Think of all the ways guilt influences behavior. Guilt if you drive a car that guzzles gas. Guilt if you don’t recycle. Guilt if you are out of fashion. Guilt if you don’t worship the God that someone thinks you should worship. Guilt for not giving to the person on the corner of the street. Guilt for eating that last cookie.
One day on my way to the bookstore, a young woman asked me if I had two minutes for the baby seals. Of course I had two minutes for baby seals, of course I cared about the environment and the survival of all the species. Despite that, I was not going to stop and give her money. I’ve given to the homeless, I’ve given to the emotionally disturbed teens. I’ve given to the grieving children who’ve lost a parent. I’ve donated to the environmental programs that focus on Oregon’s rivers and oceans. I’ve donated to at least a dozen different organizations. Clearly, I have given. But, I didn’t want to stop and talk to her that day, about baby seals or anything else, but not because I didn’t care.
Stepmothers have plenty to feel guilt about. They supposedly stand in the way of the love that a father can give a child. They supposedly take up the space and time and resources (read money) that the father can give to the children. They are mythically mean and nasty and only want what is good for themselves and they never give to the kids or think of what is best for the kids. Never mind that none of that is a given, it’s what people believe and so they act like it’s true.
I used to feel guilty when my husband’s kids didn’t come over. I thought it was my fault. I obsessed over whether they were okay with him being remarried and whether there was something else I could do that would ease the situation for them, for my husband, for everyone. I went overboard thinking of ways that we could interact with them to “make up” for the fact that their life had changed since I’d come alone. I was good at responding to guilt. Most women are.
For me, getting off the guilt-train was no different than how I responded to the young woman asking if I’d give money to the baby seals. I stood in the face of the guilt and thought this person has a need, I have a need, and the world has needs. In any moment, I am confident I’ve done enough, offered enough, changed my schedule enough, and made concessions enough. Now, I’m making my own personal priority list of which need to respond to. Of course, everyone else thinks their need is more important than mine or than anyone else’s. Of course, that person would be happy if someone helped them satisfy their need.
Each stepmother has to figure out how to step off the guilt-train. That means prioritizing so that your needs are as important as someone else’s. That means being realistic and acknowledging that you can’t meet every single need and letting go of the idea that there’s any chance you will.