A Healthy Stepmother . . . Liberally Applies Time Outs, For Herself 

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Liberally Applies Time Outs, For Herself 

Recently, a friend of mine sent a text to me and another friend. Her parents were arriving for a week’s long visit and she was worried about repeating the same old habits that weren’t comfortable for her or her family. She said, any ideas you have for me to focus and keep a level head much appreciated.

Immediately, I shared with her all the secrets I’ve shared with you, my stepmother kindreds. Take time for yourself. Go to the bathroom. Often. Use the time behind that locked door to breath and settle into your body. Walk the dog. Watch a movie with the kids/parents. Participate in activities that involve parallel play, otherwise known as side by side activities. Not having to look one another in the eye is a blessing in many circumstances, no matter which relationship feels difficult.

Later, she told us the most useful suggestion was to take a time out when things were spinning into uncomfortable territory. She had. She mentioned that her mother had needed a time out, more than once. And, she reported matter-of-factly, she took the time outs for her mother.

IMG_5871-2When I heard that, I grinned. How perfect. When someone else is misbehaving in the relationship, if they won’t calm down and discuss, or change the topic, or find a way to manage and move forward, then you take yourself away, for five minutes, or fifteen minutes, or an hour. Repeat, as necessary.

So, over the next two weeks when you’re in close quarters with family and high on the expectation roller coaster, consider taking a time out. Whether it’s your own or someone else’s behavior, it is possible to interrupt the negative interaction and let it die. The kids are pouting and yelling? Take a few minutes elsewhere. The husband has a frustrating day because the kids are not connecting with him and he starts to take it out on you? Take a bit of a break and come back and interact later.

Use the time out as one of the ways to keep healthy boundaries. Keep your internal self balanced and ready to respond in the way you choose. Behave on your terms, not in reaction to someone else. No matter who it is, liberally apply time to process the situation and decide how to move forward.

Your sanity and well-being might depend on just that.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Leaves the Big Stuff on the Table

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Leaves the Big Stuff on the Table

This post was originally part of a series on self-soothing from the summer of 2011. While the big stuff topics for stepmothers are relevant every day, they can be even more important to remember and reflect upon during the holidays. May you find many moments of peace in these last few weeks of 2015.

I struggled a long time to write this blog post because we’re headed into discussions of the big stuff and how to self-soothe. The big stuff stirs up our internal stuff. Self-soothing is all about how we manage our emotions and what we do with our actions in the face of the big stuff in our stepfamily. Remember, I’m not a psychologist or a counselor or a stepmother coach. I am a stepmother who has studied human behavior for many decades and is now shining the “patterns of behavior” light on this issue of being a stepmother.

The last few weeks, when you were practicing making space, taking inventory, paying attention to your patterns, all of those studies were to lay the groundwork upon which to process your big stuff. The stronger your groundwork practice, the stronger your self-soothing in the internal stuff.

One of the simplest ways to self-soothe is to leave the big stuff where it belongs. That’s it . . . leave it sitting there on the sofa or the table. Don’t even pick it up. You can walk all around it. You can look at it. You can even touch it, but it’s best if you can leave it lying there while you do.

I’ve thought we need those intermittent warnings that you hear at the airport . . . “please do not leave your luggage unattended, any luggage left unattended will be destroyed.” Our stepmother version could be . . . “please do not take on the big stuff that isn’t yours, any big stuff you take on that doesn’t belong to you could explode at any moment.”

FullSizeRender 2If you have picked up a big stuff issue, you’ve noticed how hot it gets. The three really big stuff issues that come up for most stepmothers? One is the pursuing of the child’s love. Another is the judging of the mother. And the third is the rescuing of the child. Any one of these can burn you, all three together and you’ve got a bonfire. Continue reading

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Living in the Gray Zone.

Note: Maybe this is your story, somewhat my story. Mostly, this is all our story, we’re in a shared, collective time in the history of families and stepfamilies. Maybe the new tagline of this blog is “living in the gray zone.”

She entered the stepfamily with all her enthusiasm for life, exactly what her husband loved the most about her, refreshed by her verve as he was, like being refreshed standing in the spray of the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. And, the things her husband loved about her were the very things her stepchildren mocked and rejected.

It didn’t take long for the enthusiasm to wane, in fact, it got lost in the shock of an earthquake-like moment when she couldn’t find a place to stand or hold an opinion that wouldn’t be criticized or belittled, except when with her husband in the privacy of their bedroom. Not so gradually, the joy faded, the excitement and stimulation of their shared lives dwindled, their hearts shrunk.

From the high, to the low, to the full acceptance of the intense dislike of the children for her, or of their mother of her, the weight of those dislikes dragged down each gathering, every holiday celebration. What were celebrations and rituals become dirges and funerals to a family that no longer existed.

The months and years passed, slowly and excruciatingly, as if this pain would last forever. So long, the couple thought they imagined their love. So long, they wondered why they thought they’d be the ones to do stepfamily integration in a different way.

They couldn’t know the fans of negativity were fueled by the larger culture, a culture in a particularly strong era of judgment and rejection, casting out of the other, entitlement and hyper-focus on the self, the narcissism of mothers (sometimes fathers) and the demonizing of fathers (sometimes mothers), all in the name of supposed-love.

More time passed, more pain passed. Her heart crusted over. She became brittle, with a hardening of the spiritual arteries. As her heart hardened, her heart-sap became sticky and instead of being shared freely, her love creepily attached to people who came close. Her pain and heaviness obvious, others avoid getting caught in caring for her wounded self.

Occasionally, she looked beside her at her husband. He hadn’t become brittle, but had faded, just a little dimmer and then more, until he was a half-shadow of the man he’d been before his children and their mother set out to pledge resistance to his wife.

But, one day, they gazed at one another after the children left, with wonderment and she said to him, That was a success, to think we almost missed it. We didn’t fight after the kids left. We made it through a holiday without getting pitted against one another. Incredible, my heart feels lighter, there is more light.

The next year, she looked at the calendar and at the approaching winter holiday with all their traditions and gatherings. She realized there was no dread. She wondered when dread had gone and she recognized this as a new measure of success. To simply go through the traditions and gatherings and support the family events without the highs and lows, that was success.

She dubbed these times as neutral. Without joy and without pain. Something in the middle that seemed neutral. Since the neutral was so much more comfortable than the pain, she accepted it, welcomed it.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . living into the Gray Zone.But, after the novelty of neutral wore off, it felt boring. Sometimes she even looked for something with more intensity to let her know the occasion had meant something, but she gave up when she realized she was just looking for an old habit.

Years progressed and one day she noted that some of the times they spent with the children felt comfortable, even light and respectful, a darker, more nuanced shade of gray, a gray with variation and texture. Not a slate of nothing gray, but a gray with hills and valleys, a topography map of grays.

Other times, they laughed together and she noted the silver and light gray, wispiness and tendrils of gray wrapping like smoke around the chimney when the fire was lit. The seeming slate of nothing gray lightened and darkened and came alive with the trust being built on shared respect.

In a moment of reflection, she knew she’d have missed the gray and all it’s nuances if she hadn’t been looking for it, hadn’t been working on finding a solid ground to stand, sit, and walk among her stepfamily.

They, he and she, accepted the neutral zone as enough. It was life and life-giving. No need for more searching, no need for more comparisons and worries their lives weren’t happy enough or full enough or satisfying enough. Their stepfamily neutral zone with it’s climate and geography contained enough for a lifetime of exploration, just like the neutral zone within each of them.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . what naiveté really means.

Recently, a woman commented here, thanking me for the perspective of one of the posts. She shared her story of tragically losing her mother when her father forced her mother out of her life, and that her mother loss is still reverberating through her life. And, I read her blog and found her to be sensitively and thoughtfully working her way through her childhood loss as she writes in what is hopefully a healing and productive way.

I was going to share her story here and link to her blog, and then something stopped me. I had commented there, on her other blog, and gently suggested that at 22, her stepmother was likely unprepared to walk into the fire of defending the then-girl’s mother or questioning her new husband. I suggested that it was doubtful that the stepmother had wanted to erase the mother from the girl’s life. And, the author of the blog agreed with me, indeed her stepmother had been young.

A few days later a woman commented, and then another one, and another, describing a stepmother who ruined a life. Another admonished me to not be naive, stepmothers were bad. Another agreed.

I stand by my comment, the motive of a stepmother is very seldom to erase anyone from a life. In my real-life experience, the motives we attribute to others are most often based on our assumptions and not on the actual details we might learn if we polled every person in the scenario.

It reminded me of a time I was in a group of women (that had nothing to do with stepmothering). As we introduced ourselves, I mentioned I was a stepmother and I was working through the issues that come along with that. One woman blurted, “Oh, you’re an evil stepmother.” Later, the blurter and I were in a small group together working on an exercise and she told us more about her story. Simply meeting me had reminded her of one of her most traumatic moments. She was five years old when her mother died. Her father went into a depression and didn’t talk to her, he didn’t tell her any of the details about her mother’s death, and he didn’t comfort her. At some point, he remarried to a woman who tried to be nice to the young girl, but the girl’s wound wasn’t something the stepmother could heal.

All those years later, at least fifty, the woman was still wrestling with the issue and blaming her stepmother. Even though she corrected herself and said that her stepmother had tried, she had continued to tell the original story in the blaming stepmother, it’s all her fault way. She had told it as if she were five years old and her mother had just died.

I find myself contemplating issues of small children, parents controlling situations, blame, shame, and shutting people up, and several things occur to me.

First, when a child is wounded, it takes a mighty strong personality to work toward health and well-being. And, there are many children who are mighty strong and resilient and they find a way, often with help and sometimes in spite of seeming help. Somehow, deep down in there, they know there is another version of the story and if they dig it will come out. Or, as they get older, they decide they would like to live in peace without carrying a primal wound around like a piece of shrapnel inside that might kill them at any moment if they move just so. And, there are some who don’t make it out of the past and it stays with them and colors their perspective of the world.

Second, as a child we can’t know our parent’s, or stepparent’s, motives unless we ask. And, sometimes we won’t get an answer even when we ask. Even for parents, it takes a mighty strong personality to work toward health and well-being and not harm the children along the way. When the adults are motivated to live in peace without carrying the marriage or childhood wounds around like pieces of shrapnel…well, you get the drift. And, there are some who don’t make it out of the past and it stays with them and colors their perspective of the world.

Third, it feels most honorable to live with assumptions of honorable stepmothers, until we learn otherwise. There are stepmothers who survive and stepmothers who struggle, just as there are mothers who survive and mothers who struggle. There are stepmothers who misbehave and there are stepmothers who sacrifice and go above and beyond, just as there are mothers who misbehave and stepmothers who sacrifice and go above and beyond.

It is naive to assume all stepmothers are bad, just as it is naive to assume all mothers are good.

Most naive of all is to assume a stepmother should be the savior and rescue every child who is lost and hurt when the parents’ marriage ends.

I’m grateful to know there are children of divorce, who lost a parent one way or another, who are now adults and working toward an integration of their life. There are many of us, who are now parents and stepparents, working to make sense of our childhood experience and fit them into our now-adult world view, so we can move on and shift our focus to our children and the world around us.

There is nothing naive in that.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . wishing you well on Thanksgiving!

I’ve just put the turkey in the oven and find myself with the urge to sneak over here to the blog and give a shout out to all the stepmothers out there who feel a little off-kilter in their own home. This note is for you. May you find a moment in today that glitters just for you, whether it’s a hug with the hubs, a moment of giving thanks for having a roof/warmth/food, or a walk with the dogs.

I was looking back through the posts from years past and wanted to make it easy for you to find them. Here’s one, Holidays 2010. Here’s another, Thanksgiving 2011.

And, I don’t know what year it was nor the post, but I can swear I told the story here at one point of one side of my stepfamily sitting around the table taking turns telling what we were grateful for. When it came my turn, I blurted out that I was thankful I had made it through the year without killing anyone. I was making a joke about how challenging it had been to keep my temper when it felt like the unrest in my stepfamily was almost intolerable. I can’t find the post, maybe one of you will. But, I remember vividly the looks on everyone’s faces. Jaws dropped, they couldn’t believe I had said it. I laughed and they realized I was at least half-joking. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but they might have taken me a little more seriously or compassionately after that moment. As if I was a human and had feelings and might now and then have sensitivities to what was going on around me.

Anyway…..I’m being called to coffee and toast. Big dinner later.

Blessings to each of you, one step at a time. One moment at a time. One thankful event at a time.

 

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Knows Thyself, Pt 3: Shoulders

Several of you are with me on this adventure of standing more firmly in your skin, or more precisely, focusing your attention to your skeleton to give yourself more stability and resilience. I’m thrilled you’re here. If you missed Know Thyself, Pt 1: Breath or Know Thyself, Pt 2: Spine, you can still join in.

By the time you’ve come this far, maybe it’s getting easier to notice what you are doing with your body posture while you go through your day. Maybe you’re finding it’s easier to bring your attention to all those details?

This week, we’ll zero in on our shoulders, for if there’s a vulnerable aspect of our skeleton, the shoulders win the prize. Anatomically, the shoulders are almost entirely anchored in place by muscle, tendon, and connective tissue. The only bony attachment of your entire shoulder and arm is at the joint between the collar-bone (clavicle) and breast bone (sternum). This little joint, less than 1” in diameter is the hinge from which your entire arm and shoulder rotate. Pretty impressive, if you ask me. But, this is also the problem. There is greater risk of injury and more ability to sink into not-great postures.

Crouching Aphrodite. Marble, Roman variant of ...

Crouching Aphrodite. Marble, Roman variant of the Imperial Era after a Hellenistic type: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And ask yourself . . . In what posture are my shoulders? Are they rounded forward? Are they lifted toward my ears? As I look at the keyboard of my computer, do my shoulders slump and my hands awkwardly punch on the keys while my shoulders turn in?

Often when we think of posture, we think of our shoulders thrust back and our chest out. Or, we don’t want to put our chest out and we let ourselves sink in and thus we walk around with a rounded back. Neither of these postures is ideal. There is something in between.

Before we get to what to do or what is in between, you need to study and learn what you do. And when. And for how long. You need to become an expert on the posture of your shoulders. Are you sucking your shoulders in closer to your body as if you were cold? Are you tense and use lots of force with your hands, as if softening your grip might cause you to lose hold? When you do that, the pressure on your shoulders and neck is phenomenal. Are you using your cell phone so much that you end up with pain in your arms, shoulders, wrists or hands?

This week, I want you to notice where your shoulders rest. In any given moment, ask that question, “Where are my shoulders?” If you notice they rest close to your ears, then hold them there and wait a few moments. Just wait. Finally, slowly, let your shoulders return to a comfortable posture.

And, I want you to ask “Where are my shoulders?” again. If you answer “They are caved in, rounded forward, and feel pretty crummy,” you know your posture contributes to your discomfort. The good news? You have the power to shift it. Round your shoulders even more, cave in a bit more. Breath if you can, into those stuck places.

If your shoulders are thrust back in “good posture mode,” keep them there for a few moments. Note how much tension you have in your neck and whether your breathing is free. The let your attention wander away and don’t try to hold your shoulders in that way.

After you’ve spent a couple of days studying and detailing the position of your shoulders, then take a day or two to play with one of the other postures. If you are a shoulder thruster and stand at attention, try rounding and slumping forward. Don’t do it all at once, you’ll need some time to really get used to it. And, once you can round and slump, then alternate between thrusting shoulders back and rounding/slumping. This isn’t as vigorous a movement as it sounds when it’s written here, it is definitely slow and easy moves, nothing abrupt.

If you are a rounder/slumper, try lifting your shoulders toward your ears. See if you can move as smoothly going toward your ears as you do going away from the ears. The focus is on getting rid of any glitches in the bringing shoulders to ears and returning to a resting posture. You could think of it as sanding out the bumps in a table top or stirring the pudding until there are no lumps. Attend to the details.

One thing we know about posture is that poor posture can contribute to all kinds of health problems. It is easy to disrupt the breathing, inhibit the motions of the internal organs, or experience back and neck pain, to name a few. Over time, poor posture takes a toll.

And, one thing your movement teacher knows is that good posture isn’t static, it is dynamic. Healthy humans move freely, not stiffly or hesitantly. When an unexpected situation comes up, your responsiveness will depend on whether you have to re-organize yourself to move, or freeze until you are over the shock.

Finally, after you’ve studied and then experimented, go find a cat you can spend some time observing. Copy the cat. Walk like the cat. Move your back like the cat. Note how natural movement is fluid, sinewy, and languid. Once you have an idea of how the cat moves, then go back to copying humans. You’ll learn so much about your spine and being more comfortable.

You are looking for comfort. Why not find some?

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . lets off some steam.

Have you ever used a French Press? If not, the basics include putting some nice coffee grounds in the bottom of a carafe, heating some water just-so, and pouring it over the grounds, setting the lid lightly on the carafe so that the plunger rests on top of the water and the grounds, and waiting. After the coffee has steeped the recommended amount of time, the plunger is pushed down gently and poured into a cup. A little cream gets added and voila, coffee!

The funny thing about a French Press is that if you press down too fast or don’t let the air all the way out of the gap between the press and the coffee, it will spray all over. And, I mean all over. As it did the other day. I was wearing my favorite white shirt and I pushed too hard without double-checking the seal and the coffee sprayed my shirt, the wall, the cabinets, everything within reach. At first, I was a little surprised, then annoyed, and then I just started laughing and cleaning up the mess.

I was laughing because I recognized the by-now-very-familiar over-pressured situations in stepfamily life and that they sometimes seem a lot like spraying coffee. When you try to put everyone together too fast, sometimes the feelings spray all over. When you push too quickly or forget to let the air out first, there’s too much pressure and you can’t move forward to the congenial atmosphere you’d like to live in.

French press coffee has to be made in a certain way. You can  make it using different types of coffee grounds. You can use water that is a little less hot. But in the end, it’s the process of waiting to let the coffee grounds mingle with the water long enough to bring the flavor out in the coffee. And it’s having the patience to press the coffee down in a certain way that keeps the coffee inside the carafe and keeps it from spraying all over the walls.

Most importantly, even the finest ingredients (aka good people) and the best water (aka more good people) still require a certain amount of time to become what they will become. Bottom line: there are no shortcuts, to making good coffee or to building a new community.

If a stepmother is to take care of herself and remain happy, healthy, and hopeful for a bright future with her husband, she might consider slowing down. She might find within her the patience to wait for the process to finish, the recognition that even when her husband makes choices she does not like he is doing the best he can and he’s a good person. She might acknowledge that she is not a bad person no matter who gets mad at her for doing helpful things that get interpreted as interference. And she might focus on other things while she’s waiting for everyone to calm down about her presence in the home.

I’ve heard it takes years. Years. That means what happened yesterday gets absorbed in the process that takes days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months, and years and years. It means that nothing is an emergency, unless it’s really an emergency. Pressure applied gently and over time improves most things.

I did get the stains out of the white shirt and still wear it and love it. Now, I need to go, I’ve got to make some coffee. And wait.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . loves a good cappuccino.

I HEART Cappuccino

Sigh . . . remember the days. When you packed up your book and headed to the coffee shop for an hours-long session of hanging out and people-watching. That was a lifetime ago and involved a different person, a previous iteration of the self you are now.

It’s so easy to lament, mourn, or yearn for the simplicity of that time. Never mind that the coffee shop is still there, never mind you can still wander in there and plop down for hours like you did last week. It’s different now.

What is different is the letting go. Letting go of unrealistic expectations. Letting go of wanting something that won’t happen. What’s funny about letting go is that you don’t know that’s what you need to do until you are in a fire of a moment and it hits you that nothing is going to change just because you hope it will.

Don’t get the wrong idea, this post isn’t about gloom and doom. This is about a healthy and necessary shifting of one’s thinking. It’s letting go of the “But if, ” and the “If she would just. ” The things to let go lie cluttered all over a woman’s life, and I’ll give you an un-stepfamily example.

Continue reading

10 Essentials* for A Healthy Stepmother

Regardless of whether you’re preparing for your trip into the Stepmother Wilderness or you have already been, you need some essentials. Being a stepmother is a process. First, you learn the basics, then you gain skill and strength for longer trips, and finally, you become an experienced stepmother, knowing how to handle emergencies and traumas out on the wilderness trail. Ideally,  we would have time to absorb each stage of the journey, but honestly, life often thrusts us full-on into the long-distance hike with little to sustain us except our caring for the man to whom we said “I do.”

So, no matter where you are on the path. Whether you are an experienced stepmother (let’s say 3+ years) or a beginner (recently married, living with someone, contemplating marriage), it would behoove you to take stock in the 10 Essentials.

1. Navigation (map and compass)

Regardless of where your stepmother journey takes you, do not leave home without a map of your direction and a compass to track your coordinates. Time and again, stepmothers are stranded, lost and confused, dehydrated, or overexposed to freezing temperatures that caught them unprepared. Had they known exactly where they were and which path to take, they might have returned to safety quickly and without much ado.

Take out your compass, get your map . . . plot your course. Include your husband in the planning. Even if he’s not as enthusiastic as you, if he understands your coordinates, he’ll be able to find you when you need help or get lost. If you get mad and don’t let him know where you’re going, you’ll have a long wait to be found.

2. Sun protection

Prevention is an interesting aspect of protection. Rubbing that thin, invisible layer of moisture on one’s skin keeps the invisible bad rays of the sun from harming the outer layer of the skin. But, a full day of sun . . . even though the skin might tolerate that when given protection, the eyes burn, the feet sweat, the body lags and the brain slows.

In our day-to-day lives, the sunscreen of choice might actually be the detachment that many experts suggest. Prevention might come in the form of doing less, taking care to not get over-exposed and worn out. Even when you detach, you can always “up” your stepmother involvement as time goes on and the flow of connection feels mutual and comfortable. But, once there has been too much exposure, it’s pretty hard to counteract it any other way than to wait until the burn has healed.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)

Insulation means a warm layer, a dry layer, a wicking layer, and at the very least, a softness next to the skin to reduce chafing. The hike through the wilderness is long and exposed to the elements. But, with the right protection, you can go out in almost any weather. And, when the sun comes out and everything glows, those are the moments in a stepfamily that stay in our memories.

Take insulation no matter where and what season you venture out. Early in our marriage, my husband offered me some insulation . . . don’t leave yourself vulnerable . . . and, be sure to take care of yourself. My enthusiastic, brave front did little to insulate me from his kids and my feelings ended up trampled and bruised. He knew how to manage those family dynamics, but my anxiety-motivated efforts to join in took me feet first, in over my head, no insulation to protect me from the weather.

4. Illumination (flashlight/headlamp)

If you can’t see where you’re going, you can’t get where you want to go. So, take a flashlight. If the weather changes and you get caught out, you might need to signal for rescue. You might need a beacon that lets you follow the light back to your campsite. You might need the light to guide you out of the forest if your family gets hurt and you have to go for help.

And, headlamps are handy, they leave your hands free. This gives you versatility, flexibility, and the ability to have light when you need it. Sometimes you need an extra light to shine on a problem, bring out the issues so you can find a solution. Knowing when to use the light comes with experience and a healthy stepmother knows when to not shine the light.

5. First-aid supplies

When you get hurt, you need help. Your stepmother first-aid kit should include a range of supplies. A pedicure might qualify as an emergency aid, maybe even a new hairstyle, or a beach retreat with your girlfriends. And, a long walk is a good remedy for a headache and petting the dogs soothes and comforts.

You should build up a strong library of ideas for how you can nurture yourself and take care of the scuffed and bruised feelings you have after your stepkids have visited. Even when they don’t mean to brush you aside, they do. Even when they want to like you, their mother stands between them and you and she may or may not let them have the freedom to approach you with an open heart. In those cases, get out the first aid kit. Patch up the cuts, blisters, and bruises and move on. Unless you have a broken bone or a broken heart, there is a lot that a good long walk will do for you.

6. Fire

The fire necessary for hiking into the woods is used to heat food, keep warm, and provide protection. A stepmother-fire serves to fuel your creativity, shore up your spirit, and solidify the love you hold for your husband. Without that fire, the stepmother wilderness gets dark, cold, and more than a little scary. You need fire as a vital aspect of your relationship with your husband so that you can continue to build up your history of successful interactions, memories, and stories. The fire will protect you from the inevitable challenges to your union that you will encounter. You are building a web of connectedness that needs to be strong and the fire is the central element.

7. Repair kit and tools

Taking care of oneself outdoors means that sometimes you have to dig a hole to properly dispose of the waste. Sometimes you have to chop wood or haul water or build a temporary shelter. Gather up your personal stepmother repair kit and be sure to include the following items . . . you should have a cozy blanket to wrap up in when you need some nurturing, a room to escape to where you can shut the door and have some alone time, bath beads and bubble bath for a nice long soak when you can’t even imagine talking to someone, a computer so you can go online and chat with other stepmothers or weigh in on a forum even in the wee hours of the night (so you can do something besides lie there and ruminate), and a Mardi Gras mask to wear when your own smile just won’t do.

And books. There are many guidebooks. You’ll soon find out that you are not alone, find out that others share the same concerns. There is a growing supply of books that give ideas for how to approach the stepmother role and it’s no secret that there are many different philosophies growing out there. Read carefully and choose the one that’s right for you. What works for your best friend might not work for your family situation.

8. Nutrition (extra food)

Meals are a vulnerable time for a stepmother because everyone is face-to-face, struggling with what to say or do. One nutritive strategy is to let your husband cook meals for the children. This gift takes you out of the position of being judged for what you cook or don’t cook, and whether they like it or don’t like it. If you are the custodial stepmother, let the kids sign up for a night of the week to fix dinner. Independently, if they are old enough, or in teams with a parent if they are too young. Let them be in charge of food choices, preparation, and clean-up. Let them build the fire sometimes.

Nutrition also comes in the form of you and your husband getting time alone and you taking time with close friends and your own family. This could be the most neglected aspect of being a stepmother, burdening you with the guilt that you are taking the easy way out. Emergency rations include instructions to dig a hole and bury the guilt right beside the waste. Then, without further ado, resume your hike.

9. Hydration (extra water)

Water, coffee, tea, juice, or cocktails. Any experienced stepmother-hiker knows that she needs to pick and choose how she hydrates. She acknowledges that she and her friends like to blow off some steam and she chooses her time to “let loose” by making sure she’s in a safe and appropriate environment when she’s drinking. She doesn’t want to end up like the guy who was drinking and fought with his fiancé and then took a swim in the Colorado River and drowned. To summarize: drinking and the stepmother wilderness don’t mix. Use your good navigation skills and knowledge of the terrain to plan for the next day, and then behave accordingly. No prudish lectures here, just common sense and good wishes for the long haul.

10. Emergency shelter

Sometimes, regardless of your abilities as an experienced wilderness stepmother, the situation can fall apart. When a sudden storm comes up, grab your emergency supplies and get busy building a shelter to wait out the storm. This might consist of building an invisible structure to withstand the hurricane of feelings being hurled in your direction. Hurricanes come up following many significant events for the kids and can be brought into your home without warning. Practice when the winds are less intense and soon you’ll be able to quickly assemble the shelter around you so you can breathe and watch and interact, without feeling assaulted by the storm going on around you.

With these essentials in your pack and a knowledge of how to use them, over time you’ll learn to use them in a preventive way. Please . . . don’t venture into the Stepmother Wilderness without these 10 Essentials.

*Adapted from the 10 Essentials, The Mountaineers, Seattle.