She closed the book with a thud and tossed it onto the chair beside the bed. The book had been no more helpful than the last three titles she’d brought home, each of them overflowing with ideas about how a woman should behave who had married a man with children and strident opinions about what a stepmother should and shouldn’t do.
She had wished someone would lay out the rules so she could just follow them, that’s why she’d made the investment in countless books. But she knew that a prescriptive way to live would not respect the different needs of members of the family who were all in different stages and ages of life.
To some degree the books were helpful, but these were largely targeted to stepmothers and not to a broader audience, as if the problems in a stepfamily were a stepmother’s fault. Where were the books being written to the entire family, as if they were a system that functioned together? Even in the way the books were written, stepmothers were being kept separate and admonished to get over it.
Life had gone on that way, somewhat aimless-feeling, not structured, not tidy. In fact, it had felt messy and uncontrolled and unpredictable and unnerving.
But, she had let it be and waited and watched and during that time she studied. She took in information and processed it. She paid attention and learned who her family members were. She listened to all kinds of stories she hadn’t really wanted to hear, but learned information she later put to use.
Gradually, she began voicing her thoughts. If you want to swear, go outside. In this house, we respect one another. No, you may not go into my bedroom and search the sock drawer.
Gradually, what began as a shadowy form took shape into the same reasonable request that any adult might make. When we enter a room or a home, we say hello. When we need something from someone else, we say please and thank you. When we are struggling, we say so out loud instead of lashing out with angry words.
Almost overnight, she began to feel better, as if a weight had lifted off her shoulders. It was as if she began to be herself again and regain her footing in her own life.
She began to say whatever was on her mind. She thought it through first and maintained compassion and kindness as her guide, but she spoke from the heart to give testimony when things in the world felt good and when they needed an adjustment. And, she opened to what everyone else needed from her. She willingly made changes when others spoke what was in their heart.
Together they could see what came next, but someone had to go first. She decided she would.