, and self-serving stepmother are plenty. But, what about the other ones? The ones that step into broken lives and choose to love someone else’s child? Stepmoms like me?
While my husband and I dated before we were married, I longed for a similar type of connection with his kids as I had with my own girls. As dating turned to engagement and the wedding drew near, I began to wonder what his three would call me. Would it be Kim, or might it shift to something else?
That’s one of the difficult aspects of loving someone else’s child—there’s always the “someone else.” It doesn’t matter if you’re the one living and parenting in the day-to-day, that innate bond that exists at conception doesn’t leave as the door closes behind the parent who left.
One day, a couple of years after I started dating their dad, his boy twin hugged me. Now hugging wasn’t new; the kids hugged me all the time. They still do. At first, it was overwhelming and even scary with their touchy-huggy antics.
But, that day he said something as he squeezed: Mine.
At first, I chuckled. No, that’s my arm, or leg, or whatever he wrapped tight. The next thought tumbled . . . what, do you think you own me now? Funny how I get so self-protective when someone trips over old baggage. But, he did this. A lot.
He hugged my arm. Mine.
He hugged my leg. Mine. He liked to lay on the floor by my feet, like a puppy. And, yes, there are days he still pretends he’s a puppy. For real. Welcome to our home.
He hugged my neck. Mine.
He snuggled in close. Mine.
Something stirred deep within my wounded heart. Isn’t this what I longed for? To connect? But it didn’t feel the same, not at first. I wanted what other moms had—that coveted title.
I watched how my husband interacted with them with such love. A genuine, pure, enjoying-each-other-even-when-they-drive-you-nuts kind of love. And, while I’m not fully there yet, I’m definitely heading for that crazy-love train because I want to be a part of that, with them.
But, as someone stepping into their lives mid-stream, it often feels lonely, disconnected, in a world of missing out. Missing out on the joy of their pregnancies. Missing out on their firsts—first smiles, first steps, first words. I missed out on the joy of expectation and jumped right into the challenges of the middle years. I missed out on their first falls, where I scoop them up and kiss their pain away. I belong, and yet I don’t.
I’ve stepped into bigger wounds, bigger fears, and deeper pain. I’ve stepped into relationships that need to be formed from scratch yet need to be fast-tracked to fullness. Relationships that take much more time and space to create but happen in the daily grind of everyday life.
People ask me what these three kiddos call me now that we all have the same last name. “Just Kim,” I reply, almost as if my name is some sort a consolation prize, a “thanks-for-playing” award that is somehow less than another name they might call me.
I realized this sense of feeling left out actually stemmed from a deeper longing—to belong to One who would never leave or betray me. My husband can’t fulfill that. I can’t expect him to be everything for me, just as I can’t be that for him. My faith tells me God is the only One who can fully satisfy my need to belong. After all, he’s the one who created that desire in my heart in the first place.
“Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3, NLT
How often I try to fill God’s space with a whole lot of other stuff. Like house stuff, clothes stuff, even people stuff. But those temporary fillings don’t last very long. Only God fills that desire to belong and draws me near.
“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9, NIV
At dinner one night, we sat around a big table, and the topic of what to call me came up again. It started with the twin girl.
“What are we going to call you?”
The wedding was over; we were back from the honeymoon and had just moved everyone into the new house. Well, not everyone. My oldest lives in another state with her husband and had decided she would call Russ, well, Russ. But the younger ones wanted to know what they could call me.
Do we call you Kim?
Do we call you Mom?
Four sets of eyes stared at me. Hesitant. Longing. Uncertain.
I knew what I wanted to say. Call me Mom, of course! That’s the name I want. It’s the job I’ll do. But as I sat and prayed, asking for wisdom and direction, something different tumbled out.
“You can call me whatever you want. If you want to call me Mom, that’s okay. If you still want to call me Kim, I’m okay with that, too. You already have a mom, so it’s really up to you.”
They looked at each other satisfied with my answer and decided to keep calling me Kim.
I’m not going to lie, I was slightly disappointed, crushed for a minute, even. Probably more than I expected. I wanted the happy ending complete with the tender declaration of love and admiration. I wanted the Hollywood “happily ever after” where they all cheered and cried, “Mom!”
But, that’s Hollywood, and this is real life. A life often filled with disappointments and longings, of broken families and mending ones. But, every so often, God leans in and whispers to a child. Because at that moment, when the feeling of left-outed-ness crowded in, the twin boy scooted closer to me, hugged my arm, and said, “Mine.”
I’ve decided that’s a much better name.
He calls me Mine, a precious reminder of One who calls me by the same name.
“I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1 NLT