A Healthy Stepmother . . . Minds Her Own Business

You have no business bringing their pain into your body.

Karla McLaren

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Consider these words, “You have no business bringing their pain into your body.” Now, consider them again. And again.

Anyone’s pain. Everyone’s pain. Your child’s pain. Your husband’s pain. Your sister’s pain. Your father’s. Your mother’s. Your best friend’s.

Their pain belongs to them.

I’ve written before about making sure you don’t try to rescue your stepchildren.

I’ve written before about the hardest thing to do was to stand beside my husband and not interfere with his process of feeling and witnessing his pain when things didn’t go well.

“You have no business bringing their pain into your body.” Karla McLaren.

I want the bumper sticker. I want hundreds of bumper stickers. I want to give out bumper stickers to every stepmother, to every woman, including mothers. Especially mothers.

My women’s group was formed to examine the topic of giving up being The Great Healer (suggested by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in the chapter Homing: Returning to Oneself, in Women Who Run With the Wolves). You know, giving up on the paying attention to the noticing of someone’s pain/need and jumping in to fix it as if that were the sole purpose of life. 

In the women’s group, we have studied letting go of fixing things. We are successful, more or less, some of the time. But, we are committed to the process. And, the shared time together has become priceless. We have explored what it is to sit alongside someone, without bringing her pain into our body, to witness with her, to listen to her, to keep showing up for her. On both sides it’s an incredibly powerful process.

Sometimes when I see a stepmother spewing, I know she’s hurting. She’s hurting because she took the pain inside. She took the mother’s pain inside. She took her husband’s pain inside. Or, she took her stepchildren’s pain inside. Or, worst of all, she took all their pain inside.

When I see a Twitter post proclaiming the mother of the children a terrible person, I think the stepmother has more than her share of pain inside. She’s trying to get it out. Or, worse, she’s trying to ignore the pain and make it someone else’s fault.

When I hear a stepmother with an indignant tone describing in exquisite details the transgressions of the mother, I feel the pain of the teller. A stepmother who feels pain, deep pain. I wonder if all the pain she feels is her own or if she’s siphoning off other’s pain for the do-it-yourself gauntlet she’s taken on as her own, as if she alone can be the solution, resolution, and savior of the divorced family wandering in emotional turmoil.

How many stepmothers sacrifice themselves by taking on others’ pain? How many become depressed or anxious because there is too much of . . . well, everything? Too much of everything to make sense of anything.

I think it’s in those moments of too much that one could stop, eject the other’s pain, get it outside the self. Stop bringing other’s pain inside your own body. Then, and only then, sit back and re-establish boundaries and figure out your own business. Identify your business and then get to it. It is your business to self-soothe. It is your business to take care of your heart, body, spirit…..your self.

I’m starting to get clear that the more we can set good boundaries (not walls, boundaries) and practice living with them, the more sane our world might seem. For a most excellent description of boundaries, how anger helps set boundaries, and other startling insights into all emotions, see Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotion.

There are now two books that belong on every stepmother’s bookshelf. The first is Wednesday Martin’s Stepmonster. The second is Karla McLaren’s The Language of Emotion.

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One thought on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . Minds Her Own Business

  1. Looks like I need to get that book, and to also re-read WWRWW’s chapter on Homing. I definitely do this around my stepchild’s pain. But as I think about why, it’s because, to me, she has no one else to do it for her. She was so surrounded by dysfunction that I wanted to be that one stable person in her life. (besides her Dad). What makes it hard, too, is when she doesn’t even see the pain she’s in as something she can get past. She is just so used to it. I pulled myself out of that role once years ago, and now it’s like an ebb and flow. I am trying to learn to protect myself first but it takes a lot of practice.
    Great post!

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