A Healthy Stepmother . . . is part of the dialogue.

Hello and happy new year! Here we are at the beginning of a new calendar year and I’m doing my usual, ignore the goal-setting and resolution-building. In fact, this article came across my desk which suggests we ought to be dreaming. I couldn’t agree more. I love a good dream, it’s what gets me up in the morning.

One of the things I used to dream about was being involved in the dialogue about kid issues in my home. If you’re a stepmother, you might join me in a good chuckle. We all start there and some women accomplish it to their satisfaction but that has not been my experience, nor the experience of many of the real-life stepmothers I know. Instead, my work has been to discover when I agree, when I can bend, and when I need to let go, as well as how to gracefully navigate between those choices without guilt and with healthy boundary setting.

Knowing it is healthy to have and use my voice, I began blogging. I fumbled and bumbled my way through the first months, finding the words to describe what I stand for in the world of stepmothering. At first, I convinced myself I wasn’t part of the ever-growing stepmother industry, because I wasn’t selling anything. Then, I was invited to do a guest post for Wednesday Martin on her Stepmonster blog.

I kept writing. I kept honing my thoughts about what we stepmothers call ourselves, about our struggles to feel okay and our recurrent pain in the face of repetitious slights, as well as our basic need to find a sense of belonging. I almost stopped blogging, thinking I had run out of material. If not for one of you readers sending an email, Kim, are you still writing this blog, I hope so, I need this, I might have stopped. Turns out, I wasn’t done.

In August, Shari Gregory, LCSW, approached me about co-leading a support group for stepmothers. Shari and I have been meeting and developing our curriculum so we can begin as soon as 8-10 stepmothers find us and interview with us. Our plan is an 8-week program on Tuesday evenings from 6:30-8:30pm. We are about halfway through our interviews and looking forward to finalizing details in the next month. If you know anyone in the Portland, Oregon area, please have them get in touch.

Because we are charging a $30 fee for each week of the group, I’m suddenly part of it, the stepmother industry. I cringe because I don’t like the thought of being part of an industry and I never liked being a market target.

And, as if co-leading a support group wasn’t enough to entrench me in the stepmother industry, I’m now working on a book. I took a class called Discover The Book You Were Meant to Write, with Jen Violi. I definitely discovered my book and I’m well on the way. I can’t say more at this point, but you know my style. It’ll still be me, with a twist and still me. But, when my book for stepmothers comes out, I’ll be even deeper into the stepmother industrial complex.

The good news in all of this industrial complexity is that I am a language geek, meaning I love words. I am fascinated with what they mean and how we behave differently when we use different words. And,

  • I am on a mission to reclaim stepmother as a positive term.
  • I’m getting active on Twitter and beginning dialogues there.
  • I’m continuing to blog and twist a few arms to stop calling names, since calling names leaves a slick, gooey, coating of slime on the person using the name. And, when we use those names online, it just leaves a trail of see, we told you so, stepmothers are only out for themselves. I think there are lots of other ways to process our pain rather than publicly. If you want more of my thoughts on how to soothe on that subject, just say so.

I’ve come to realize we stepmothers need each other and we need to blog and be visible. There are a bunch of us out here doing this in a healthy and positive way. For some ideas of what others are doing, check out artist-stepmother Kimberly Harding’s blog, journalist-stepmother Amy Young’s blog, or this anonymous blog, Stepmother Revolution.

It also makes a difference when we follow and comment on a blog, like you do here, and here’s why. If we are going to change the dialogue about stepmothers in the culture, we need people to see and read the day-to-day introspective, respectful, and compassionate words of stepmothers like you. By commenting, you are helping build evidence to show that stepmothers are not conniving, selfish, or unloving women (or, insert any other negative word applied to stepmothers). You will be contributing to a growing trend that will show sociologists and folks like the Wednesday Martins-of-the-future that there was a shift in the stepmother psyche in the early 21st century.

And, this is why I’m going to keep walking forward into the stepmother industry

  • to remain part of the dialogue
  • to contribute in constructive and meaningful ways
  • and most of all, to make sure we leave evidence so it will be said we weren’t looking for a place to scream about the mother of our stepchildren, we were looking for peace and inclusion.

My best to you for 2013.

Dream big.


I so appreciate you leaving your thoughts here, and by doing so, helping build the conversation. A few of you have noted that your comments show up on a Google search. That’s true, but you can preserve your anonymity by using your first name only. Another idea is to go by Jane Doe or some other name. You don’t need a separate email account to do that, simply fill in whatever name you want to use in the comment form. Your email must be real, but no one sees your email except me and I don’t share it with anyone.

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25 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . is part of the dialogue.

  1. YES!! Keep writing! I never knew there could be such healthy support through the interwebs. Women like you who are taking this role in stride and holding your hand out for others to grab onto along the way is so important. Thank you thank you! Can’t wait to read your future book.

    • Amy, will do! I’m at the place where I realize this is where I’m at . . . “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is my place, mine to do, my finally claimed calling. Fortunately, my whole life has led to this moment and I’m showing up with my whole self. Glad to have you here.

  2. Hi Kim and everyone else in these shoes! Please keep writing…..need your thoughts and guidance…..it helps validate what I see, hear, feel, think. Helps me stay healthy and grounded in an inherently challenging relationship (my partner is a wonderful person….in a difficult spot….). I wish I lived in Portland, if only to share in the circle you’re creating. You provide a deeply needed place to go, and a place of respite. Looking forward to reading your book. I read Wednesday Martin’s and got my first sense that I wasn’t selfish, etc., for my views and concerns….my partner had more difficulty with the book (stemming perhaps from his profound guilt and concerns about his 3 kids). Best wishes!

    • So grateful for your words and feelings and honesty. My book is a book of stories. Easy to read, easy to digest, easy to get the conversation going. It’s going to be a bit before it’s available, and you have sparked an idea I’ve had for some time now. I think my next series of posts will be about witnessing this man you lie down beside at night. What is it to share in the life with him and the challenges he faces. Stay tuned for that and more….

  3. AGREED- I need you to keep writing, Kim. I only recently found you and I’ll admit, I check every day for a new post even though I know you don’t publish every day. I have learned so many good and things from this blog and your referral to read Wednesday Martin’s “Stepmonster”, and also her blog. But I need more. This week I am tearful and feel at the end of my rope. I am so, SO angry and hurt and confused and want to run away from my non-blending family. I am so tired of trying to explain my feelings to my husband who says he understands but who I can see cringing when I, in any way, criticize his daughter. He tries to support me but it’s beyond his scope, I think. I am trying, trying, TRYING to disengage, to self-soothe, to feel my feet on the ground, to breathe deeply. Lord am I trying. And it works, for a while, and then I get to how I feel in this moment and I just feel so DONE. I will admit, painfully, that but for the two children I created with my husband, I sometimes wish that we had never met. And just typing that breaks my heart.
    Please keep writing.

    • Dear Lana – You’re out there somewhere struggling to cope with a hard situation…sounds like you’ve put all your love and care into your family. I appreciate Kim so much too, not sure if she realizes how many times her words have helped me get through the day, the weekend….she’s brought a community together. Take care today….big hug from Canada!

      • Awesome to find that we can support one another here. You bring warm tears to my heart, the both of you. Lana, plow back through. Start at the beginning of the blog and work your way through. Then start over . . . really, I doubt there’s enough material to do that, but the thinking is the thing that saved me from going crazy. Glad to know you’ve got a girlfriend date. Maybe you and Shelley could do an online girlfriend stepmother chat once a week. I did that with my stepmom girlfriend and she saved my life! My mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual life. Just knowing I had her to look forward to talking to, hearing about her day, her challenges, that was enough to lift me through so many a negative day. The only “rule” I’d suggest is to stay in the witness mode and question-asking, rather than advice giving or going down the slippery slope of negativity against the other household. Keep it on the “what do I need to feel okay right now” mode. If you do, let me know. Maybe I’ll start a stepmother-girlfriend match club 😉

  4. Lana –

    I too, have been where you are. Please take care of YOU! Go for a walk, a drink, a movie, whatever with your girlfriends when your SD is with you. It will give you the much needed break. It is NOT selfish to care first for yourself. Kim is fantastic as is Wednesday Martin. Both offer incredible insight and have built a safe place to discuss the issues surrounding step-mothering.

    A BIG hug to you!

    • Wow- thanks for the support. Talia- I am in fact meeting a friend after work for a glass of wine but I just don’t want my venting to take over our visit. I am going to think of other things to talk about! 🙂 And I appreciate your other suggestions. Thank you. The difficulty is that my SD now lives with us, with her own toddler. It’s a complicated situation (whose isn’t??). I want to run away from my own home. I won’t- not today anyway- but I feel sad that I even think that at all. I am just so tired of looking at the bright side, or trying to be optimistic, or just waiting it out or just working so DAMN HARD to be happy in my own home when it feels like no one else even notices how much effort it takes.
      Wish Seattle was closer to where I live so I get into that support circle! Let me know, Kim, if you ever start a branch in Ontario. 🙂
      Love to all of you reading. Thank you for the cyber hugs. Tomorrow is another day.

      • I would do a monthly group in Seattle, if anyone wanted it, it’s only 3 hours from Portland. But, I’m also considering what we can do online. I’m experimenting with my other classes, I’ll ponder what that would be like for our stepmother material.

        Best to you both, Talia and Lana.

  5. Hi Lana….depending on how Kim’s group runs in Portland (or Seattle?) we could branch out here in Ontario together! I almost didn’t “belong” to this group anymore over Christmas….yup, had the ole taking my dog and bolting thing brewing (even though I don’t live with my partner….a decision that has it’s pros and cons). Enjoy your glass of wine ce soir (go for the good stuff!) and order dessert too 🙂 All the best!

    • Shelley, tell me more about your dog . . . my girls are my lifesavers. Keep yours close. And, do the kids like your dog? I’ve felt mine are the ambassaders for our family, keeping us level and on notice that we are human and should behave.

  6. Hi Kim and Lana and Everyone

    Somehow I missed your note, Kim, until after I’d written a message to Lana. Your suggestion is interesting and I love it, and without the “rules” having surfaced in the past, it seems to just have happened….I was even thinking earlier today while pondering all this, that I’m not seeking answers where there are none, nor do I want to talk to an EAP counsellor (though it does affect work at times!)….just the witnessing part you have talked about. This forum seems to heal and help steady the boat against some pretty harsh winds at times. It seems this is, at time, enough to carry on forward.

    Lana, I would be interested in keeping in touch in an online forum….I’m not sure if Kim has any suggestions for secure chat rooms (which would be new to me!). Might be interesting to try….

    • I think it can also be spelled A-W-E-S-O-M-E! This is fun and spontaneous, and encouraging, and amazing! Looking forward to this, I’m in! ❤

    • I am also in! Will make a request now. Kim- is there a way to give Shelley my email address without posting it in public here? If you are able to email it to her- you have my permission to do so. Shelley- if you’d like to send me an email, that would be great, if not- we can try to link up through the FB page. Take care all! Update: had a great glass of wine with a friend who always makes me laugh and look at things in the light of “what can I do to make myself feel better” and she’s not even a stepmom! I feel much better now and thank you all for the support earlier today. Sleep well, one and all.

  7. Hi Kim….attachment to our dogs is lifesaving 🙂 Mine is a happy, quirky mutt (samoyed/retriever mix) who loves a good time, but is a sponge for the hard times and his sad face is a signal to know to draw the line and return him (and me!) to our home. I’ve had trouble between my partner’s kids, and my dog, yet at other times they seem to treat him well as a way of communicating with me ( I suppose the first part of that sentence takes me down, since it’s also a way of communicating clearly!). After my dog witnessed a bunch of sadness (and anger)….a bunch….I decided no more….and use him as a yardstick for drawing the line. If he’s sad, I retreat with him (taking the dog for a walk solo has become an unspoken signal to my partner!) Enjoy your girls, Kim! 🙂

  8. I would love to join, but I am in Ohio. Should you do something online – count me in!!

    Best to all – it is soooooo comforting to know I am not alone in this and that there is a group of amazing women who ‘get’ what I am going through. I am a ‘lone’ stepmom in my circle of friends. A big thank you to all of you!

  9. Do it! Do it!

    I’m not going to lie. I have a book to contribute to the stepfamily literature running around in my head, and I SO believe we all need to be typing away. Go Kim!

    Also, you’re one of the more unique voices I’ve come across in the stepmother literature world. Rock on.

    • I love that you are writing……I’m so glad to know! We need positive and encouraging and inclusive and supportive voices to bring our stepmother sisters all together. Who knows who else may come together. Thanks for the encouragement, always appreciated!

  10. Your post is great! I think many stepmoms can relate. I started blogging 3 days ago, and I had no idea there were that many stepmom blogs out there. I think it shows that we have a voice, some of us a strong voice, and we feel the need to be heard. I also want to raise the voices of single fathers. I think one reason why stepmoms are often pushed to the sideline, is because the dad is pushed to the sideline.

    • There are many blogs, some current, some cold. Some angry, some pleading, some just “here.” 😉 As for single fathers, there are lots of blogs also. I have to run, but I’ll get you some links later. Good to have you online.

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