A Healthy Stepmother . . . creates a new category of stepmother.

Childless stepmother.

How does that phrase sound? How does it feel? Does it make you cringe? What does it imply about a woman if she comes to a marriage with a man but doesn’t have children of her own? What are her entitlements if she does have children already and why isn’t she entitled to those same benefits when she arrives solo?

I have a huge issue with the term childless stepmother. So much so, that I wrote to Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster and my guru of stepmothering. Some other books have come out since then, but Wednesday’s was the first book that spoke to me woman to woman, not as expert to pupil or professional to customer. She was able, in her accepting language, to paint the picture of a process of integration and rather than saying you should do this or you should do that, she validated all us stepmothers with what was essentially, “Uh yeah, you are living in the hardest process of your life, no wonder! And here’s why!” I drank it in like I was dying of thirst.

I wrote to Wednesday and shared my thoughts. Childless, ugh. At the time (and she and I wrote a few times back and forth and I contributed to her blog once, so I feel like I can call her Wednesday, plus I think she has the coolest name and she could be a rock star), she asked me what I would propose instead of childless stepmother, but I couldn’t think of a better phrase.

This morning, like a bolt of lightning, it popped into my head.

Solo stepmother.

I am a solo stepmother. I came into this home I share with my husband and his kids, just me and my cat. No, my cat was not my child. My dogs aren’t my child either. They are my therapist, more effective than a therapist at this point in my life, even the one who is a stepmother, who’s been there so to speak, who told me to grow up. The cat is gone now, but the dogs continue to keep me grounded in a way that has sustained me through many a tough time. 

But, this term, childless stepmother, conjures an image of a woman who does not like children (I do) or who hasn’t time for children (I’ve changed my schedule a multitude of times to be home for kids or take them to and from practice) or who isn’t woman enough to have children (my family is a long line of fertile myrtles, nope, I was too busy adventuring and then made a choice that I didn’t want to be a mom at 45). Basically, I think the images of a woman who is cold, doesn’t like kids, or isn’t womanly enough is a convenient stereotype for others to use to minimize her, even other women.

How do we change the stereotype, if not by changing the words we think and speak? Even BM, the derogatory acronym for biomom, could be the more neutral M for mother. We will know whose mother she is. Instead of DH, the acronym for dear husband or darling husband, all too often used with sarcasm or hurt, we could write H. We will all know that’s our husband. Let’s use these words that carry less sting.

So how about SS, solo stepmom? There’s something a little adventurous in that term, it speaks to some of what might have been our lives before we met our H and moved in with the kids. The women I know who don’t have their own children have had a full and adventurous life and mostly don’t go into a remarriage to a man with children without first considering all the variables ad nauseam. They make a choice to bring themselves willingly to support their husbands in completing the process of raising children.

I like Solo Stepmother. Solo offers me a choice. In terms of the folks who count stepfamilies, write about stepmothers, and share the demographics, I urge you to consider this term.

And so, big shout out to Wednesday Martin. . . I figured it out, I’m a solo stepmother!

14 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . creates a new category of stepmother.

  1. I love the term solo stepmother. Thanks for everything you do, Kim, and for your intuitive and intelligent insight that semantics matter, and words matter, and names make a difference. I couldn’t agree more. Your situation, your choice, is specific and significant. We need to keep developing terms that evolve to describe stepmother reality. Brava.

  2. Kim, I really appreciate your emails. Thank you for taking the time and the courage to share. Stepmothering is hard, if you try to do it well! (Like most things)

    • Bingo…..”like most things.” What I’m hoping to do is normalize being a stepmother and create a new dialogue around the process, which is really the same process as any other major identity change. Thanks for commenting….Best to you!

  3. I actually like corny cliches to keep my mind right. Lately I have been repeating to myself, “Let go of the outcome…I am successful when I am satisfied with my efforts”. And to combat my natural tendency toward pessimism–I will never be a pollyanna and won’t pretend to be–I am trying to reprogram myself to be “cautiously optimistic”.

  4. This is sooo refreshing for me. I have always maintained that I did not want to have children, and people always tell me that I will change my mind because I am so “good at it” or “maternal”. I love children, and have always been hands on with the children that surround me, I just never felt that primal calling/need to have a child.

    I met my boyfriend almost 2 years ago, and he has 3 wonderful children. I too was just me and my cat when we met. We have been slowly and steadily building a life, and I have made many changes to accomodate them. They bring joy to my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. That being said, I still in no way shape or form want children of my own, and people still tell me I will change my mind.

    I’m constantly searching for any tools/books that are not centered around the kids/having more kids etc. and just focus on me, the woman, I have found a few, but ressources for people like me are few and far between. I’ve also struggled with the labels childless (which seems like I am somehow lacking something) or childfree (which seems almost like an insult to the wonderful women who do become mothers).

    So many people say that they don’t know how I do it, taking care of a family not made by me and with all of the additional challenges rebuilt familys have. I just reply that I’ve never claimed it was easy, in fact it is one og the hardest things I have ever done, The question is not whether it’s easy, but whether it’s worth it.

    I am a solo stepmom 🙂

    • Headstrong…you’ve just described exactly how I’ve felt. At 52, I’m satisfied and full and finding nothing lacking in my life. People project their desires on us in a way that is much more a reflection of them than it is of us. Thanks so much for commenting! Welcome here!

  5. I’m a new follower and love the term. I’m in month 3 of post-wedding and step-parenting 2 boys (ages 6 and 10). I’m a “solo stepmom” and find your blog helpful. Thanks. Keep it coming.

    • Kimberly, indeed! Thanks for the feedback. I just went to your blog and love what I’ve seen. On a big writing deadline, so will get back there soon. Wonderful to connect! I couldn’t find you on Twitter.

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