A recent article in StepMom magazine stirred these thoughts in me. The article is about what it takes to live Happily Ever After in a stepfamily, likely an attempt to help, to assist, to offer advice, to give the pearl-of-wisdom that could soothe us. That’s an admirable goal, I think our need for soothing goes deeper.
Let’s consider two questions: What is this need for reassurance?, and, What is the form of the reassurance?
First, there is no such thing as “happily-ever-after” regardless of your life situation. I feel like the kid who shouts out in the car pool of first graders, “I found out there isn’t a Santa Claus, it’s just your parents.”
Happily-ever-after is the label we use to keep ourselves from being mortified at the real-life humanity going on around us. I spent many years working in a trauma hospital and learned first-hand there is no such thing as happily-ever-after. I watched too many people who live on the street struggle with their lives to think that there is a way that some of us can live happily-ever-after while the rest of us aren’t.
Sadly most reassurances for stepmothers come in the form of, if you just do these certain things then your life will be happily-ever-after. These are basically edicts that if you behave as a good woman and do these certain things that good women do, then your life will be okay. If your life is not okay, you were not a good enough woman. And, these reassurances build further walls between the very women who need the reassurances. They create more of a feeling of isolation and the feeling that everyone else has it figured out except you.
We don’t need more isolation or the feeling of being isolated.
What about the need? What reassurance does a stepmother need? Does she need reassurances that she didn’t make one big huge mistake by marrying a man who had children from his previous marriage? In fact, some of us did make that mistake. Some of us were drinking the love elixir and we didn’t assess the situation well enough to know if our guy was someone who could really, truly be on this journey with us. There are some of us that can be as good as we can, we can kill ourselves trying to be good, we can become depressed or anxious trying to do the right thing. But, no amount of goodness can overcome the fact that the particular alchemy that lives within a couple is sometimes not enough to make a remarriage work.
The rest of us who have relationships that survive though they might suffer from time to time, we are not looking for reassurance of a happily-ever-after. If you’re like me, over 50, you understand that life is good enough when there is no conflict, in your heart and in your house. It’s good enough when the argument only lasts an hour. It’s good enough that you can work together to get the kids what they need, even if you sometimes fight about it.
So, what do we need?
What do we stepmothers who struggle with feeling okay, with feeling disenfranchised, with being rejected, with broken hearts, with exclusion, what do we need?
We need to know we’re not alone.
We need to know that this is a spiritual path and that others have gone before us and left us some guideposts. The guideposts aren’t there for us to aspire to a level of achievement of what a fabulous person we are. The guideposts aren’t there to cause us to overcome our supposed pettiness and put our own feelings aside.
The guideposts are there to show us that we will be okay. The guideposts are there as a reassurance that we can make it. If we can keep putting one foot in front of the other. If we can keep getting out of bed in the morning. If we can keep finding ways to soothe our frayed nerves and broken hearts. If we can keep finding ways to love ourselves and our husbands. If we can keep in touch with the woman who lives inside us and not forget her and not forsake her and not become a martyr.
I think we need reassurance that we are seen. We need reassurance that we matter. We need to know someone cares that we are there. We need to know that we will wake up in the morning and this beautiful man will be there beside us. We need to know that our hearts are important.
We need reassurance that our messy life tale, covered and layered as it is in hurt, harmony, aching hearts, and hopeful moments is all about being human.