A Healthy Stepmother . . . collects a few agates.

There’s a particular beach on a particular part of the coast of my native Oregon that is the perfect agate collecting beach. At just the right time, you’ll find the serious agate pickers walking the beach, heads down, intently staring at the sand as if in a trance. Every once in a while, they stoop over and pluck something from the sand, stand upright again holding a small object close to their face and then up to the light. Sometimes they toss the stone back to the ground and sometimes put it in the satchel they’ve brought along just for that purpose. Over time, the satchel may bulge with treasures, treasures that will be brought out and exclaimed over again and again.

Finding strategies to navigate the trail of the stepmother wilderness is a lengthy process. And, as with picking up agates, not every stone that seems to be an agate actually is one. So the novice stepmother will find herself taking up a strategy hoping it will fit her situation on that day, in that moment, with her constellation of family members. And, she quickly learns that not all strategies apply and that she needs to hold them up to the light and determine if they are helping her find peace and health before she places them in her satchel.

In The Tao of a Woman, Michele Ritterman, Ph.D., offers up some specific verses that any woman can take out and hold up to the light in a delicate or stressful or challenging situation and find her stance with which to continue in the relationship, in that moment. As I listened to the online clip I found of her, I was drawn in by the simplicity of the verses and how accessible they would be in a tough moment.

Dr. Ritterman’s is recognized as one of Milton Erickson’s leading students and established herself as the Mother of the integration of hypnosis and family therapy in her classic text: Using Hypnosis in Family Therapy (1982). In particular, I was fascinated to note that:

“[Reading this book will help you] find the correct stance, how to be ready for this moment to be in this situation.” And then she went on, “If you feel like you’re always giving, giving giving, if you feel overly criticized and blamed, what do you do? If you feel desperate and broken-hearted, what is your stance?”

She likens her book, The Tao of a Woman, to “a pocket-sized medicine chest with no known negative side-effects.” And, two of the verses I heard resonated deep, deep down in my born-to-be-a-contributor core. I’m ordering the book myself, so I’ll have more to share after I’ve combed through the pages. But, book or no book, these two verses can be used immediately. Translucent like an agate, they let the light through so you can find your center and your personal boundaries.  

From the chapter, The Gift:

The Giver and the Gift
When you are offered a criticism
Leave that gift on the table.
You can admire it from all angles
Before you decide whether to pick it up.
A gift may tell you more about the giver than about yourself.
Often people give what they love best or what they need.
If there is love, it is in the act itself.
You can always appreciate the act
And decline the gift.

And, for those moments when you’re exhausted and need to focus on self-care but you feel guilty (also from the chapter, The Gift):

Some say that to give is the greatest good.
I say reciprocity is the higher form of love.
If giving is good, isn’t give and let give better?

Ahhhhh, seems I’ve just found another agate.

2 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . collects a few agates.

    • I feel the same way, Jill. I was riveted when I was listening, thinking immediately, oh my . . . how would the world be different if every woman, no matter what her role could just use this one piece? This one piece. Well, wouldn’t we all be less likely to take on the burden of blame and guilt? Wouldn’t we all feel better about ourselves? It’s an idea I’ve long pondered and Ritterman has pegged it. I can’t wait to see the book, I just ordered it.

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