A Healthy Stepmother . . . is part of the dialogue.

Hello and happy new year! Here we are at the beginning of a new calendar year and I’m doing my usual, ignore the goal-setting and resolution-building. In fact, this article came across my desk which suggests we ought to be dreaming. I couldn’t agree more. I love a good dream, it’s what gets me up in the morning.

One of the things I used to dream about was being involved in the dialogue about kid issues in my home. If you’re a stepmother, you might join me in a good chuckle. We all start there and some women accomplish it to their satisfaction but that has not been my experience, nor the experience of many of the real-life stepmothers I know. Instead, my work has been to discover when I agree, when I can bend, and when I need to let go, as well as how to gracefully navigate between those choices without guilt and with healthy boundary setting.

Knowing it is healthy to have and use my voice, I began blogging. I fumbled and bumbled my way through the first months, finding the words to describe what I stand for in the world of stepmothering. At first, I convinced myself I wasn’t part of the ever-growing stepmother industry, because I wasn’t selling anything. Then, I was invited to do a guest post for Wednesday Martin on her Stepmonster blog.

I kept writing. I kept honing my thoughts about what we stepmothers call ourselves, about our struggles to feel okay and our recurrent pain in the face of repetitious slights, as well as our basic need to find a sense of belonging. I almost stopped blogging, thinking I had run out of material. If not for one of you readers sending an email, Kim, are you still writing this blog, I hope so, I need this, I might have stopped. Turns out, I wasn’t done.

In August, Shari Gregory, LCSW, approached me about co-leading a support group for stepmothers. Shari and I have been meeting and developing our curriculum so we can begin as soon as 8-10 stepmothers find us and interview with us. Our plan is an 8-week program on Tuesday evenings from 6:30-8:30pm. We are about halfway through our interviews and looking forward to finalizing details in the next month. If you know anyone in the Portland, Oregon area, please have them get in touch.

Because we are charging a $30 fee for each week of the group, I’m suddenly part of it, the stepmother industry. I cringe because I don’t like the thought of being part of an industry and I never liked being a market target.

And, as if co-leading a support group wasn’t enough to entrench me in the stepmother industry, I’m now working on a book. I took a class called Discover The Book You Were Meant to Write, with Jen Violi. I definitely discovered my book and I’m well on the way. I can’t say more at this point, but you know my style. It’ll still be me, with a twist and still me. But, when my book for stepmothers comes out, I’ll be even deeper into the stepmother industrial complex.

The good news in all of this industrial complexity is that I am a language geek, meaning I love words. I am fascinated with what they mean and how we behave differently when we use different words. And,

  • I am on a mission to reclaim stepmother as a positive term.
  • I’m getting active on Twitter and beginning dialogues there.
  • I’m continuing to blog and twist a few arms to stop calling names, since calling names leaves a slick, gooey, coating of slime on the person using the name. And, when we use those names online, it just leaves a trail of see, we told you so, stepmothers are only out for themselves. I think there are lots of other ways to process our pain rather than publicly. If you want more of my thoughts on how to soothe on that subject, just say so.

I’ve come to realize we stepmothers need each other and we need to blog and be visible. There are a bunch of us out here doing this in a healthy and positive way. For some ideas of what others are doing, check out artist-stepmother Kimberly Harding’s blog, journalist-stepmother Amy Young’s blog, or this anonymous blog, Stepmother Revolution.

It also makes a difference when we follow and comment on a blog, like you do here, and here’s why. If we are going to change the dialogue about stepmothers in the culture, we need people to see and read the day-to-day introspective, respectful, and compassionate words of stepmothers like you. By commenting, you are helping build evidence to show that stepmothers are not conniving, selfish, or unloving women (or, insert any other negative word applied to stepmothers). You will be contributing to a growing trend that will show sociologists and folks like the Wednesday Martins-of-the-future that there was a shift in the stepmother psyche in the early 21st century.

And, this is why I’m going to keep walking forward into the stepmother industry

  • to remain part of the dialogue
  • to contribute in constructive and meaningful ways
  • and most of all, to make sure we leave evidence so it will be said we weren’t looking for a place to scream about the mother of our stepchildren, we were looking for peace and inclusion.

My best to you for 2013.

Dream big.

.

I so appreciate you leaving your thoughts here, and by doing so, helping build the conversation. A few of you have noted that your comments show up on a Google search. That’s true, but you can preserve your anonymity by using your first name only. Another idea is to go by Jane Doe or some other name. You don’t need a separate email account to do that, simply fill in whatever name you want to use in the comment form. Your email must be real, but no one sees your email except me and I don’t share it with anyone.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Healthy Stepmother . . . on belonging.

Belonging.

Belonging might be the issue we avoid when we whole-heartedly and enthusiastically throw our lot in with our guy and agree to make the best of things. Some of us promise to have and hold, in sickness and in health. Some of us forgo the vows and share a home. Either way, it’s likely we’d all like to slip into the family photo as if we’ve been there all along.

I know I did. And, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances from near and far who agreed to make the best of things with their man and who dove enthusiastically into the making that happen.

The good news is that our human nature compels us to find a way to belong to our group and the community of folks we live in. That’s why I’ve likened becoming a stepmother with the longer trips I’ve taken to a foreign country. In those circumstances, not being able to understand the language or express myself, I felt unsettled, excluded, and nervous about how to go about making things better. No matter how badly I wanted to belong, I was an outsider. At some point, on the 4th day of the trip when I’d been to the same cafe for coffee every morning and the clerk recognized me, my heart opened and I breathed and smiled and I knew I would survive.

The bad news is that despite the fact that I know all these things, despite that I repeated the visiting a foreign country experience when I moved to Pittsburgh, Hartford, South Fork, Greeley, and Seattle, I still had to go through that becoming part of the group when I came into my stepfamily.

Ivan Bilibin's illustration of the Russian fai...

Ivan Bilibin’s illustration of the Russian fairy tale about Vasilisa the Beautiful (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why did I arrive at my new home sitting beside my husband in the moving van, his two boys helping cooperatively and happily, thinking that somehow this situation would be different? It’s as if there was a fairy tale inside me being played out, leading me into the temptation that I wasn’t going to stumble. I fantasized we’d figure out the just-right way to adjust and integrate without pain of any kind. All without feeling like a third, or fourth, or fifth wheel.

I marvel. I shake my head. I glance away, sheepish. I was 44 when I met my husband, 46 when we married, and I’m 53 now. All to say, I wasn’t born yesterday, I get how these things go.

Once I got over the shock and horror that I had succumbed to the fantasy and fairy tale of the happily ever after, it got worse. There was crying, wailing, venting, and flat out griping. Nothing I did changed the fact that I was the new kid on the block. I still needed to find the cafe, the hair stylist, and the mechanic and I still needed to figure out how to belong in my new family. Even though I’d only moved across town, eight miles away, I might as well have gone to the moon. It wasn’t my neighborhood and they weren’t my people.

I like to think of my husband and his kids, the kids’ mom, and the extended relatives as the people I’d meet if I went to a new city and set up living there. The folks I’d meet might treat me nicely, warily, welcomingly or standoffishly. That’s how real life goes and there are no guarantees that I’d be accepted. What is guaranteed is that it will take time, sometimes years to settle in and make a home.

Settling in and belonging is a process and I look back in wonder that I, and so many other stepmothers, lost track of that. It takes time to belong and it can’t be rushed.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Healthy Stepmother . . . goes away.

I’m out of town on a business trip. It’s a great conference and I’m learning a ton. It’s not about stepmothers, but that’s the topic on my brain and I’ve been writing furiously and creating some new ideas for my upcoming support group.

I’ve been in touch with my husband daily, texting is a gift from the heavens. And, last night I helped one of the kids with an English paper, again, technology improves our possibilities at communication.

But I’m remembering one stepmother blog post I read a long time ago. The stepmother had gone away on business and she was feeling sad because no one missed her.

While here, I got to talking with one of the women I’m housed with. She is away for a week, like I am. She commented that her son and husband seemed to be doing just fine at home without her. She wondered aloud if they missed her. She is not a stepmother.

When I find aspects of our lives that occur because we are women, because we have a woman role in a kids’ life, when the pain we feel isn’t entirely because we are a stepmother . . . well, that’s when I feel validated, because, of course its not. Pain that is part of the experience of being in a role that every woman has brings us all to the same conversation, despite all the cultural dividing and comparisons and conflict between mothers and stepmothers.

I want us to look beyond the moment, the instance, and ask ourselves what normal is. Let’s ease up on attributing every slight or hurt or rejection as a result of being a stepmother. Mothers feel this way too!

A Healthy Stepmother . . . meets an Omama.

Here in Portland, Oregon, we have the daily newspaper, the Oregonian. One section of the Oregonian is called Omamas, as in Oregonian Mamas. It’s about all things related to families.

Today, I was so happy to meet Heidi Williams of the Omama staff in person. In addition to her other duties with the paper, Heidi has begun writing about stepfamilies, often focused on stepmothers. It is wonderful to have that aspect of family life represented, especially since the number of families with children living in two homes is growing each decade.

We spent a great hour exchanging viewpoints on the big issues and I know I came away inspired and encouraged and even more committed to this path that has led me to writing and bringing voice to the stepmother journey.

Here’s a sampling of the topics Heidi has written:

That’s My Evil Stepmom

Honoring Stepfathers

Blended Family Portrait

and

Stepfamilies Around the World 

You can also follow Heidi on Twitter @by_heidi.

I’m very excited to have met Heidi, not just because she’s local, but because every story about a woman engaged in healthy and constructive lives with her husband and stepchildren is another story we can add to a growing narrative of caring, compassionate, and concerned stepmothers.

Stepmothers everywhere have an opportunity to influence how stepmothers are perceived in our culture by building good content online. Have you ever gone to YouTube and searched for stepmother? You will find some things there I can’t even say here, they are so disgusting. We need to begin to add story after story to that medium and build up a catalog so the positive stories are the ones that float to the top. (If you do go there, maybe you’ll find Santa Sophia, a Christmas story I wrote about a stepmother and recorded in my voice.)

The same with Google or any other search engine. The more we blog, the more we use Facebook or Twitter, the more real-life positive stories will be found. Gradually and slowly, we can replace the negative content about stepmothers with a more fair and balanced viewpoint.

So, today when I met Heidi, I was excited for the big, long-term future that stretches out there into a time when our children are adults and having families of their own. Their lives hold the same statistical odds as our own, with a 50/50 chance they could become stepmothers and stepfathers. It would be so wonderful to imagine that we are cleaning up the cultural image, opening a healthy dialogue, and creating a more supportive environment so they will have an easier time of it than we are having.

I can dream.

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 . . .

.

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

A Healthy Stepmother . . . and the pursuit of winning.

I’ve been a fan of the Oregon State Beavers since I entered the school as a freshman in 1978. This year, for the first time in over a hundred years, the football team has a winning record, 6-0. You can sense the struggle and heartache this team has been through and the Oregon State fans are some of the most die-hard fans you’ve every met, they keep showing up for their team even when they lose.

It’s this winning season that caused me to reflect on all those years of losing and how winning and losing have a lot to do with the stepfamily experience.

Early in my re-marriage, there was a palpable tension that I didn’t understand. As I observed what was going on, and sorted through the politics, it became apparent there was some fairly serious competition going on in our extended stepfamily.

I also noticed that in stepfamilies I knew, there was often one parent vying to be the winner. Sometimes, both parents fought for the winning spot in their child’s attention. Other times, a stepparent edged into the competition. In other families, there was an all-out covert campaign, with regular one-upping. Or, more passively, one parent putting the other parent down in an effort to discredit them. There was even a parent who needed to be needed so badly she set up situations where she appeared as a winner.

I re-evaluated the place I held and engaged with my stepfamily for the umpteenth time. I re-evaluated my sense of needing to do or fix something or make things better. I emerged from the deep-dive committed to laying down my end of the tug-of-war which I wrote about in this blog post.

It turns out stepping away from the competition was the best thing I’ve done in this stepmother journey.

When I’ve suggested as much to a couple of friends, they responded, “but, ___ “ and the list of complaints and worries went on, clearly they were tormented by the feelings they had inside. They weren’t ready to end the tug-of-war, not yet.

There are apparently some stepfamilies where the parents in the two homes work together closely and there is not a competition. I take my hat off to them. If you can do that and it works and there isn’t resentment from any of the parents, then bravo.

That is not the case in 90% of the stepfamilies I know. In most cases, a great outcome would be if the parents largely left each other to their own devices and didn’t interfere with one another. Instead, we see competitions that focus on making sure the child shows loyalty and emotional attachment.

If you’re in one of the 90% of stepfamilies I’m familiar with, you can gauge whether you’re caught up in even a low-level competition by your responses to a few issues. If you find yourself stewing on what the kids’ mother wore today and how awful it was, you’re in competition. If you feel gleeful that you got to spend more time with the child, that’s competition. If you feel angry when your way of doing something is criticized, “my mom doesn’t do it like that,” that’s a pretty good sign you see yourself in competition.

It’s a tough thing to let go of, this competition. While there are cases to be made for competition and I’m so glad my football team keeps getting up every day and playing the game, a stepfamily is not a game or a competition. A stepfamily is a haven, a healthy environment, and a resource for all the people who take shelter there.

I decided that I could let go of my competitiveness and comparisons and stay focused on that haven-healthy-resource future with my husband, a future that very, very often looks like we’re not winning. From the outside, it often looks like we are losing. But we know we’re not, we get up each day and give it our best, sometimes with good results and sometimes ho-hum results. Occasionally, something happens that confirms for me that this life is a process and even though it’ll never be exact or fair or even or equal, it’s a great life and we do indeed have a haven-healthy-resource thing going on.

I’m on board with my hubby and OSU Coach Riley. Neither one of them yells to inspire people. They go with and support and encourage. It works for them and it’s working for me. My blood pressure is down (just kidding, I didn’t have high blood pressure, it just felt like it) and my heart is at peace. I don’t like everything I see and I can get riled up a bit from time to time. I’ve also been known to stick my nose in during an emergency and I stand by that and would do it again in a heartbeat. But, overall, we’re moving in the right direction, toward a positive experience, a healthy environment, and a haven-resource for us all.

Just like my OSU football team, we’ve hung on to our vision of the future and we keep working toward it even on days when the pace is glacial and we wonder what it’s all for. Then, we look up and find ourselves in the thick of this life we share with his kids.

That is winning.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.