A Healthy Stepmother . . . stands by her man.

One could argue that one of the most challenging acts a stepmother can do is to bear witness to her husband navigating his role with his children and their mother. Some of us do it well and many of us struggle. Some of us go kicking and screaming. Some of us withdraw in silence and hurt. Some of us do all of the above.

There is no easy way to do this witnessing thing. It finds us at our best and it finds us at our worst. It finds us when we feel anxious and when we feel calm. Any interaction involving his children requires some form of the witness.

The difficulty comes in not knowing that the witness is the role we’re being asked to take. The daily tasks of life are so many and of such a nature, a woman naturally gets swept along to make things right for others. And, in the early days it’s so easy and somewhat comforting to pitch in, tempted irresistibly to play the role of “just doing what needs doing.” Of course we’ll fix the lunch for everyone on a Saturday, it’s what women do.

But, to really witness takes backing up a step or two. It takes a second look at what is really going on. It takes getting past and underneath our own reaction to things like his kids not saying hello to him. Maybe the witness sees the same non-greeting happen over and over and on the 20th time says quietly to her husband, “It is so difficult and painful to watch my husband being treated disrespectfully by his own children.”

A great many of us are married to the man the books call the “permissive” father. We hear the “permissive father” label and we rev up to undo those behaviors. The books and blogs tell us so clearly how a divorced father should do things, complete with suggestions to change him, we get caught up in the quest to make that happen even if it’s not ours to do. But, the witness sees past all that and understands that sometimes what looks like permissiveness is not. Sometimes what looks like acquiescence is a first step toward a different future. Sometimes, it’s simply hope.

The witness to the stuff we like and the stuff we don’t like comes from deep inside us. We watch and respect as he says yes to children he seldom sees. We support and respect his decisions because we know they are his to make. And, we bring up issues and concerns when the heat is off even though in the beginning we had the fire in us and we couldn’t hold our tongue and our feelings boiled out with indignation and outrage because someone else’s household did things that effected our own.

Over time, the witness grows stronger and clearer. It grows able to remain, noticing, watching, waiting, pondering, listening, and being present. The witness doesn’t leave. The witness doesn’t avoid. We, the witness, remain standing. Swirling all around, negative draining away. Quiet or not quiet. Beside our man.

3 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . stands by her man.

  1. Being a witness! This is probably one of the hardest things about being a stepmom — being present and being fully there while other people work things out for themselves. Great post!

  2. Has there ever been a more timely post? Not for me. Today is my husband’s birthday, and while 2 of his children have been here to celebrate their father, two were no-show/no-call, not so much as a text message.

    In my 8 years with my husband, I’ve watched time and time again as his children and ex-wives have done hurtful things to this man who only wants to love his children. I wish I could say I’ve “witnessed” in silence each time, but I didn’t. I have tried reasoning, begging, and alternating anger with total sweetness.

    Now I recognise that the only thing I can do is to witness in silence, and perhaps to pray for patience and strength. Thank you for giving a voice to we women who witness.

  3. Jill, yes….while other people work things out for themselves. I honestly don’t know which is worse, being blamed for stuff that wasn’t about me or watching as witness and seeing the full brunt of the pain on all sides. Thanks for commenting!

    Lori, you’re more than welcome. I wasn’t even thinking about birthdays and holidays when I wrote this post. They deserve their own special category of witnessing, mostly because while the child’s absence from their father’s life can seem unremarkable from day-to-day (it’s remarkable how we rationalize so seamlessly, oh, it’s the normal time for them to be pulling away), on a holiday or for a birthday that everyone would normally be together, it’s all the more poignant.

    And, I can relate to all the strategies you’ve tried. Of course you have!! I’ll bet we all have. These days, as I observe this man I love, as I practice calming whatever reaction I have inside me, knowing that reaction will fade and there will be something else in it’s place . . . I feel even closer to him. It’s almost as if an invisible thread connects he and I and I feel more secure and strong and confident that we are together in whatever life has to bring. When I was cycling through all the other strategies in the past, all I could feel was the intensity of those emotions. Now, even when he’s a little quieter because of his sadness I don’t interpret that as him drawing away. It’s a paradox really, that the witnessing has helped me feel so much closer to him. Thinking of you as you practice.

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