A Healthy Stepmother . . . stands by her husband’s side.

The Christmas card photo showed a family of five, posing in the lobby of a mountain lodge at Christmas time. At first glance, it evoked a festive and loving image to hold in one’s mind . . . family travels to mountain lodge for the holidays, gathers for photo while celebrating and hanging out together.

Further inspection of the photo revealed more. Seated in the front row were the youngest, middle, and eldest boys, in that order. The three teenage boys slouched with more than a little “-tude” across the sofa. The youngest was leaning away from the other two and the eldest glared into the camera. Also in the front row was the father with his arm around the eldest boy. In the back row was a woman, the mother of the youngest and stepmother to the two older boys. She was barely visible in the space behind the father and the eldest son. Just her face showed between her husband’s and the oldest son’s shoulders.

Sadly, this posing family had been together for 15 years and the space held for the mother/stepmother remained a tenuous one. It is just this issue of being brought into the  circle of intimacy that is at the heart of how a stepmother integrates into a family (see Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin). Maybe you identify with the woman in the photo, who didn’t want to push herself into the circle, who didn’t want to make waves, and who felt uncomfortable with too much attention placed on her status as “not their mom.”

And, how did you take your place by your husband’s side? Have you taken your place yet? Are you preparing or beginning preparations to take your place? Did he make space for you? Did you notice when he made space for you? And, how often and how ferociously did children enter into the space, burrowing under the lines of “couple” and thinning down the thread that connected you?

The photograph was a stark reminder that it can take a very long time to find your place. It’s also a reminder to go gently with yourself and hold your integrity, making sure to take your time when you feel in your bones that you need more time. In volatile families, sometimes it’s enough to pose for the photo, even if it’s only your face that shows. Some days, weeks, months, and years . . . that is enough. It shows that you were there. Other days, just being there is not enough. It is on those days, that both you and your husband need you to take your place at his side.

Whatever the issues in a family are, when a stepmother takes her place beside her spouse, the quality of their togetherness grows exponentially and cannot be explained in words, it can only be felt. There comes a day when the place behind him is no longer acceptable. When that happens, it is time to come on out and take your place at his side.

10 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . stands by her husband’s side.

    • Jill, thanks! That means a lot. I think of this site as less of a bunch of “to do’s,” and more of “many reflections.” I’d never presume to have all the answers, rather tons of questions and huge inclination to share. All the best!!

  1. Great post! I guess maybe we are different than most because we have made our relationship the center of the household. yes, we spend time with “our” kids but we are both in agreement that the two of us are the center… we sit together at the table, on the couch, at the movies. Our family has had it’s share of some extreme volatility, but we try to remind ourselves that the kids are going to be gone at some point and we have to make sure we are cultivating our relationship. Neither one of us wants to split up our family again.

    • That is awesome, Kristine. It’s exactly what we all should do. It’s the way the kids learn to orbit, isn’t it. Otherwise, they don’t have a very solid sense of how everyone fits.

      Two things: 1) it can take a while to “get settled” after the kids are used to helping decision-make (that was our case). And 2) I think being a side-by-side couple sends a strong message about respect for both adults.

      Thanks for commenting!!

    • Hi Me.
      So sorry, this was in my spam file, but I’ve rescued it now.

      I’m still developing my thinking about this site, but largely I want to find some ways to give some practical and meaningful “moments” for each one of us, myself included, to hang onto. Thus, my 10 Essentials, my Stepcouple Playlist (I’m working on Playlist #2), and pointing out some perspectives that I am not seeing in other sources. There is a lot of information out there, and I hope to bring some associations between some of the stepmother experience and other current trends in the culture. My posting about Eve Ensler, February 3, is just such a post. Thanks for reading!!

  2. Kim,

    I love this post. It’s a fabulous reminder to all women who’ve married a man with kids to ensure the marriage is the first relationship. As I flip through my own mental card file of photos, i can’t think of any that have me off in a corner (there are many that I’m not even in because I’m the one behind the camera, but that’s different 🙂 )

    • Peggy, I hear you about being the one who takes the pictures. And, one day after the funeral of my husband’s stepfather (process that complicated dynamic of family relationships ;-), I came home and somewhat frantically started looking for photos of my husband and I together. The kids don’t take those pictures and when we’re vacationing the two of us, sometimes we forget to ask others to take our picture. I sighed a big sigh to see that we had many, but they are from earlier. Time to get the camera out and post those puppies on the refrigerator!!!

  3. I love this post – it’s so easy to let ourselves fade into the wallpaper, and for our partners to allow that to happen so “everything goes smoothly”.

    Thanks, Kim

    • That’s exactly it, great description. Obviously, you know what I mean. And, honestly, I think it’s that stress of trying to get it right, to help things going well, that puts us in a situation that’s not so healthy. It takes time and practice, as we all know. Thanks for commenting!!!

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