A Healthy Stepmother . . . lays down the blame.

Maybe you can’t become a seasoned stepmother without blaming the others in your extended stepfamily. It’s easy when things aren’t going well, to blame the parents, the in-laws, the kids. In fact, blaming is nearly irresistible. At the time, I felt completely justified as though blaming would somehow solve the problem or help me feel okay about myself.

In a blaming stance, when I suggested the kids needed to behave in a different way, my husband heard me saying he hadn’t done his job, and it drove a wedge between us. But—and here’s the mark of flexible, adaptable humans—even though I did the blame thing two or three or ten times, I knew I needed to attempt something different.

I decided the something different was to stop blaming. I stopped and waited and listened. Regardless of who was behaving in what way, I knew deep down that blaming my spouse or the kids’ mother was not good for me, for my heart, or for my well-being. I continued to identify boundaries that needed respect and brought voice to things that needed saying, but I found non-blaming ways to say them.

Initially, my experience was that I thought I would be invisible if I gave up my expectations of how each situation should play out. For sure, I was so upset at what I felt forced to endure that internally I freaked out. I’m sure my face was a sour mass of something I don’t even want to witness. But, I hung on, ungraceful as I was, and struggled to wait it out.

Then, when I thought I couldn’t wait any more, when I was sure I’d have to find a volunteer job for those special occasions so I didn’t have to be present for the gift exchanges and the family meals, just when I was sure I would lose my mind and my marriage, that’s when things began to shift.

One day, my husband began to ask different things of the kids. Small, tiny things. Changes so imperceptible they didn’t balk at them. Little bits of inching toward a different outcome. Without my voice in his ear and him in defensive mode, he went about rebuilding the atmosphere in our home we had agreed we wanted.

One of the hardest things I did was lay down the expectations of who did what, how they acted, and what the outcome would be. Even married to the most fabulous man on the planet, I had to remember he is human, in a difficult situation, and that his pace at doing things isn’t my pace. From there I went into the self-soothing practice that I later blogged about. You can find those posts here, here, and here . . . to be read in no particular order.

Of the half-dozen stepmothers on my immediate friend list, 5 of 6 who are still married found a way to soften and lay down the blame. Laying down the blame means that those flashes and flares of blame still occur but they are more fleeting, almost like a lightning storm. They build up and are released. After each lightning storm, life goes on with a softer heart.

In my case, at first laying down the blame felt like the other side had won and the idea of surrendering seemed impossible. The layers and complexity of our situation led me to feel the blaming was somehow justified. But the blaming others distracted me from the main issue. The main issue was the riff that built between my husband and I, a riff that had begun growing and tainting the most beautiful relationship of my life.

For me to shift, I had to take one of those I’m-going-to-my-room moments where I admitted to myself that it was sometimes very important to me to be right and that being right was completely irrelevant in my current situation. Simply put, if I embraced blaming, I couldn’t embrace my husband. I could still stand tall and have my voice and I could find ways to do so without the blame.

I decided I wanted to be with him more than I wanted to be right.

2 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . lays down the blame.

  1. Amen. I am going to make a sweeping generalization (and thus it clearly has lots of exceptions), but I think that the blame game is something that stepmothers can (fabulous though we are and tough our road is) sometimes fairly easily fall prey to. (It’s ______’s fault the kids/ex are like this!) Parenting is hard work. Stepparenting is hard work. Being a human and being vulnerable and being WRONG sometimes is hard work. For me, I try to remember that my beloved has, on (ahem) more than one occasion asked me to be a little less harsh in my judgment of how quickly he makes changes in his parenting. If I can’t seem to easily make that change easily (because, you know, I keep doing it), what right do I have to put him on a time schedule of when I think he should change, just because I’ve determined it’s time for him to make a certain change? Oy, do we all need some compassion here!

    • I think you’re pretty close to the reality with your description, which is why I wrote the post. Sadly, when we fall into that irresistible blame game it is the person doing the blaming who is the most vulnerable and unhappy, whether that be a child, the mother, the father, or the step-parent. Again, which is why I want to support stepmothers everywhere to begin to shift their time and energy away from getting wrapped up in that behavior and focus that same energy on themselves so they can feel replenished and renewed and not as trod on or beaten down.

      And, just want to say, it’s awesome for you that you are in the position you are in, that of being able to see the situation as you do and that you and your husband can dialogue about it. It’s not easy to let go of the habit and just being aware of it is more than half the way to changing it. Sounds like you’re welllllll on your way!!! Thanks for commenting.

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