A Healthy Stepmother . . . resists name-calling.

True confession. I quit visiting the on-line chat rooms for stepmoms. I was never a very regular user of them but when I needed to chill and decompress, I used to read and comment and get involved. But, I quit.

I quit because I got tired of reading the awful names women used to describe someone who frustrated or infuriated them. There are definitely times in a stepfamily that you are so frustrated you want to scream. But, it’s no excuse to behave badly. That’s one of my rules for myself. Do not, under any circumstances, call another person a name. Not even in anger. Especially not in anger. Not your husband, not his child, not his ex-wife. When the others around you are afraid or angry and begin flinging names, do not succumb to the temptation. Do not.

Why? Because your words influence how you think and how you behave. For centuries, leaders of countries have convinced their citizens to believe erroneous fact about another country. To do that, they simply repeated a word or phrase over and over and over. Finally, the citizens began to believe it. That’s how Slobodan Milosevic was able to convince the Serbians that the Muslims wanted to take over and that they wouldn’t rest until the Serbs converted to Islam. He took over the radio, the TV, the newspapers. He printed the same message, over and over and over. And the people came to believe it. And, note that this is how parental alienation syndrome works.

Love and peace in Arabic.

You do the same thing to yourself when you repeat over and over the pet nickname you have given that specific person in your life. It’s as if you have your own dictator inside you saying that word, over and over and over and over. You’re brainwashing yourself. I mentioned my sister in A Healthy Stepmother . . .  loves a good cappuccino. My sister has told herself things about me that she needed to believe, over and over and over and over until she really thinks they are true. But, even if there is some reason you are justified in being truly angry at that other person, you can’t afford to keep it alive and flaming. If you want to find a place of peace between you and your partner or you and your stepkids, you need a different strategy.

Listen in your head. What are the words that you speak in there? Are you embarrassed to say them out loud? Are you screaming them out loud and the people around you cringe even though they appear to have a smile on their face. You know what I mean.

To begin shifting toward health, pick a word. Just one word. Something neutral first. Something that isn’t as far away from the word you were using. If you were raging in your head and calling her names, then a sickeningly sweet word won’t feel authentic. You could start by repeating, “wait” in your head. That’s all, just say wait every time you feel mad, hurt, rejected. Say wait . . . wait . . . wait. Or, “still.” Still . . . still . . . still . . . still.

If you let go of the name-calling urge, you’ll experience less reactivity to the person you are avoiding, disliking, judging, or feeling threatened by. When you let your thoughts be soft and pliable and moldable, you won’t be harmed by your own words. It’s like building the relationship you dream about, the one for the future, from behind the scenes. It is one piece you can do and be in control of. It’s not about lowering your appropriate boundaries or about letting yourself be a doormat. Nope, but the fact is, the mother of your stepchildren is always going to be the mother of your stepchildren. Your stepchildren will always be your stepchildren. And, regardless of how they treat you, you can remain neutral. Even if you need some distance, especially if you need distance, take it and begin practicing your neutral and benign postures. Learn to hold a place in your heart that is open to them so that on the day the Big Thaw comes, you’ll actually notice it. If you close off your heart or get thick skin, you will end up calcified into a posture of rejection, like my sister.

My favorite strategy to stay open is to walk my dogs and say my mantra, “peace.” Peace . . . every time an image of that person comes in, I see it, stay open, note that I don’t need to do anything, then keep repeating peace . . . peace . . . peace.

Note: I know some of you are in violent situations and situations where your stepchildren are harmful in a direct way. Hopefully, you’re removing yourself from unsafe situations and finding the appropriate intervention for them, you, and you as a couple. In those situations, maybe the best you can do is to hold those neutral expectations and words for yourself. I’m going to call it Postures of Mind. The way we think is a habit as much as the way we stand or breathe or sit or walk. I in a compassion vigil for all the stepmoms who are the brunt of the anger and blame and violence. Hold on to your image of yourself and practice your self-care. See Stepmonsters, Wednesday Martin.

6 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . resists name-calling.

    • Thanks, Jill. Have you noticed this also? It seems true in the larger culture also, especially when I think about how kids learn to deal with their problems and I hear them put down a teacher or another kid at school. It seems pretty clear that the function of that put-down is to help themselves feel better. But, in the long run it seems like more of a problem.

      By the way, somehow your comment got caught in the spam filter. Sorry to not have responded to this sooner. Always nice to have your thoughts.

  1. I have noticed this also. I’m glad you put words to it! Yes, I agree, usually calling someone a name seems to be about feeling better. I think it’s probably more sustainable and less draining in the long run to feel better based on unconditional love for yourself instead of on comparing and contrasting yourself with other people… But I think everyone does it to some extent. Like you said, we’re imperfect! But I think it’s really good to reach for healthier ways of feeling good over and over, even if we do sometimes find ourselves using comparisons and put downs to feel good.

    I don’t know who said this originally, but I like this quote: “Comparisons are odious!”

    • Well said, Jill, and I love the word odious. It implies all that using comparisons implies . . . these types of negative feelings being carried around inside our hearts. And we talk ourselves into thinking that they are aimed at someone else and therefore they won’t hurt us. I read somewhere long ago that the brain doesn’t hear the word no, not, etc. So, it’s as if those thoughts are aimed at internally.

      Wait . . . still . . . peace . . . and thanks for sharing the quote.

  2. Thank you for this post and your blog in general.

    I am not a stepmom, nor a mom.

    When I surfed through the stepmom-blogosphere, I was quite appalled at the names calling towards the ex-wife of the husband (“voldemort” “crack whore”, etc) and also at the permanent pushing and pulling on the stepchildren.

    I am happy to have found your blog, which is different and displays neither of those two attitudes. Keep it up!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Anne. This might be one of the most important issues anyone in a stepfamily faces. Honestly, our thoughts shape our behavior. Sadly, I’ve noted the same type of name calling at stepmothers, some vile comments, similar to what you’ve noted about ex-wives. It makes me cringe when I say I am a stepmother.

      If I could begin a social revolution, it would be one about really stepping up for what we say we believe in. Family values, really? If we really believed in family values as a nation we would not silently tolerate the levels of violence that a large percentage of families live in. I’m referring to the violence in words slung, people ignored, attitudes, and abuse of power and control. The revolution would include an acknowledgment that we are all hurting and that we all have grief and needs for resolution. The revolution would include talking to children and adults about what it is that makes a healthy communication and that effort after effort of those healthy communications makes a healthy relationship. I don’t think we can afford to do the “work” individual by individual as our current counseling/psychotherapy world dictates. It feels more vital, more urgent, as though we really need to start talking about respect and integrity as a group of humans.

      Again, thank you. I’m appreciative that you “get” what this blog is all about. Come back again, please.

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