A Healthy Stepmother . . . Reflects on Anniversaries

Happy Anniversary! My friend exclaimed as she got in her car to leave our lunch date. My husband and I had celebrated our tenth anniversary as a remarried couple over the weekend and my friend has been a staunch supporter of ours.

Happy Anniversary! The card arrived from my in-laws and my husband’s sister. They have been strong supporters of our marriage, opening the family circle to make space from the very first time they met me.

Friends and extended family, the ones intimate enough to know us, all congratulated us on our milestone, a decade. A decade is nothing in the life of my women’s circle. I’m the only one who’s been divorced and remarried. The rest of them have been married nearly forty years and counting.

When I say a decade is like thirty years in a remarriage, some of you know what I mean. You know there has been a lot of water under the bridge. You know the adjustments and integrations taking place. You know.

Ironically, our celebration is the anniversary of the death of the marriage my husband was in before me.

“For the child, the parents are always together.” Suzi Tucker, Constellations Facilitator, said these words as we worked through one woman’s story.

img_1243“Amen.” I said it to myself as I stood in the place of one of the woman’s children. I know this to be true from my own experience as a child and from my experience married to a man with children.

In the early years of my remarriage, it was difficult to respect a child’s perspective while so many emotions churned and the past loomed larger than the future. These days, now ten years into the married part, it feels less foreign.

“For the child, the parents are always together.” It makes more sense now that there have been more memories laid down that support a sense of community. The funny thing is, you can’t create those memories or supports immediately. It really does take time, years in fact. Seven to twelve years according to the experts.

And, that’s what settles my heart. No one is expected to get it right the first try. No one is to know what a child needs until that person knows and understands the child in a deeper way than one or two years brings. And no child is expected to know how to handle a new person in his or her life. There’s an evolution to relationships. There’s a developmental process to relationships.

For me, the evolution was in the letting go of every single expectation I had carried over the threshold with me. For me, it was in the letting myself off the hook for not being some superhero. Maybe that’s the title of a stepmother book, “No Superheroes Needed.”

Because there’s nothing to be saved.

I do mean that literally. No one needs saving. Sure, some people in the extended stepfamily might be misbehaving. Some of them might be misbehaving a lot. Still, in those chaotic and crazy moments when it seems the world has ended, you are an idea person, you are a problem-solver, and you are your spouse’s deepest support. But it isn’t yours to go wading into the fray and set the boundaries or fight the fires. You can do that together with your partner, but it isn’t yours to lead the way or make the definitions of what will be best for children that aren’t your own.

That’s the harsh part. That’s the part that makes us feel vulnerable. That’s the point where we want to stomp our foot and shake a fist to express our frustration with our disenfranchisement. It’s the part that makes us get on our high horse which isn’t the same as taking the high road.

There are no simple answers. There are no easy solutions. Some of us have husbands and partners who are not as good at solving these problems or at even acknowledging they exist. Some of us have partners who would rather bury their head in the sand and watch a child struggle than deal with an ex-spouse. And, some of us have husbands who do a great job of boundary setting and take care of the emotional work with their children and ex-partner. So many differences within families and no easy answers.

I hope you make it to the happy anniversary stage. I hope you wade and slog your way through those days that make you want to stay in bed. I hope the many edges of your self haven’t been chipped away so that you no longer recognize yourself. I hope you come out on the other side of that swamp with your heart intact and your marriage stronger.

I hope you find ways to soothe your feelings so you can take on less and less of the goings ons as a personal affront to you. This family was going to survive, or not, before you came along.

I hope you realize your priority is your relationship to that person to whom you said “I do.” 

4 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . Reflects on Anniversaries

  1. We celebrated 16 years of wedded life on Sept 2. Every year is a milestone because the road hasn’t been easy. Not for lack of love! But for the sheer amount of stress/change/imbalance that comes along with this second marriage for both of us. Thank you for recognizing this in this post. And for the reminder to not be the saviour. Always appreciated ❤

  2. Bravo, keep walking. One of the reasons there are fewer long-time married stepmothers online looking for advice is because it eases up over the years and gets less intense and we find our way to come to peace within self. Thanks for reading, Lana.

  3. We’re coming up on our third wedding anniversary (8 years together, though)…and it has been a happy 3 years overall, but also rough. For all the reasons you already know.

    Since having my 19 month old, I have stepped back from a lot of the ways I had tried to be involved in my 10 year old stepson’s life. I have intentionally missed school meetings, sporting events, volunteering with his class, all to keep my sanity. Before this, I bent over backwards to be there. There is some guilt I feel for this, and worry that he might remember me not doing as much, but it was necessary. My lessening involvement seems to have resulted in more peace with his mother (for the time being). While I hate the thought of giving her what she has rudely demanded so often, I have to admit that I think it has made my life better. So, thank you for all of the stories and encouragement you share. It helps!!

    • Thanks for reading, Elizabeth. Welcome here. I know what you mean about bending over backwards, reaching out so far you fell over because no one met you halfway. Whew, I’ve gotten up and wiped myself off more than once. It’s that vulnerable place because everyone around is making it into a competition. When I stood back I could see some things I wouldn’t have done differently and others that could be modified. I wonder whether your stepson will be more focused on the enjoyment and lack of stress and not necessarily be holding you accountable. It’s so hard to know until many more years have passed by. And I can attest to missing some events intentionally not to keep sanity but simply to enjoy the time alone. Best to you.

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