After the early years in my marriage, there came a time I realized I wasn’t alone as a stepmother. The realization came long after I began my blog, long after I knew dozens of stepmothers.
It seems common that we cling to the idea that everyone else is doing better at this stepmother thing than we are. We’re pretty sure we’re right.
But, there are so many of us out here, getting up each day and making the best of life. There are now more remarried couples than first-time couples, which means more stepfamilies than first-time families. Who knew?
On this day of gathering with family, this day of high expectations, I wonder where you are.
Will you be in your home, preparing a meal for your family and some of your extended stepfamily?
Will there be people who sit around your table with resentment or will they participate with respect and appreciation for your efforts?
Will you feel welcomed in your own home, or will snubs and rejections, so subtle they’d be denied if ever called out, haunt you throughout the day and for weeks to come?
Will you feel pressure, even heaping it on yourself, to make sure everyone has a nice time, as if you had the power to ensure anyone had a good time other than yourself
Will you forget these are your husband’s children and spend your precious resources making up for things that happened to them in the past or try to be the perfect wife and compensate for your husband’s negative experiences?
Will you be going to your in-laws for the big meal or another home where you are welcomed? Or, will you be spending time in a hostile place you’ve never felt welcome?
Will you try to grin and bear it as you’ve done on so many occasions, only to end up crying alone in the bathroom, or later after you’re home and the dark of night covers the tracks of tears on your pillow.
Will your husband have the just-right thing to say to help you feel okay, or will he be drowning in his own unrealistic expectations for the day and snap at you when you need comfort? Will you be able to separate from the worn out narrative that says really good people have a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving and feel bad because you know your family will never measure up and it’s all your fault?
Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, however you are spending the day, including if it’s home alone and you’ve had an enormous fight with your beloved, may you dig down in the treasure chest of reality and community and realize . . . you are not alone. You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to make the day perfect for anyone else. Your food has to satisfy only those who enjoy it. Your humor has to be good enough for those who understand it. And your presence has to comfort only you.
I hope you go easy on yourself. Help when it makes sense and go sit down when it seems called for, and sitting down will be called for far more than you think.
Go easy on your husband. He might have a bad day with or without you by his side. He might be tired enough or worried enough or unskilled at navigating relationships enough to truly be beside himself on these high-expectation moments.
Your job is not to save him, or to question whether you are necessary in his life. Your job is to support yourself so you are steady enough to tolerate the rough day ahead. When you stay steady in yourself, you are available to both yourself and him. That is what it means to stand beside someone. I’ll write more about that standing beside him business another time.
For now, you take care of you. Ask before you help him, does he want help. And breathe. Who cares if it turns out perfectly?