A Healthy Stepmother . . . begins more gently.

If I could, I’d begin more gently.

I wouldn’t have fallen in love more gently with my amazing husband. The kind of love that sustains us has been strong enough to keep me from my old habit of wanting to pack my bag and head for the hills when the emotions escalated and strong enough to glue us together through several family crises.

I wouldn’t go slower with my stepkids, I purposely went slowly with them, choosing some way to relate to each of them. Whether it was weekly pick ups from practice and dinner on the way home or daily homework sessions, I offered invitations gently.

A Healthy Stepmother begins more gently.I wouldn’t go slower with rule-making and re-organizing a house. Nearly every book on stepfamilies and stepmothers tells you to get together with your spouse and establish house rules, set things up early, and be clear about your expectations. Some families might thrive in re-establishing rules, for us that wasn’t the case. Entering a family with teens was tenuous at best and over time I brought some great ideas from one or another of the books I was reading. My husband listened and acknowledged the ideas and by the time we’d talked them through, we both acknowledged they sounded great, but probably weren’t the way we wanted to interact with the kids in our situation.

I’d tread more gently in expecting happiness in my new life. I’d honor the new marriage and my new husband and participate in family activities, but I wouldn’t expect I’d be happy in the first year or even two years. I’d give myself as much time as I would if I had a new job, six months before I’d expect to belong. I’d give myself as much time to adjust as I would if I moved to a foreign country, a year before I’d begin to think it was a good move. Instead, initially I felt as if I’d moved to a foreign country and tried to behave like a native from day one. If I had it to do over again, I’d let go of that idea of instant happiness.

I’d look more gently at indifference toward me and not take it as a personal statement of my presence. It’s not personal took me five years to understand on a heart level. It’s not personal was true and I’m entirely grateful for all the folks who said it, over and over and over and over. I couldn’t hear their message early on because I was working so hard at fitting in and finding a place that felt like mine. When I could finally understand it’s not personal, I saw children uncomfortable with feelings and newness and strangers and came to a better understanding of how they struggled

I’d be gentle with my decisions. The advice for how to behave as a stepmother fills several shelves in any bookstore. I fell for some of it and got sidetracked from listening to myself. Fortunately, for me, it became very clear early on in my remarriage that no two stepfamilies are alike. We can lump all of us into a category, like we do, but each household contains a unique set of individuals who, together, make a unique system and require unique attention to work things through. The advice in each book worked for at least one family or the author wouldn’t have written it and even the books compiled of someone’s years of working with clients don’t offer the whole story. Those books offer lists of what many founds useful. They may still miss the mark for a majority of stepfamilies.

That’s just it, I can’t see into the real future. I can maybe see the future others paint for me or one other stepfamilies are living. But my future lies somewhere out there along the edge of the path I am on, somewhat blurry and indistinct. I’ll keep on gently and steadily, like I’ve learned to do, with all the fortitude I possess.

I’ll recognize my future when I get there.

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10 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . begins more gently.

  1. This is such a good post, Kim. I can relate so well to the things you would have gone more gently with- expecting happiness, learning “it’s not personal”, and making decisions. I wish all new stepmothers would find and read this at the start of their journeys. Maybe it would save them some pain and make life a little smoother for everyone, especially themselves..Thank you, as always, for your perspective and your words.

    • It’s amazing to me, how quickly and deeply I forgot all the life lessons I’d gained in my 46 years on the planet. As if saying “I do” to a man who had kids wiped my mind clean of all the experiences I could call upon as resources. And yes, I wish there was a way to do more mentoring for new stepmothers and ease the pain of the integration years. Always appreciate your comments.

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. One of the challenges of being a step mom is how unique every situation is to each step family. Forging a path that make sense is the jorney.

    • Yes….indeed. Unique. So difficult to tease out what each situation needs without some trial and error. One thing each of us entering in the stepfamily situation can do is slow and watch and see what works and what doesn’t work. I think that’s much of the hollering, jockeying for position, and testing that kids go through. They are just seeing where things line up and they do it in a noisy and pushy way. No criticism, they haven’t trained themselves to shut up the way so many women have. And, when they find a boundary, they yell even louder but most often quiet and calm after the initial protest is over. Funny how that goes. Anyway…..you get it. Thanks for reading.

  3. So glad I found you. Love reading about how other stepmom’s fare. I am a full custody stepmom of an 11 year old boy. I’ve been in his life since he was two years old and I have a great relationship with his mother as well. I will be following your blog. Please swing by mine as well.

    • Bravo for you, Shannon. Sounds like you’re in a good position to settle in and be part of the family. That takes years as we know, but worth the wait, for most of us. Having said that, I’m aware there are stepmothers who enter untenable situations and take the blame for things not working. The majority of us muddle through, messy as it is, to something less than perfect, more calm, but always with the tensions of who was there first. I’m pretty sure there’s not a right way to do this integration thing, nor a painless way, but I do imagine the gentleness would have served me well. And thanks for commenting, I’ll check out your blog!

    • Thanks, Amy….I thought you’d like it. I’m getting myself refocused now that my dad is living elsewhere and I’m going to do a review of stepmother blogs. Yours will be featured there! I’ll tag you on Twitter so you’ll know.

  4. Just stumbling upon this post now. Well written and strikes a chord with me. Thank you. We are still in the very early stages, and I will use your analogy of being in a foreign country to help me get through some of the rough patches.I shall now go assume my superwoman pose and get ready to head home – to my five stepchildren.

    • You can do it! (she says with hands on hips, feet solidly planted!)
      I’m glad you found this, it’s one of the analogies that has helped me through many a holiday and family event. When all else fails, I walk the dogs. However, I’ve very recently taken up watercolor and it may become my new restoration and rejuvenation. What about you? Do you have a hobby that draws you in so you get lost in something of your own? After all, why did they go to Paris to live for the year, except to study art? Or, Mongolia, to get the wool from the sheep and weave through the winter. Haha, just making it all up. You get what I’m saying.

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