A Healthy Stepmother . . . does as good as she can.

You’ve heard the expression, when life gives you lemons make lemonade. Another one that works when things are really, really rough, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Both are true, depending on the circumstances.

Regardless of which expression fits the day that is stretching out in front of you with all it’s potential and challenge, underneath is the idea that you can do as good as you can.

You can do as good as you can.

Lately, as I’ve read reader comments and listened to friends’ stories and lived my life challenges, I’m sobered by how many of us are judging and berating ourselves for not doing even better. In amongst the indignation and heart-hurts rests a deep judgment that we should have known another way, another way to witness our husband when the children forgot to call or another better way to respond when someone wrinkled their nose and rejected our efforts.

Equally staggering are the disappointments that litter our days/weeks/years. There is an expectation that if things go a certain way then everything will be fine. We stepmothers proceed to kill ourselves trying to make life go a certain way. There can never be a certain way that is good enough, but the allure of that fantasy lives strong within us.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies, by John Singer ...I want someone to write a book for stepmothers that advises us to copy our husbands. Doesn’t that sound like a crazy idea? But, I’m here to tell you that every time I copy my husband’s behavior, I feel better. I feel less stressed about who said what and to whom and when and what they thought of me. I look at him and see what he’s sharing and expressing and when I can match what’s happening for him the experience is much easier for me. I’ve been studying him for years now and I like the results inside myself. I harbor worry less, much, much less. Okay, I stop at copying the goofy way he begins his day but boy, oh boy, I admire that he can wake up every morning and start over as though he had a clean slate since I am usually mired in the leftovers from the night before.

I want someone to write a book for stepmothers that insists they let others struggle. I want that author to admonish women who run around doing everything for everyone and I want them to lead workshops in how stepmothers can stand and wait in silence until the realization dawns on others that the struggle, whatever it is, is not our job. I’m still practicing that one, I give myself a C+ or a B- on that one, a huge improvement over the F+ in my earlier role as a doormat.

Those same authors should contemplate authoring a book about stepmother guilt. Sure, stepmother guilt is laced with women’s guilt, but a special kind of guilt is laid on a stepmother, a guilt born of not being the Mother. That gets wrapped in around the guilt of not being woman enough so that her new family has no struggles. This book is begging to be written.

Finally, we need to practice kindness and direct it at the self, so maybe there should be a book about that. We need to be reminded that chastising ourselves about how we look and about what we have or have not accomplished is futile and only adds to our feelings of discontent. We need to practice kindness toward ourselves especially when we have tried to give what was ours to give on that day and it was rebuffed. We even more especially need self-kindness if we are givers and we give, give, give until we are empty. In that moment of realization that we have done it again, when we feel like we were duped but we know deep down that we did it to ourselves, in that moment we don’t need to berate ourselves for being stupid. We tried. We did our best. Even if the other person wasn’t gracious enough to recognize that or kind enough to understand the situation was difficult, we can still remain resolute in our kindness toward the self.

I want us to walk tall rather than stooped under the weight of the guilt of not being enough. Whatever a stepmother can do on a particular day is enough. It is that simple. To offer what we can offer to the people we live with and care about or even don’t care about, whatever we can offer as the host of our home. . . we must accept that as enough. We know that what we offer may be different from one time to the next because we might have more energy or share more of a connection or be engaged in the process in a different way.

Long ago, at the gas station where my husband filled his car the attendant encouraged as he pulled away, have as good a day as you can! We love that expression at our house and use it liberally.

Have as good a day as you can.

Do as good as you can.

Let that be enough.

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2 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . does as good as she can.

  1. I try hard to remain focused on one question for myself: “Am I trying my best?” and if the answer is yes, then I focus on letting go of the outcome. The only thing I can ever ask of myself is that I do my best. I can’t control what my best will or will not do in others’ lives.

    And yes to the books you suggest. I’m getting on them! Or at least one of them!

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