A Healthy Stepmother . . . Reshuffles and Advocates

It seems impossible that it was two months since I last wrote a blog post. But there it is, the last post on March 11 and today is May 8.

My father had a stroke in late February and life has been a whirlwind since then. First, there was getting him admitted to a rehabilitation facility close to my home. Then, worrying aloud about his mental status long enough that the medical team took a closer look and decided he’d had another stroke, albeit a small one.

We took a long-planned Spring Break vacation and when we returned, I cried to see him take steps with his walker. Now, he’s regularly walking more than 150 feet in physical therapy. He has made fantastic changes in so many ways.

Then, the dreaded hunt for a place for my father to live brought me to my knees. The places we saw just weren’t a match and one day I was so frustrated, I cried aloud, “If it gets worse, I’ll just bring him home.” I wasn’t serious in the moment, but there was something very appealing about it. At home, I’d be able to rule out about 10 things that could possibly be contributing to his trouble sleeping through the night.

Long story short, we’re bringing him home. At least long enough to get him stabilized and build back his morale. He’s depressed and shutting down or acting like he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. I’m spending as much time as I can with him and it’s all wearing thin. It will be easier to have him here than to spend every night worrying that he might fall again in the night because he’s trying to escape a wet bed.

After endless conversations with the staff and apparently upsetting the night shift because I asked to visit with them in the wee hours of the morning to get a better sense of what was going on. The staff decided I didn’t think they were doing a good job. Sigh . . . really?

My coping strategies have largely consisted of a mantra to feel what I feel in the moment and work it through and then move to the next thing. Thus, I have tolerated all the uncertainty fairly well but once a week I’ve had a good cry. Today, my tears flowed down my cheeks as I drove home blinking so I could drive safely. When the tears subsided, I realized this frustration felt so familiar.

It’s like being a stepmother.

The staff at the rehab facility have the power, I’m not a staff person. I’m not allowed to stay overnight because he shares a room and it’s not a hospital. The head nurse writes orders and the night shift does what they want and when they want to.

It’s honestly like being in the role of stepmother. I can see what would be best for my dad and my ideas are ignored because I’m not part of the system.

I’m not sure if this realization helps me or frustrates me more. I’ve learned a lot about letting go of expectations in the process of being a stepmother. Maybe that learning can help me as a daughter to my dad who is struggles and needs help.

Sadly, both my stepmother life and my dad’s future health feel somewhat like a complex game in which there are so many layers it takes years to learn how to play. My dad doesn’t have years to learn to play, so I’m not waiting around. I’ve definitely learned to let it be okay if others have an opinion about me during my time as a stepmother, so I can handle the scrutiny of nurses and medical professions.

After all, in this situation I’m the daughter. I look forward to bringing him home to rest, good food, exercise in beautiful surroundings, and a community waiting to cheer him on.

The countdown begins and I’m so glad to back to my stepmother blogging.

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . and 44 stepmothers.

I know 44 stepmothers.

One day, curious, with many names rattling in my head, I took a few minutes to jot a very quick list of all my relatives, friends, clients, and providers who are stepmothers, like me. I immediately came up with 44 women from four generations across three countries.

I’m still not sure why I find this significant, except to say what we already know, we stepmothers are everywhere.

I was having coffee with a stepmother friend and she realized that her mother had also been a stepmother. She hadn’t really thought about it, but in fact, there it was; her own mother. For me, I have a mother, a sister, a sister-in-law, two mother-in-laws, a niece, a hair stylist, and three close friends who were all stepmothers. And, the list goes on.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . and 44 stepmothers.

The oldest generation of the stepmothers I know, now in their 70s, didn’t have support. They were silent, the irony of hailing from the silent generation. The women I know of that generation didn’t have many choices. Society prescribed for them what they would do and not do and there really wasn’t a choice about showing up or not. And, I think they had a lot of painful experiences, silently.

In my generation, too young to be a baby boomer and too old to be a Generation X, technically referred to as a Generation Jones, many of us came into our second marriages quite late. Many of the friends I count in my 44 stepmothers were in their 40s when they became a stepmother, some in their 50s. Somehow, I think being closer to 50 flavored how I went about this process of becoming a stepmother. Add in the extra bonus of going through perimenopause in the midst of integrating into a group of strangers, let’s just say it’s no wonder a few years ago at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I gave thanks for not having killed anyone (figuratively speaking, of course).

Another generation of my friends, in their late 30s and into their early 40s, is in the thick of bearing children. That means that in the midst of the craziness of intense bipartisanship on every issue under the sun, and bitter custody and parenting battles, these women are trying to survive with very small children in the midst of some very difficult challenges. My hat is off to them and they motivate me to write, write, write and bring a voice to stepmother issues.

And, the youngest generation of stepmother women I know, in their very early 20s, has their chin held high and is bravely marching into this confusing maze of family disintegration and re-integration before they’ve had a chance to think about whether that’s what they want or not. I’ll be watching this generation to see if they find a way to solve the stepmother dilemma. Maybe the mothers of this millenial generation will actually acknowledge the ways another woman in their child’s life is a positive instead of a negative. We’ll see, we need time to help us out with our conclusions there.

And, of course, many women don’t fit the description the way I broke it down here. That will always be the case since there are no neat and tidy delineations. One of the hardest things about analyzing stepmothers and stepfamilies is that every single case is unique. The age of a woman when she becomes a stepmother is significant, but so is age of the children and how the mother of the children thinks of herself. Not only that, there’s the age of a father and what generation he belongs to and what the expectations are for him in his peer group and how he feels about himself and his relationship with his ex and on, and on, and on.

I want peace for all 44 of these women, they are my friends and my family! And, peace for all women who choose to marry a man with children. Not only that, I want peace for all the mothers out there, many of whom seem tormented, because often (not always, but often) kids will have peace when their moms’ have peace.

I know 44 stepmothers. I’m still shaking my head.

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . and the gauntlet of adjustment.

Today, as the year ends, I’m reflecting back on how stepmothers adjust to life in a stepfamily. In this final post of the year, I leave you with my interpretation of the stages of adjustment a stepmother makes to her new stepmother life. I call this process of integration, the gauntlet of adjustment, which is an apt description of many a stepmother’s walk through the initiation into a family.

In the beginning, there is a period of Generosity when the father of the children feels generous, the stepmother feels generous, the kids might even feel generous. This is the stage when forgiving someone for their daily fears and foibles is easy and most family members feel magnanimous and free.

Angers Castle

Angers Castle (Photo credit: stevec77)

Within the first year or so, maybe sooner, there begins an inkling of the dawning of a realization that it just might be that we’ve gotten in over our heads. This is the Dismay period where we look around in disbelief and say to ourselves, say this isn’t so! I didn’t just marry a man who’s children hate me. I didn’t just move away from my friends and family to be treated this way. But, at the Dismay stage of the game, our brains still won’t wrap around the fact that we said I DO and this is the end result. So, we go into survival mode, we keep smiling and going through the motions of being generous. Eventually, we realize these worries coming up in the Dismay phase are real.

After Dismay, comes the Double-Take phase. We can’t believe all the things we have walked right by, even though these problems weren’t evident in the Generous stage. Everyone behaved generously and real personality styles weren’t on display when we first got involved. But then, in the Double-Take phase, what we see is the real, true, real-life way our new family members behave.

Still, even then, we are human and our human nature sends us into a process of survival. We go into Denial. We tell ourselves it’s really not as bad as we think it is and we try to talk ourselves out of thinking that our lives are anything other than fine, just fine. We don’t want to be seen as a party-pooper and we don’t want to sound negative. For a brief time we convince ourselves we’ll be fine and that it just takes time to adjust. Denial can last a long time.

We live like this with our dismay, double-take, and denial for a while and one day we wake up and discover we are Indignant. We bring our Indignant selves to wonder why in the world our husband is not doing this and not doing that. If only he would do something, anything, life would be better. If only we could be a better woman, all would be well. We start worrying we aren’t woman enough and at the same time we are so mad and sometimes crazy indignant at our husband. By this time, the cumulative effect of the Dismay, Denial, and Indignant phase begins to affect our marriages.

Of course, not far behind the indignation is the Anger. Anger is that place where some of us feel most uncomfortable. We might want to yell, but we stifle. Or, we yell and feel tons of guilt or oceans of shame. This is the stage at which we can no longer pretend it doesn’t matter that our stepchildren don’t like us. It’s the stage we recognize that we’ve been doing the proverbial pissing into the wind and it has made no difference in our adjustment to our family. At this stage, it is so easy to feel that love is lost and there’s absolutely no hope of our lives improving.

For the women who stay (and some who go) there often follows a period of feeling Bereft. Numb. With a sense of not caring for the people with which one shares a home and a life. In this phase, we stepmothers often walk around zombie-ish and apologetic, often listening to our internal dialogue more than the dialogue between us and family members.

After Bereft-ness, comes the feeling sorry for ourselves, aka the Martyr. Personally, I think by the time we become aware of being a Martyr, we are faced with a choice of whether to dig our heels in and accept martyrdom as a role that may be played successfully, or not. My own grandmother was a martyr. I never found it particularly pretty, but she was surrounded by her children until the end of her life.

After many years, when we’re appropriately sick of feeling angry, bereft, indignant, and victimized, we might become able to shift away from the martyr. Often, this is the moment when we can truly let go of whatever it was we hope to gain, including being seen in a favorable light by anyone in our extended stepfamily. In that moment, when we admit there isn’t a story-book life to be found, in that moment we can back up and begin a process of Acceptance.

In Acceptance, we can acknowledge that our life is different than it might have been if we were still single. We can accept that we are a partner-member of a family that may never fully accept us but that we can still find a way to have a nice life, filled with satisfaction and peace. Acceptance is an amazing process. It’s the time when you look back outside yourself and see that you are a pretty amazing person, just the way you are. You realize you don’t need to change yourself or worry about being successful, nor do you need to change your husband. You can still stay in dialogue, but you let go of the need for change. Acceptance includes affirmations of who you are as a woman, the woman your husband fell in love with. You regain your sense of self and strength and begin again.

After Acceptance comes the Blossoming, and a renewal of the feeling that you are the perfect person to be with this perfect husband. Perfect being tongue-in-cheek, of course. It’s just that you realize if you had bailed in Year 2 or Year 5, you’d have missed out on this amazing journey to the heart of trust and love and understanding and compassion that you’re building with your guy in Year 7 and Year 9 and beyond.

These stages proceed at different paces for everyone, depending how many kids, how old you are and your life goals, what your husband thinks about himself, and, it’s so complicated! And, of course, women choose to exit the process at many different stages. Their pain makes so much sense given this process which is messy and never smooth sailing. The pain involved in this process inspires me to write and challenge the status quo.

When all is said and done, what you will find is that you have built your personal Resilience. Together, you and your husband can now handle almost anything and when things go wrong, you’ll look at each other and shrug and not get too worried when you don’t have a perfect reaction. One of you might say, yeah, that was pretty tricky. The other nods and you move on, together, in a way that feels connected and builds even more trust and resilience.

Here’s to our future contented lives, may we listen to ourselves, strengthen our soothing skills, and grow into more resilience!

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . on advice about holidays.

In many ways, the holidays are simply our daily lives on steroids, an intensive twist for a month. So, whether it’s the physical doing, the emotional hurricane, or the worry exhaustion, it’s a good idea to start by getting grounded in the day-to-day with books like Stepmonster, Wednesday Martin, and The Happy Stepmother, Rachelle Katz (I wish the title was The Happy Enough Stepmother, less pressure). That said, Katz beautifully describes the difference between what stepmothers hope and a realistic expectation. Throughout the book she offers examples, and plenty of them. Thank you, we needed that!

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advice about how to survive the holidays abounds. My favorites are from Wednesday Martin in her 10 Day Countdown to the Holidays from 2009. Start with Holiday Tip #1 and work your way through.

My holiday strategies from years past are herehere, and here (my favorite).

This year, I’d like to encourage you to ramp up the self-soothing to your maximum levels. Here in the U.S., we’ve just come through one of the most anxiety-provoking presidential races in our time and the general tone of daily life remains edgy, to say the least. Combine the traumatic events around the world with the growing list of folks we know who are losing jobs or looking, add a few major healthcare issues and a difficulty with an ex-spouse or a child, and the fact we’re doing as good as we’re doing is a minor miracle.

Maybe there are ways to streamline the holidays or do less, but we haven’t found them at our house. Every year, my husband and I think we will have fewer events, we will cook less, and we will worry less. We never do. It’s a complicated situation, we’re a stepfamily and he and I are both children of divorce. If we do less, we cut out our important people. That’s not going to happen.

So, we’ve become realistic. We’ve changed our expectations from having a great time to simply gathering and letting things go as they will. And really, the point of this post is to say that perfect holidays, whatever they are, are undefinable. What is perfect for one person is awful for someone else. In fact, we now deem a messy holiday that turns out fairly decent to be successful. There have been some that surprised us, when the kids insisted that we open our presents first and they paid close attention to our reactions. And, we stay connected in our hearts by working together to make the days and events what they are.

Given the difficulty society has with coping with stepfamilies, the difficulties stepfamilies have with coming to peaceful interactions, for us to hang on to the idea that we could somehow just be good enough or do things just-right enough for everyone to have a nice time . . . well, we decided to let that go. There was nothing left to do but increase self-care. My husband and I do that in different ways, but we support one another 100% in getting self-care needs met.

My strategy is to practice what I teach. Yesterday, my client reminded me of the first class she attended just before Thanksgiving a year ago. We were doing a lesson on posture and scanning the position of the head and legs and arms while lying on the floor. Not long after that class she found herself serving dinner to a houseful of relatives with all levels of closeness and difficulties. At one point, she realized she was struggling so she slipped upstairs to lie on the floor in her bedroom. Her husband came to find her about 10 minutes later. As he looked down at her, he asked her if she was doing okay. I am now, she replied.

I love her story and I use a number of strategies (see the self-soothing series). I love when slowing down, noticing posture, and becoming more aware of my physical nature calms me. It’s as simple as tracking my breath in and out. It’s as elegant as noticing where one foot is on the ground and if I am using the whole foot to support me in standing. It’s as obvious as wearing comfortable clothing and shoes so I can breathe and feel like the woman I know myself to be.

Maybe you won’t have time to go lie down on the floor. Maybe you won’t have time to lock yourself in the bathroom, stand against the door, and let your weight be held up by the door and your feet. Maybe you won’t be able to walk the dogs around the block and get some fresh air. But, maybe you can imagine you are breathing. Maybe you can imagine you are walking tall.

As soon as you imagine yourself with tall posture, full breath, and a calm voice, you’ll notice that not so much later, those things are there, for real.

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . takes a deep breath.

A most contentious presidential election is less than 5 days away, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is gradually being exposed as far worse than anyone imagined, unrest grows in many countries around the globe and natural disasters have displaced millions. The unhealthy cold war in stepfamilies marches ever onward and the holiday season is upon us in the United States, with all it’s messaging of be-this, do-this.

I feel an overwhelming urge to take in a huge, giant, enormous breath of air to fill me up from top to bottom, left to right, stem to stern, front to back, to and fro, this and that, and wherever else I haven’t mentioned. I want the air inside me from the scalp of my head to the tips of my toes. Let there be no place within that isn’t nourished by that air and made better because of the oxygen.

Innnnnnnn-hale!

Savor. Linger. Wait. Listen. Soften. Notice. Soften more.

Exxxxxxx-hale.

Whew.

I needed that.

While I know it’s not just me who’s feeling the effects of all these pressures and anxieties and increasing tensions, sometimes it seems that way. Thinking it’s just me is how I know I’m holding on and not seeing clearly. Thinking I’m alone in feeling pressured is the surest sign that I’m absorbing and storing it for that rainy day rather than letting it move through me, past me, and away from me.

Today, as I drove to teach my class, I stopped at an intersection to wait for a high school student to cross the street. The oncoming car also stopped. The teen was stepping off the curb into a very narrow street and a car sped around me to pass on the right, as if not seeing the teen.

I gasped, the teen hesitated, and time stalled for many surreal moments as the driver of the car realized why we were all stopped. The car came to rest inches from the teen and the teen crossed the street. It was many moments before we released our collective breath and went on our way.

This push-me-pull-me is everywhere right now. In the way we’re driving, in the lack of patience for one another to clear the way in front of us, in our zero tolerance for another’s point of view, in our expectations that everyone around us should see things as we see them, and our complete disdain when they don’t. We turn it on our stepkids, our spouses, and ourselves.

It’s as if we’ve lost our cushion, the moment-of-choice is gone. The choice is a moment in which we can make a different assessment and come to a conclusion that keeps us connected to another. The cushion-of-choice lets us give allowance to the driver who almost hit the kid because we realize it might have been us. If we have a cushion, that means we have something left inside, something akin to compassion, and we accept that another person is doing the best he/she can and that we all make mistakes.

We keep some cushion around us when we breathe. We can rebuild the cushion when we practice breathing regularly.

Right before I left to teach my class, I tweeted,

A Healthy StepmotherA Healthy Stepmother ‏@AHealthyStepmom

Now is a great time to take in a generous breath and take even longer to let it out. Repeat every 15 minutes = #ABetterDay for #stepmothers

Is it ironic, that less than 30 minutes later, I needed to practice that for myself? Maybe not, when you consider that we humans have a need to rebalance, rejuvenate, and regroup every single day of our lives.

Maybe instead of growing a collective urge for things to be perfect, we can work together to improve balance, liveliness, and feeling connected.

Now, about that breath . . .

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Now on Twitter @ahealthystepmom. Follow me if you’d like.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . news and support group.

Huffington Post this morning……Why Does My Husband’s Ex-Wife Hate Me.

You’ll be comforted, it’s mostly about her, not about you. Well, #4 is about you, #11 is about you. The rest of the reasons are about her ability to process her own life.

Rather than celebrate in our minds and give a sigh of relief, I urge us all to keep doing the work of processing our own lives. Stepmothers are no better-than or worse-than mothers, each woman is in flux no matter what her role. It’s clear the ability any one of us has to process events and make peace within our hearts will be what determines our contentment with our lives.

 . . . 

Sneak Preview: A new support group is coming to Portland, Oregon!

I was approached by a counselor and attorney, Shari R. Gregory, about co-leading a support group for stepmothers. We’ve developed an 8-week curriculum that begins January 8, 2013. We’ll be interviewing women over the next two months to make sure the group will fit their needs. The flyer is posted on the Support Group: Portland tab, but I’m including it here also.

Shari will be the perfect co-leader for the group. I hesitated to offer a group on my own, but with her master’s in social work, her experiences as an attorney, and her 10 years as a stepmother, she’s got wonderful perspectives all her own. She had me at, “I’ve been following your blog for a year” and how much she has used the thoughts share there and then she asked me to co-facilitate a group.

I’m very thrilled with this opportunity to continue the dialogue about self-soothing, perspectives, and finding our place. We are committed to creating a welcoming, non-judgmental, and trusting environment for each woman to explore her deepest concerns. It’s my hope that each woman find the freedom to share herself in the world with integrity and ease despite the difficulties inherent in the stepmother experience.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . musical guide to remarriage.

I’m obsessed with the movie, Love Actually. The music is as much a part of the movie as the vignettes themselves and since I had to drive to the other end of my state for a teaching engagement, I had lots of time to listen to the entire soundtrack. Somewhere between Jump and Too Lost in You, it occurred to me all these songs represent some part of a journey of falling in love, losing illusions, grappling with disappointment and falling back in love.

Years ago, I heard a woman’s voice on NPR radio tell me that she saw marriage as a process of falling in and out of love with the same person over and over and over again. Since I didn’t hear who she was, I can’t give you the source material on that, but I love the sentiment. In my experience, it’s true. But, we don’t have much patience for the falling out of love part, we most often hold strong to our disdain of anything that’s not perfect and work as fast as we can to get back to the happily-ever-after moment. I don’t think that’s reality. I think much of life is ho-hum, if we are lucky, and a good bit of it is excruciating in some way or another.

But, let’s start at the beginning…..you remember that feeling . . . you met him, fell head over heels, and dove in. Deep. If you don’t remember that feeling and the event, my recommendation is that you go back and dust it off and renew the feeling. Holding that time as a shining light in the darkness is worth a lot. I’ll get back to that later. For now . . . Jump For My Love

When the magic softens and the day-to-day messiness and angst and jockeying for who’s going to be closest to daddy gets into full swing, the distance between you and your guy can grow and grow. It can be terrifying. You try to hang on, you try to show him what needs to happen. He feels like he’s trying his best and all he can hear is you yelling at him. Magic turns to dust . . . The Trouble With Love

Sometimes you hope someone (usually the man you married) will sweep in and rescue you. That fantasy is one that dies hard. Most often, in a remarriage, you’re both stuck inside your tormented box of pain, hoping it will somehow miraculously end. . . . Wherever You Will Go

And then, you step back and take some time to sink into the inner parts of yourself and assess your situation. Only you know what you need, only you know what you are willing to let go of and what is essential to your survival. Tricky part is that we can let go of much, much, much, much more than we think and it’s often going to turn out for the best when we do. You know what I’m talking about . . . all those expectations, if only he would….if only she would. Let them go to this lovely lullaby. . . . The Glasgow Love Theme

After you’ve taken those hours, days, weeks, or months to sort it all through . . . once you’ve made your decision that YES, this is the man I’m meant to be with, then you get to the place where you surrender and discover you didn’t die. You discover you can keep your integrity and wholeness, maybe even more of it than before. . . . Both Sides Now

Acceptance of a real and natural relationship might take months and maybe even years, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to stick it out, there comes a day you wake up and feel at peace. At peace with your decision and at peace with your man.

I’m going to whisper when I say this, in some ways that’s what felt like the beginning of my marriage to my husband. We finally arrived at a whole new level of relationship and I fell in love with him all over again, just as meaningful as before, with even more trust and understanding. And the memories of how we met and how we got to here, in this precise place in our relationship, are worth so much. We are grateful, we are together, and I’d do this all over again, not something I’d have said four years ago. . . . Lost in You

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Maybe you don’t have a road trip waiting for you that allows you to turn up the volume and sing out loud to these songs, but you might have a moment on a walk or when the kids are gone to school, or late at night with the headphones on. For me, this particular music (and the movie) is a salve on sore thoughts, a smoothing out of the bumps and bruises from earlier struggles. No doubt, we’ll struggle again, but at the moment, we’re both still singing!

. . .
Update:
Listening again to the soundtrack and can hardly believe I forgot these amazing songs . . .  I’ll See It Through . . . Songbird.

Enjoy!

A Healthy Stepmother . . . creates a new category of stepmother.

Childless stepmother.

How does that phrase sound? How does it feel? Does it make you cringe? What does it imply about a woman if she comes to a marriage with a man but doesn’t have children of her own? What are her entitlements if she does have children already and why isn’t she entitled to those same benefits when she arrives solo?

I have a huge issue with the term childless stepmother. So much so, that I wrote to Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster and my guru of stepmothering. Some other books have come out since then, but Wednesday’s was the first book that spoke to me woman to woman, not as expert to pupil or professional to customer. She was able, in her accepting language, to paint the picture of a process of integration and rather than saying you should do this or you should do that, she validated all us stepmothers with what was essentially, “Uh yeah, you are living in the hardest process of your life, no wonder! And here’s why!” I drank it in like I was dying of thirst.

I wrote to Wednesday and shared my thoughts. Childless, ugh. At the time (and she and I wrote a few times back and forth and I contributed to her blog once, so I feel like I can call her Wednesday, plus I think she has the coolest name and she could be a rock star), she asked me what I would propose instead of childless stepmother, but I couldn’t think of a better phrase.

This morning, like a bolt of lightning, it popped into my head.

Solo stepmother.

I am a solo stepmother. I came into this home I share with my husband and his kids, just me and my cat. No, my cat was not my child. My dogs aren’t my child either. They are my therapist, more effective than a therapist at this point in my life, even the one who is a stepmother, who’s been there so to speak, who told me to grow up. The cat is gone now, but the dogs continue to keep me grounded in a way that has sustained me through many a tough time. 

But, this term, childless stepmother, conjures an image of a woman who does not like children (I do) or who hasn’t time for children (I’ve changed my schedule a multitude of times to be home for kids or take them to and from practice) or who isn’t woman enough to have children (my family is a long line of fertile myrtles, nope, I was too busy adventuring and then made a choice that I didn’t want to be a mom at 45). Basically, I think the images of a woman who is cold, doesn’t like kids, or isn’t womanly enough is a convenient stereotype for others to use to minimize her, even other women.

How do we change the stereotype, if not by changing the words we think and speak? Even BM, the derogatory acronym for biomom, could be the more neutral M for mother. We will know whose mother she is. Instead of DH, the acronym for dear husband or darling husband, all too often used with sarcasm or hurt, we could write H. We will all know that’s our husband. Let’s use these words that carry less sting.

So how about SS, solo stepmom? There’s something a little adventurous in that term, it speaks to some of what might have been our lives before we met our H and moved in with the kids. The women I know who don’t have their own children have had a full and adventurous life and mostly don’t go into a remarriage to a man with children without first considering all the variables ad nauseam. They make a choice to bring themselves willingly to support their husbands in completing the process of raising children.

I like Solo Stepmother. Solo offers me a choice. In terms of the folks who count stepfamilies, write about stepmothers, and share the demographics, I urge you to consider this term.

And so, big shout out to Wednesday Martin. . . I figured it out, I’m a solo stepmother!

A Healthy Stepmother . . . cuts herself some slack and some other ideas.

For the New Stepmother 

  • Becoming a stepmother is like traveling to another country to live for a year and falling into a depression when you arrive. Though you were excited and amazed and in wonder at the adventure, there’s also loss and a feeling of not belonging. It seems pretty normal to have an adjustment period and that’s my concern: we don’t cut ourselves much slack.
  • Becoming a stepmother is like moving in with a houseful of strangers, except that if everyone was a stranger you’d all be on a level playing field.
  • A new stepmother often experiences the shock of being thrown in the deep end without knowing how to swim.
  • A stepmother will often find herself trying to love a pack of porcupines.

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For the Been-There-Awhile Stepmother

  • A stepmother’s biggest hurdle is meeting and making friends with her own emotions.
  • The stepmother who can find, hold, and nurture the place inside her will always feel at home.
  • The stepmother who sees herself as a whole, complete person will fare well in any situation.
  • A smart stepmother builds a safety net.
  • A stepmother feels sad when things are sad, troubled when things are troubling, curious when things don’t make sense, and satisfied when things are good enough.

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For the Well-Seasoned Stepmother 

  • A healthy stepmother embraces good enough.
  • A healthy stepmother learns to let sleeping dogs lie.
  • A healthy stepmother finds her breath before she hurls her voice.
  • A healthy stepmother lowers her expectations without letting go of her integrity.
  • A healthy stepmother finds a quality to respect about each of her husband’s children..

And, the one that started this whole blog . . . a healthy stepmother worries about filling her own shoes.

Anything you’d like to add? 

A Healthy Stepmother . . . lays down the blame.

Maybe you can’t become a seasoned stepmother without blaming the others in your extended stepfamily. It’s easy when things aren’t going well, to blame the parents, the in-laws, the kids. In fact, blaming is nearly irresistible. At the time, I felt completely justified as though blaming would somehow solve the problem or help me feel okay about myself.

In a blaming stance, when I suggested the kids needed to behave in a different way, my husband heard me saying he hadn’t done his job, and it drove a wedge between us. But—and here’s the mark of flexible, adaptable humans—even though I did the blame thing two or three or ten times, I knew I needed to attempt something different.

I decided the something different was to stop blaming. I stopped and waited and listened. Regardless of who was behaving in what way, I knew deep down that blaming my spouse or the kids’ mother was not good for me, for my heart, or for my well-being. I continued to identify boundaries that needed respect and brought voice to things that needed saying, but I found non-blaming ways to say them.

Initially, my experience was that I thought I would be invisible if I gave up my expectations of how each situation should play out. For sure, I was so upset at what I felt forced to endure that internally I freaked out. I’m sure my face was a sour mass of something I don’t even want to witness. But, I hung on, ungraceful as I was, and struggled to wait it out.

Then, when I thought I couldn’t wait any more, when I was sure I’d have to find a volunteer job for those special occasions so I didn’t have to be present for the gift exchanges and the family meals, just when I was sure I would lose my mind and my marriage, that’s when things began to shift.

One day, my husband began to ask different things of the kids. Small, tiny things. Changes so imperceptible they didn’t balk at them. Little bits of inching toward a different outcome. Without my voice in his ear and him in defensive mode, he went about rebuilding the atmosphere in our home we had agreed we wanted.

One of the hardest things I did was lay down the expectations of who did what, how they acted, and what the outcome would be. Even married to the most fabulous man on the planet, I had to remember he is human, in a difficult situation, and that his pace at doing things isn’t my pace. From there I went into the self-soothing practice that I later blogged about. You can find those posts here, here, and here . . . to be read in no particular order.

Of the half-dozen stepmothers on my immediate friend list, 5 of 6 who are still married found a way to soften and lay down the blame. Laying down the blame means that those flashes and flares of blame still occur but they are more fleeting, almost like a lightning storm. They build up and are released. After each lightning storm, life goes on with a softer heart.

In my case, at first laying down the blame felt like the other side had won and the idea of surrendering seemed impossible. The layers and complexity of our situation led me to feel the blaming was somehow justified. But the blaming others distracted me from the main issue. The main issue was the riff that built between my husband and I, a riff that had begun growing and tainting the most beautiful relationship of my life.

For me to shift, I had to take one of those I’m-going-to-my-room moments where I admitted to myself that it was sometimes very important to me to be right and that being right was completely irrelevant in my current situation. Simply put, if I embraced blaming, I couldn’t embrace my husband. I could still stand tall and have my voice and I could find ways to do so without the blame.

I decided I wanted to be with him more than I wanted to be right.