A Healthy Stepmother . . . is benign.

“Do you have children?” she asked me with an expectant tone in her voice. I was seated next to my sister-in-law’s brother’s wife, a woman I’d never met, at my step-nephew’s wedding.

“No, I don’t. My husband does,” I replied, a little dizzy with tracking the layers of family relationships.

“Are you wicked?” she said with an even deeper expectancy in her eyes and an upward toss of the corners of her mouth. Teasing, but definitely thrilled that she had found a chink in the otherwise perfect image she projected onto her sister-in-law, my brother’s wife. Clearly, her question had nothing to do with me. I looked at her, without reply.

How do you answer that question? How does anyone answer that question? Who even thinks of that question, let alone ask it? Do they not see how classist and racist and status-bound that question is?

I’ve been letting that question float on the edge of my consciousness because I’m looking for a snappy answer that is true but not loaded with “stuff,” like the question being asked. A diffuser, if you will. An answer I could give that’s not snotty, not defensive, not condoning of the validity of the question, which is anything but valid.

The answer came to me in a completely unexpected place, the dermatologist’s office, when I went to have stitches removed. A week earlier, the dermatologist had removed a cyst from my cheek and although she thought everything was fine, she sent it for a pathology work-up anyway.

On that day, the assistant deftly removed the stitches and cheerily told me she’d look up the results as long as I was there, save them a phone call and all that.

“Benign, it’s benign,” she cheerily reported.

In that moment, I heard the wicked stepmother question in my mind and I heard the answer, “benign.” A stepmother is benign. If she is trying too hard she can relax, knowing that she doesn’t have to bend over backwards in unwelcome attempts to be seen as “good.”  If she’s so disengaged that she’s never around, she can calm down, settle in by her husband’s side, and be . . . simply benign.

The next time someone asks me in a smart-aleck attempt to be funny whether I’m a wicked stepmother, I’ll answer no. No, in fact I’m benign. No drama, no competition, I’m consistently supportive of my husband’s relationship with his kids. In fact, I’m simply benign. Benign is good. Benign is good enough.

5 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . is benign.

  1. Amazing!! I often feel the need to find and label “my place” in this crazy game! I do have a child of my own, and he has two, but the relationship, no matter how much I try, will always be different, especially while they are young. After a huge blow out last year I have become “silent” . . . seen, but not heard. That keeps my blood pressure down, to an extent, and allows me to live my life and be happy. Needless to say we don’t like each other, are both VERY different people with different morals and life values. Benign is a very good word. I always said numb. I have to be numb to the fact that she sends the kids over in dirty clothes and they haven’t showered in so long they actually stink! I have to be numb to the fact they were both booted out of their bedrooms for the “new baby”. I have to be numb to the fact that the “new baby” has a room that has been completely re-done, now has two rooms, and the two kids who were there “first” don’t have clean socks to wear to our house or didn’t eat b/c “mom is pregnant.” Benign is a much better word.

  2. Pingback: A Healthy Stepmother . . . resists name-calling. « A Healthy Stepmother

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