A Healthy Stepmother . . . Gets Up Each Morning

Some days I wonder how we survive. Not to be melodramatic, but this business of getting up and getting kids off to school and greeting them when they come home and feeding them and educating them and getting them to the place of being able to go out into the world on their own in this day and age, this is emotionally challenging at best.

When this scenario plays out in a stepfamily, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

I wonder how fathers go to bed at night without an aching heart, I wonder how they hold an arm around the one who isn’t the mother of the children, seeing her pain and feeling her pain.

I can guess many a father would like to escape memories of the argument with the children’s mother. I know many a father who pushes those emotions down day after day to deal with Little League and driving lessons. I know many a father who is there, who shows up no matter what the children need.

I’ve heard from women who marry men with children with full knowledge remarriage is difficult at best. These same prepared, successful women are then knocked to their knees by the tidal wave of unbelonging. The wave is so high and so powerful, few stepmothers escape it regardless of background and family history. It’s a wonder more don’t run, it’s a wonder so many stay. Many a stepmother’s courage should be the subject of legend. 

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve spent many hours considering what it takes to be in this remarriage stewpot? You’ve wondered just what could be done to improve the situation because you intuitively know if the situation were better for fathers and stepmothers the situation would be better for the children and likely even the children’s mother. You’ve marveled at the strength of those who only have one strategy, the strategy of pushing out and pushing away.

Those stepmothers who stay in their remarriages have found a way to keep living in their skin, a way to stay rooted to their own experience and not be sucked into another person’s view of them. They have developed an ability to let things bounce off and fall away. They stay deeply connected to their resilience, that ability to not be sunk by any one event or even a whole bunch of events. They know how to stay afloat.

Ask a stepmother what she’s doing. Keeping the faith, or trying to do so. Focusing on her relationship with her partner/husband, or intending to do so. Feeling like a good person but not so much she feels like a slave, or hoping to do so. Because several things are true, she is not the mother. She is not responsible to replace the mother especially since the mother is likely alive and well. Even if she is the custodial stepmother, the marriage will be more successful if she isn’t automatically conscripted for a certain role in the child’s life. She should discuss this in-depth with her beloved and ease her way in rather than get sucked underwater. She knows that and sometimes she lets it slide when they don’t get around to the conversation. She might regret it later and even blame him for not taking the initiative.

She gets up and tries her best. Sometimes her best is too much and she can’t know that until it’s too late. Sometimes she gives and gives and leaves herself open. Sometimes she goes out on that limb and ends up falling or being pushed off.

Often she regrets giving too much.

Often she is exhausted. Often she can see her husband is exhausted.

Some days she wonders how she survives.

8 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . Gets Up Each Morning

  1. Wonderful post, Kim! So many things to relate to. I find strange comfort that I am not the only one feeling this way….although I hate feeling this way. I am a custodial stepmother, biological mother is deceased, and dad travels. You wouldn’t think, but the issues are the same, and often exaggerated by the absence of mom. Why is it that few people are willing to help prop up the stepmom. When I think of the men I’ve known who were, or are stepdads, they seem to receive kudos (and propping) from all around. In my opinion, that is because others often follow the direction of the moms, who appear to make great effort in demanding respect, kindness and support for stepdad. Even though my husband is kind and loving, I would love a little more propping. Yes, I’ve asked, and asked. And, yes, they love us, but I think they hold a very vital “propping key” that could be utilized a little more often.

    • Lana, I so agree. Whether it’s out of guilt for the children not having two parents together, or simply wanting to avoid conflict, the fathers I know don’t realize the extent of their power in creating a more congenial situation. They don’t understand it doesn’t take a therapy encounter group to simply say, “I know your mother isn’t here any more but ___ is here with us, making dinner and packing lunches. We will treat her with respect and that respect takes nothing away from the love you have for your mother.” It could be that simple. Whether the mother is alive, or not. Propping up, supporting, creating a place to stand, we need it all. Which makes me think, when was the last time you had a week out of town? By yourself?

  2. Yes! It is that simple, I really do believe it. Unfortunately, most dads don’t or can’t. They are mostly just trying to get them to 21. A week out of town? By myself? Hmmm…..

  3. Yes, this spoke to me on many levels. Fellow step mom. Feeling at a loss. Searching for support, understanding, someone who can relate. This post helped. Thank you.

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