A Healthy Stepmother . . . Mother’s Day and Ho-Hum

Maybe you’ve been feeling hurt and are counting the ways you’re not included in Sunday’s, May 10, Mother’s Day celebrations. Maybe you’ve decided to let the crust around your heart remain there for a while, since crusts offer protection by keeping you in and others out. Or, maybe the kids in your life freely and openly bring you offerings and talismans that show love and connection to you.

What if we agreed there isn’t a right answer for the demonstration of relationship, feelings, or connection?

What if we agreed those demonstrations will shift and change over time and the sellers and pushers of the trifecta of cards-flowers-chocolates won’t determine whether a stepchild, or the parent who nudges or doesn’t nudge the child, has done the right thing?

And, what if we agreed that sometimes it’s not safe for a child to share her or his feelings for you because that child’s every move is scrutinized by another member of the family, whether mother or sibling?

I’ve seen all versions.

A friend’s now-grown stepson has showered her with cards, simply but consistently, from the first year he moved in with his father and stepmother. His mother lived more than three hours away.

Another stepmother was a custodial stepmother when her stepchildren were younger and the two girls freely expressed their feelings. They moved back in with their mother for their teen years when their mother’s life became stable enough. By the time the girls began puberty, the stepmother had a child of her own. Thus began a number of angst-laden years with little expression other than anger and fear.

And, in many stepfamilies, there wasn’t and isn’t an expression of tenderness toward the stepmother.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Mother's Day and Ho-Hum

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Regardless of which stepfamily you live in, the way others express their feelings is not a reflection on you as a stepmother.

I’d like you to consider the idea of living in the ho-hum. The way I’ve heard it said, 5% of life is sheer agony, 5% is sheer ecstasy, and 90% of life is ho-hum.

According to the tradition, we need to learn to live inside the ho-hum. Long-time readers of this blog will recognize this is the living in the gray zone, or the neutral place.

I might argue the percentages for stepmothers are a little steeper. Maybe it’s 20-25% sheer agony. 5% sheer ecstasy, 70% ho-hum. You can see pretty quickly why a stepmother feels beleaguered and succumbs to depression and anxiety at rates higher than women in other relationships. (Wednesday Martin, Stepmonster)

Learning to live in the ho-hum. Learning to live without the constant search for the perfect moment. Learning to live knowing the incredibly painful will soon pass, because it is not a permanent condition even though it feels like one. Learning to let expressions of feelings be fluid and unprescribed, sometimes close, sometimes more distant.

Learning to sit inside your own skin, knowing you are enough, doing enough, being enough, right now, in this moment.

Happy You Day . . . wherever you may be.

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Note: I’d love to know where you are. I see on my stats board for this blog there are readers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. I’d love to hear where you live. Remember, you can always comment anonymously. You can use any name you want on the comment form, whether it’s Jane, Sally, or Candace. No one will see your email except me.

19 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . Mother’s Day and Ho-Hum

  1. So appreciate this, especially “the way others express their feelings is not a reflection on you as a stepmother.” That feels true, and good to remember. Thanks for another great post. Thanks from Portland stepmoms!

  2. This speaks so much truth about the pain and the feelings in the hearts of step moms today and everyday. Continuing to work on the truth that “we are enough” even though this may not be reflected back. Thanks from Webster NY stepmoms!

  3. I have learned through this whole stepmothering life that I do not need outside validation to know that I am enough. As soon as I let go of that need (and what was sometimes a demand!) I received gratitude and support from my fiancé for my role in his childrens’ lives. Funny how that works. And even if that hadn’t happened, more importantly, I learned how to validate myself. I am a stepmother who is enough and a blessing to two lovely kiddos. What a gift. Thanks for reminding me where I’ve been and where I am today.

  4. Reading and always love your perspective. Your blog has been immensely helpful to me as I travel this road with stepchildren. Writing from Ohio.

  5. Hi Kim: I love this thought: “Learning to let expressions of feelings be fluid and unprescribed, sometimes close, sometimes more distant.” That is a perfect description of what I have experienced. My steps are now adults and living on their own. For me, that has made the step situation so much easier. The ones who want to be in touch are and we have a nice relationship. The ones who don’t want to be in touch aren’t and I don’t have to deal with the stress and trauma of their unhappiness. My life is back to equilibrium. I hold a place in my heart for the distanced steps and get on with my very full life. I am from Arizona!

    • Ellen, so agree. And I feel we can hold out the banner of support and hope to stepmothers who are so deep in the trenches they can’t imagine a day it won’t feel so close and intense. Those are the days that pile on and they are the days I recall as I write.

  6. Love this, thank you, Kim. I am stepmom to a teen daughter who lost her mother a few years ago to illness. You might think I would be in a whole other category, but I still deal with fearful, angry and surly, all which is heightened by the fact that birth mom is missing from her life. In the face of her grieving this tragic loss, no one seems to think of, or be willing to suggest to her that it is ok to have a close, even loving relationship with a stepmom. If only we all had even one person in our corner, whether it be our stepkiddo’s aunt, uncle, grandparents, or friend speaking up to let them know that it is OK, and I mean really OK, to like us, relate to us, even love us, life for all would be lived less in the agony/ho-hum and more in the ecstasy. Dad tries, but it comes across as a biased opinion because THEY love us. We did go out for dinner on Mother’s Day, but it was like dinner out on any other night, with no specific expression that we were celebrating my role as stepmom. Not to sound ungrateful, but it was tinged with sadness for all because of the unspoken. Writing from the Midwest!

    • Leah, it has taken me this long to respond to your comment because I needed to let them sit, like I was sitting down to coffee with a friend. You have described the situation so aptly, especially the part about how it might be if an adult in your stepdaughter’s life, not her father, reached out to her and suggested that her mother might have wanted her to go on living with an open heart, and how that might open a possibility for something besides pushing away and grief in her and your life. Oh, I hope someone discovers he or she has that to offer your stepdaughter. In the book I’m writing, one of the stories is about a stepmother after the children’s mother dies, and not only do the children ignore the stepmother, they also ignore their father and then lose him and have to go about finding and bringing him home.

      And, you won’t be surprised to hear me urge you to nurture yourself and, if possible, find another stepmother friend (maybe the single-most effective way to stay grounded). I am always eager to hear your comments…they are another way of bringing voice to the condition of your heart. xx

  7. Happy Stepmother’s Day everyone! To all of you who are ignored, unappreciated and treated badly – you have my total love and support. You persevere to create an environment where the steps and their father can love each other and strengthen their relationships. You do this despite everything because you know how important it is for children to have their father in their lives. Remember, “Not All Stepmothers are Evil”. You are awesome!

    • Ellen, nice of you to give a shout out to Stepmother’s Day. I’m not sure how many people realize it’s a real thing. And, keeping the end goal in mind is so useful, the far-ranging picture, the “fifteen years from now where will we be” picture. 😉 It is important for our husbands to have their children in their lives.

      I hope the stepmothers who read this blog will remember what I believe to be true, no stepmother is evil, just as no mother is evil. There are good and bad choices, but, no, no evil. I’m guessing, Ellen, you meant your comment as a retort to all the names we get called and how many times when someone first learns we are a stepmother, they blurt out, “are you evil.” Is that what you were meaning? Ha…that whole evil thing still stings for me even though I think of myself as having a stable relationships with my stepfamily. I’m a little worried it will sting for some of the other readers, too. But then, now I’m worried it’ll sting for you that I’ve brought this up. I’ll hope you get where I’m coming from in wanting to clarify for some of the readers and not that I’m chastising you. I appreciate your comments and observations.

      • Hi Kim: My “Evil Stepmother” comment was meant to offset, in a humorous way, the stereotype that comes to mind for many folks when they hear the word stepmother. I saw that comment posted somewhere and it wrang true for me. As a stepmother myself, I certainly do not believe “evil” should be placed immediately in front of “stepmother”. It makes me laugh when I hear that description used because it is so far from the truth. Unfortunately, that is how stepmothers tend to be depicted in literature, the movies and our society. Sorry for the confusion.

      • Hi Ellen, that’s what I wondered and I’m glad to confirm. I’m not quite to the stage of laughing when I hear it, myself, so I’ll tip my hat to you. 😉 Always great to have your contributions.

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