My neighbors have a new dog. They are fostering the dog for a couple of weeks to make sure the dog likes them, they like the dog, and the long-term future looks compatible.
We did a similar thing, taking our second dog on trial with the understanding that the first dog needed to give approval of the second dog.
Our first dog wasn’t sure she loved the idea, but her behavior immediately changed for the better. She relaxed. She followed the second dog, a bigger. more confident dog. As if she suddenly had a pack, she became more dog-like and less worried and less anxious. We thought that was a good sign and the match was solid enough, we adopted the second dog.
Not to compare stepmothers to dogs, or families to dog packs, but any time a new member comes into a group, there is a jockeying for attention and position and control. Anyone who’s lived through that time of adjustment knows it can be a wild ride that usually ends in all parties feeling disenfranchised.
But, I feel optimistic. Culturally, we are living in a time of post-entitlement era, post-individualism, and post-divorce-is-bad era. We’ve come through the sacrifice-everything-for-the-children era and it seems like we might be headed for the more reasoned every-person-matters and everyone’s-needs-can-be-met period.
- we could be headed for a time when second families are valued as much as first families
- we could be headed for a time when we understand that social pressures can support or destroy marriage, whether a first family or a second family
- we could be headed for a time when we understand that to keep negating and putting down and actively destroying second families is to squander human resources that could be used to better our communities
- we might more actively and consciously make space for new family members, including stepmothers
- we might have regular conversation and share feedback, pointedly discussing each family member’s position and feelings, and work toward civil and respectful human packs
- we might consider our family groups as human packs, letting go of the pressure to be a perfect family
I get confused watching ex-spouses and divorced families where the expectations and old habits get dragged along as if they were a favorite blanket, never holding up, in danger of being lost, and vulnerable to being destroyed. Then, worse, in the middle of the clinging to those expectations along comes a future partner for one or both of the ex-spouses.
We know a new life partner will come about, for one or both of the divorced couple. That is a normal part of our collective human experience. Thus, stepmothers and stepfathers are part of our normal human experience.
Therefore, a day might come when foster dogs and stepmothers are both welcomed with anticipation and curiosity, with an expected adjustment period. A day might come when it won’t matter that stepfamily adjustment is longer than the two weeks or two months we give a dog to adjust. Even if it takes two years (these days it takes seven to twelve years for stepfamily integration, and a certain number of stepfamilies never make it), the key will be that we’ve created a new cultural expectation.
When we get to this possible future cultural acceptance of stepmother adjustment and when it’s no longer a big deal, we will know we have reached cultural maturity, something we have only dreamed of to this point.
I hope I’m alive to see that day.