I have heard that growing up with a stepmother is no fairy tale, but I was privileged to have not been raised by a single parent. I started leaving with my father and stepmother when I was about eight years old while in Primary Three. Before then, my parents would take turns keeping me. Being a child, this amused me; I had two homes and I could go to my father’s place or my mother’s, whenever I chose.
Being my father’s last born of six, I felt more comfortable at his place than at my mother’s. I got a lot of attention there from my older siblings and my dad pampered me quite a lot too, unlike at my mother’s home where I had a younger sibling and three older ones.
Back to life with my stepmother, I do not recall ever calling my stepmother anything else other than “mummy”, just like anybody else despite the fact that I knew she was not my biological mother.
She treated me and the other children just the same but since they were older than me, she sent me more and gave me permanent chores like washing utensils, mopping all the verandas and sweeping the compound both at the front and at the back yard, which are quite big. This usually left me feeling angry thinking she was mistreating me by making me do all this work.
At 11 and in Primary Six, the house maid left due to certain issues. It was school time and this did not bother me a lot save for the fact that I had to wash my school uniform myself, unlike the times when the maid was around. I then realised life would not be as easy as it used to be.
Tough love times
When I broke off for holidays, my stepmother told me that I would not be pampered anymore and I had to learn how to cook and look after the whole family as every mother does in her home. This made me wonder why she would not do everything on her own. She took me through a training of how to prepare steamed matooke in banana fibres and after two days, she expected me to do it on my own.
I felt like that was the worst time of my life, I so badly wanted to leave and go back to my mother’s home where I was sure everything would be done for me and I would not be bothered by too many house chores.
On a normal day, I would wake up early in the morning, prepare breakfast for everyone and when they all left for work, I would then mop the verandas, wash the utensils, sweep the compound and then make lunch for me and my mother. “Mummy” would instead wake up in the morning to mop the house and switch to catering for the chicken she reared at home, and this made me even feel worse.
Even when we got a new house maid, my mother introduced a policy that saw the maid to go to her village as soon as my sister and I broke off for holidays to enable us learn how to do house chores, and the trend continues to date. Even today, though I am done with school and there is no young child at home, when the holidays come, the maid has to leave and I take care of the chores before I leave home.
At a certain point in my Senior Three, I went to visit my mother who was sick at the time, she told me how sorry she was since she could not make me lunch, but when I told her I could cook, she did not believe me till I delivered a plate of food to her.
I know now and appreciate what my stepmother was doing ensuring I grow into a well-rounded woman that could handle house chores. Besides, I do not recall my stepmother ever beating me even once. This does not mean I always did the right thing because I do remember her quarreling about one thing or other, treating me to the silent treatment for days, sometimes until my father got back so she could report me. I must have done some naughty things that would have given her reason to beat me, she did not.
She is a very hard working woman and has always encouraged us to be hard working women as well. I strongly believe that if I had not been staying with her, I most likely would not have learnt what I learnt from her as fast as I did under her guidance. I always thought of her as tough and principled, but later realised that all she did was for the best.
She may be a stepmother, but I bet she is better than many women out there and she will forever be my role model.