In the Manual of How to Be the Perfect Stepmother, it says you should be all things to all people, at any time, without making a big stink about it. But, it does not spell out for you . . . just how you should go about doing that.
Despite what the manual says, A Healthy Stepmother knows that all she has to do is look around her home and start copying. What do you see in your home that you could copy? Do you have a dog? A cat? Or, maybe you haven’t taken that plunge and your child has a hamster.
The hamster . . . well, copying that behavior is obvious. It’s what most of us are doing all the time: running, running, and more running. When will we stop? When it’s done. When what’s done? It. What do you mean . . . it? The perfect stepfamily, of course. Isn’t that what a stepmother’s job is, to bring all the disparate members of a broken family together and make them whole again? Isn’t it?
When the stepmother, aka the family hamster, gets tired of running around on her “make-the-family-perfect” wheel in the confines of her cage, going nowhere fast and wondering what she signed on for, she has only to lift her eyes to her surroundings. She’s been working so hard and for so long and she doesn’t feel like she’s making any progress.
But, look, what is that asleep on the sofa? It’s the cat . . .
The cat isn’t running around. Nope, in fact, he’s taking his fifth nap of the day and not apologizing to anyone about it, thank you very much. Later, he’s going to see if someone will let him out of this pop-stand they call a house and go outside . . . away from the dogs. While he’s out there, he’ll make his rounds because he knows his friends are all out there waiting for him. He’ll flirt with a few tabbies and feel young again, ready for the world-travel he used to enjoy. Ahhhhh, and there’s always time for another nap in the sun.
The hamster ponders the cat as she continues to huff and puff her way around the wheel that is her destiny. It looks pretty nice to be a cat, pretty nice. She wonders how that would feel to rest, to sleep often, and to nap in the sun. She wonders how a cat feels, deep down inside. Then, before she can wonder more about the cat, the family dog scoots into the room, obviously over-excited, again.
The dog wags, sniffs, and snuffles, ready for action. Say the word and the dog is at the door ready to go outside for whatever adventure the human desires. The dog hangs on her human’s every move and she jumps and jumps and jumps to show her excitement. Often, she runs around a little and sniffs in a particular way and the human follows where the dog leads. The human hardly ever leaves the house without the dog, and the dog is always thrilled to go, always.
The hamster looks at the dog and mulls over the differences between them. The hamster is tired, the dog doesn’t look very tired. The hamster is running, running. The dog is running, running. The dog is free, the hamster is not. Maybe the difference is that when you like what you are doing, the running around isn’t exhausting. Maybe when you get to be part of the decision-making process and direction-finding, you are more excited about what lies ahead.
The Manual of How to Be the Perfect Stepmother definitely does not identify the lessons stepmothers could learn from the hamster, the dog, and the cat. Sadly. But, a healthy stepmother knows that lessons come from everyday life and she takes her cues accordingly. She knows there are times for the hamster lifestyle. Carting multiple children to multiple sporting events comes to mind. She gets on that treadmill and GO, happily, until it’s time to get off.
She knows there are times to be the dog, happy, enthusiastic, with boundless energy. The dog is the most faithful of all companions and brings a comfort and softness to every family campfire. The dog will try, try, try and in the process will teach her humans a few things about bonding. Everyone needs some dog-times in life. Even stepmothers. But, be careful . . . some stepmothers get stuck in the dog-place, all happy and trying and accommodating all the time. Even we stepmothers can see that dogs need a nap, too.
Which brings us to the cat. The cat knows all about resting and taking a break. Sometimes they nap right in the middle of the living room, other times they sneak upstairs and crawl into the back of the closet so they are out of the hustle and bustle of the busy house. And, sometimes on their sojourns outside, they stop and rest on a front porch or two, catching up with friends and neighbors.
After a few years in the trenches, most of us know that being only one way just won’t cut it anymore and that being only one way of anything is compulsive. We also know, to prevent exhaustion, depletion, and depression, we need to learn to quickly switch from hamster to dog and that on other days . . . we need to slow it on down and be a cat.